Friday, May 5, 2017
Both Cynthia Rylant and Mary Oliver grew up under difficult circumstances and sought comfort in nature and their beloved pets. Cynthia Rylant's parents divorced early, and she was estranged from her father. Nonetheless, she spent several happy years living with her grandparents in West Virginia where she came to appreciate country ways as illustrated in her story book When I Was Young in the Mountains. Cynthia has published many beloved children's books including the Henry and Mudge series and Mr. Putter and Tabby books.
Mary Oliver states that her childhood was not nice and suggests that parental neglect caused her to escape for long walks in the woods outside of Cleveland, Ohio. On these walks, she carried a notebook and began experimenting with poetry. As an adult, she has maintained this practice over the years and is said to have stowed away pencils in the woods lest she should forget to bring one and not be able to jot down her thoughts. Much of her writer's inspiration as an adult has come from her life in Provincetown, Massachusetts, although she has now moved to southern Florida. Mary has received numerous awards for her poetry, notably the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
It is evident from his first short story collection, The Shell Collector, that Anthony Doerr clearly wants us to see (and see clearly) the natural world around us and to reconnect ourselves to it. In a 2010 interview discussing the intersections between the arts and the sciences, Doerr states, "What draws me toward the intersections? Everything! Everything around us right now, the bacteria in our guts, the tiny radio in our cell phones, the combustion engines rumbling out the window. Go look at the nearest, humblest tree and try to really see it: messages radiate between its cells along vast networks of cytoplasm; the leaves are fending off pests and pathogens, rootlets are prowling the soil, photoreceptors are monitoring the amount of daylight, water is coursing up through xylem; sugars and nutrients are dribbling down through phloem—every weed in your yard takes part in a whirling, staggering ballet; it’s making the air we breathe, making food out of photons that have come flying 93 million miles through the crushing, cold vacuum of space—that alone is enough to make a person want to kneel down."
And how does he bring the reader along with him to that intersection, in this case, where the arts can speak for the sciences, where the writer can use the natural sciences as a subject to engage our imagination and give us a better understanding of human behavior? In this same interview, Doerr responds that the short story medium is an excellent way to accomplish that goal. "And I believe the magic of a good short story, in particular, comes from the compression of so many days of thought into a space that can be experienced by a reader in an hour or so. So for me it comes from spending a lot of time in the language of whatever subject I’m interested in at the moment, shells or snow or radio or violin making or whatever, and working slowly, backtracking out of lots of dead-ends, toward a concerted and unified vision."
Learn more about this award-winning (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, O. Henry Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction) author on his website: anthonydoerr.com.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
was inspired my family's decision to adopt our daughter Annabelle from China in 2005. Although the characters on that journey in the novel are all fictional, their desire to create families is universal and true. Like many adoptive parents, I wondered about the brave woman who gave up her daughter. Those imaginings led me to write the stories of six women in China who make that same painful decision. The Chinese belief in the red thread inspired both the title, and the metaphor of the story."
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
When discussing the motivation behind his writing career, Daniel James Brown states that "My primary interest as a writer is in bringing compelling historical events to life as vividly and accurately as I can." His publications bare this out. Brown is the author of books on the Donner Party (The Indifferent Stars Above), the 1936 Berlin Olympics (The Boys in the Boat), and our current book group selection, Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. Writing has been his one focus after studying at Diablo Valley College, UC Berkely, and UCLA. Following graduation, he taught the art of writing at San Jose State College and Stanford before moving on to become a technical writer and editor. Here's an author who's directed all his literary skills to the vivid retelling of history in a compelling manner. Visit his website, http://www.danieljamesbrown.com/, to learn more.
Monday, December 5, 2016
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Friday, September 30, 2016
"Demolishing the complacency of Victorian social, moral, and artistic assumptions with the weapons of wit, Wilde delighted in turning stuffy platitudes upside down and then turning to the audience for applause. It was a brilliant performance that ensured that during his life, Wilde would be both greatly admired and maliciously mocked."
"Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854, the second son of Sir William Wilde, a prominent surgeon, and Jane Wilde (née Elgee), a poet and Irish nationalist. He was raised in an affluent, successful, and intellectually stimulating home. From an early age, Oscar and his brother Willie were allowed to sit at the foot of the adults’ dinner table and listen to the conversations of the Wildes and their guests, many of whom were prominent in Irish social and literary circles...He excelled in Latin and Greek and won a scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin, which he entered in October, 1871...and won a scholarship worth ninety-five pounds per year at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he entered in October, 1874."
"It was at Oxford that Wilde encountered two men who were to influence his thought. The first was art critic and writer John Ruskin, who was at the time a professor of fine arts. Ruskin believed that art should have a moral component, and as Wilde worked with him on a road-building project, Wilde found the idea that art might promote the improvement of society to be an attractive one. Wilde was also exposed to a contrary, and more important, influence in the form of Walter Pater, fellow of Brasenose College. According to Pater, what mattered in life and art were not moral or social concerns, but the intense appreciation of sensual beauty, especially that produced by works of art."
"In 1888, Wilde entered the seven-year period of his greatest success, during which he published almost all the work — as novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and social and literary critic — on which his reputation rests..." Among these works are The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere's Fan, An Ideal Husband, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. The Canterville Ghost first appeared in The Court and Society Review in 1887.
Wilde's affair with the son of the Marquis of Queensbury set the stage for the author's notorious court case and downfall. He was found guilty of "gross indecency" and sentenced to several years of very harsh imprisonment. Upon release in 1897, he moved to France, penniless and without family, where he died in 1900.
Quoted text is from "Oscar Wilde"
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Monday, June 27, 2016
Satirist, actor, and novelist, Herman Koch has set off shockwaves among international readers who view the characters and core dilemma of The Dinner through different cultural lenses. To get his take on this, refer to this Stuff.co.nz interview with the author.
Koch, who has a teenage son of his own, was born in the Netherlands in 1953 and has made a career of satire, comedy and writing. The Dinner is his first international success, having been translated into more than 20 languages. An English film adaptation of The Dinner starring Marissa Tomei and Richard Gere is currently in the works, and Koch has subsequently published another book in a similar vein, Summer House with Swimming Pool.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Unlike a New York City resident's experience, it's commonplace for us to see hawks in flight above our homes and farmlands. We can also visit a wonderful local resource,
The Raptor Trust in Millington, NJ, to see hawks and other raptors up close. The Trust is a wildlife refuge and infirmary for raptors and other injured birds, and it plays a prominent role in our book, Red-Tails in Love, as does its founder, the late Len Soucy. In addition to sheltering several red-tailed hawks, The Raptor Trust houses other raptors mentioned in the book, including three tiny saw-whet owls. There are a number of other owl varieties in residence as well as two bald eagles (seen in the last photo) and two huge common ravens with an impressive repertoire of bird calls. For more information about The Raptor Trust, refer to http://theraptortrust.org.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Except, of course, when it's personal and painful, as in her memoir ''Can't We Talk About Something More PLEASANT?" Even then, our author found that cartooning provided her the perfect means to express her frustrations and fears about dealing with the decline of her elderly parents. What we learn about her childhood, career, and relationship with her parents in this memoir is given further authentication in this interesting excerpt from "I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker's Most Brilliant Twisted Artists" by Richard Gehr. Enjoy it! http://goo.gl/8fLodh
Friday, April 1, 2016
Friday, March 4, 2016
Here is the podcast link to Serial, Season One: https://serialpodcast.org/season-one. Listen to each episode on your computer by clicking on the episode titles or download the entire series. Each episode is at least 35 minutes long, so pace yourself! While you're on this website, look around at the "Related Material."
For those who wish to read rather than listen, Serial does not provide transcripts, but various followers have transcribed the episodes. I'm providing these transcripts below (without any guarantee of their accuracy.)
Born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1934, Alan Bennett graduated with honors from Oxford in 1957 and lectured there before embarking on a writing career. His plays include The Madness of George III and The History Boys, both of which were adapted to film. He is the author of numerous commentaries, novellas, and short stories, including The Lady in the Van, currently adapted to film and starring Maggie Smith. According to Guy Woodward writing for the British Council Literature in 2009,
"Alan Bennett’s diffident, often shy public persona has arguably been crucial to his sustained and ever growing success, but any perceived aura of cosiness belies a sharpness of intellect and wit that has proved adept at dissecting the mores of the English and their institutions across a variety of genres."
