Friday, November 30, 2012

Under the Banner of Heaven

Saturday Samplers will discuss Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer this Saturday, Dec. 1, at 3:30 p.m.  Under the Banner of Heaven is an examination of an extremist religion born and bred in America, that of the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints, an outgrowth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise know as the Mormon Church.  Centering on a savage murder by two Fundamentalist brothers in 1984, the narrative of this fascinating nonfiction book follows the Mormon faith from its inception to the splintering off of polygamous sects which have spread throughout the American southwest, Canada and Mexico.  Mormonism as practiced by the modern LDS  is also brought under the glare of Krakauer's far-reaching, well-researched book.  The intertwining of faith, zealotry and delusion makes Under the Banner of Heaven a very compelling and thought-provoking book.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Steve Hamilton

"Hello! I hope you'll come in and look around, warm up by the fire, and have a cold Canadian."  So begins the website of award-winning Michigan author Steve Hamilton.  Garnering acclaim for his Alex McKnight series featuring a Detroit ex-cop who has moved to the Upper Peninsula, the author continues to write to favorable reviews. His stand-alone book, The Lock Artist, was selected for the 2011 Edgar Award.  A graduate of the University of Michigan, Hamilton is a Detroit native (now living in upstate New York) who brings a sense