Here's an enjoyable interview with Bennett regarding Mrs. S. and the new film about her. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/the-lady-in-the-van/alan-bennett-hay-interview/
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Our author, Qanta Ahmed, is a board certified sleep disorders specialist at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York, as well as associate professor of Medicine at the State University of New York (Stony Brook). Further, Dr. Ahmed is a fellow of the American College of Physicians, fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Born into a Muslim Pakistani family in England, Dr. Ahmed completed her medical residency in New York City before practicing medicine in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the location of her memoir. Following her return to the United States, where she is now a citizen, she has written and spoken critically about the growth of the Islamist movement among Muslim populations around the world. She is currently writing her second book, a non-fiction work which will focus on interfaith relations between Muslims and Jews.
Friday, December 4, 2015
Joan Anderson has written a whole slew of self-help books since her initial memoir, A Year by the Sea, which we will discuss this month. She has certainly grasped the first two letters in the word memoir and run with them, bringing many women along with her on her self-discovery journeys. In addition to writing these books, Ms. Anderson offers frequent workshops and retreats as seen here. She appeared at Bernardsville Public Library in 2002 at a ticketed event to support Jersey Battered Women's Services, but has cut back on appearances to refocus herself...on herself. In this interview with More.com, we are reminded again how healing it is to retreat to a home by the sea or a remote island like Iona in Scotland! Oh well.
Friday, November 6, 2015
Laura Schenone is as expressive and heartfelt in person as she is in her style of writing. Several members of our Saturday Samplers bookgroup took the opportunity to hear her speak recently at Bernardsville Library about her book "The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken," selected as our One Book Bernardsville reading for 2015. Laura shared slides of her time in Italy and images from her research to find the roots of her family's heirloom recipes. She also answered questions about family dynamics that come into play when a writer reveals background details about family history. Her next book will take a detour into the world of animals, as inspired by her son. Family seems to be an ever-important ingredient in her writing!
Saturday, October 3, 2015
As background information for our discussion of Doubt: A Parable, here are some excerpts from an interview with John Patrick Shanley. (Cob, Robert, "The Evolution of John Patrick Shanley," American Theatre, Nov. 2004, vol. 21, issue 9)
"I went to a Catholic Church school in the Bronx and was educated by the Sisters of Charity in the '60s. That's a world that's gone now, but it was a very defined place that I was in for eight years. I realized later on when the Church scandals were breaking that the way a lot of these priests were getting busted had to be by nuns. Because nuns were the ones who were noticing the children with aberrant behavior, distressed children, falling grades, and in some cases they had to be the ones who discovered what was happening. But the chain of command in the Catholic Church was such that they had to report it not to the police but to their superior within the Church, who then covered up for the guy. This had to create very powerful frustrations and moral dilemmas for these women. It was very shortly after that that they started to leave the Church in droves.
...So showing this experience was one of the motivations behind Doubt. Another was that I saw a dark side to the Second Vatican Council's message of "go out into the community." When I was a kid, priests were not going to take boys out of church [to outside activities]. They were priests, they were in the rectory. And so I think this explosive combination of celibacy and "go out and make believe you're just one of the other folks" had a lot to do with the problems that followed.
But over and above that, the more interesting thing to me doesn't have anything to do with the scandals, and that is the cathartic, philosophical power of embracing doubt--of embracing not knowing, embracing that you may never know the truth or falsity of a story, of a scenario, and that you cannot morally stand in judgment from any place that is utterly firm in relation to another person's life. And yet actions must be taken if you feel the imperative, if you feel that you have the clarity of thought and know what should be done. And that powerful, explosive dilemma for an individual is really fraught for me. Here are these women who stumble on what may be something--and the choice is to go through the normal chain of command, which will lead to the complete exoneration and literally the safety of an abusive priest.
You know a member of my own family was molested by [Father John] Geoghan, the guy who was strangled in prison. And my family members went to Cardinal O'Connor, after they'd gone to everybody locally and gotten no satisfaction, and Cardinal O'Connor took them by the hands and said, "I am so sorry this happened. I will take care of it." And then he promoted him. Unbelievable. So they left the Church, but after 10 years they went back, and that Sunday the Monsignor got up and gave a sermon saying that these children who were abused, it was the parents' fault. That's when they left the Church again.
...I think when you see the play you'll see that my relationship to it is very complicated. There's an even weirder level: Is what some of these guys do totally bad? That I also have doubts about. When I was growing up, at certain points I was championed by homosexual teachers who were the only people watching out for me. And why were they doing it? They were really into boys. They were really into my problems. Did they do anything to me? No. Did they want to? I don't know. Did they make a pass? No. Was that in the air? Somewhere yes, it was in the air. Did I take advantage of the good things they were offering me? Yes, because I needed to, because I was isolated and there was no one else. Did that make them bad people? Not to me. Not to me at all.
...I'm not interested in issue plays per se, although I'm more interested in them now than I used to be. What I'm not interested in is writing polemics on one side of an issue or another. Doubt does not have to dismantle passion. It can be a passionate exercise."
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Saturday, June 13, 2015
To learn about the author of Defending Jacob, please refer to William Landay's website: http://www.williamlanday.com/books/defending-jacob/.
Here is The New York Times book review by Janet Maslin: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/books/defending-jacob-by-william-landay.html.
And, for your convenience, I have copied below a Boston Globe review by Hallie Ephron. This is the link for it: http://bit.ly/1QvEpfB.
FEBRUARY 19, 2012
Many crime fiction writers have imagined the horror of losing a child. William Landay’s wades into similarly dark territory, exploring the anguish of parents who discover that their child may be a murderer.
The setting is Newton. The father is Andy Barber, chief trial attorney in the Middlesex DA’s office. He’s among the first at the scene where 14-year-old Ben Rifkin is found dead with stab wounds to the chest, “as if he’d been forked by a trident.’’ Ben was a classmate of Andy’s son Jacob, and Andy’s decision to take charge of the case comes under scrutiny when evidence mounts, implicating his son.
Haunted by the knowledge that violence runs in families, Andy gets busy doing what he calls “lawyering away at the evidence.’’ He has no illusions that criminal justice delivers just verdicts. Jacob’s mother Laurie shoulders the blame, dredging up incidents from Jacob’s childhood that she can no longer rationalize.
In riveting courtroom procedure, opposing counsel - Jacob’s unflappable defense attorney Jonathan Klein and prosecutor Neal Logiudice who’s gunning for Andy’s job - match wits. Meanwhile Jacob, in his faded hoodie, droopy jeans, and bangs covering his eyes slouches along, impervious to concern.
One story line dramatizes the murder and its aftermath. A second presents grand jury proceedings a year later, the subject of which the reader only gradually comes to understand. Even with unexpected twists and turns, the two narratives interlock like the teeth of a zipper, building to a tough and unflinching finale. This novel has major motion picture written all over it.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Garth Stein is the author of four published novels, but The Art of Racing in the Rain is his standout best seller. It has been adapted into young adult and children's editions as well as a stage production. Currently, the book is being developed into a major motion picture by Universal Studios. The Art of Racing in the Rain has the distinction of landing on The New York Times best seller list for three years. The author is a long-time resident of Seattle, the setting for this book, and, along with a wife and three sons, he has a dog named Comet. Here is a review of the book by The Bark magazine because, why not?! http://thebark.com/content/art-racing-rain
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Graeme Simsion's debut novel, The Rosie Project, has proven to be a very successful breakout for him from his earlier career in information technology. (The author earned a PhD in 2006 with his thesis on data-modelling for information systems.) Simsion clearly understands the potential for technical minds to discount the value of human emotion, and he fashions just such a main character in Don, a geneticist with Asperger's syndrome. Don is so socially remote and self-unaware that he doesn't even recognize his own symptoms. Enter Rosie, the personification of human emotions, then add a wacky genetics projects, thwarted attempts at romance, and you have an enjoyable book!
Below are two book reviews to consider, if you wish, before our book group discussion:
Friday, April 10, 2015
Friday, March 6, 2015
Book Group Members, please refer here for a biography of Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried. This entry, by Literary Reference Center, also includes summaries of his books as well as a brief literary analysis of them (see item below for our book.) In addition, I am including a PBS interview for background on his time in Vietnam.
The Things They Carried First published: 1990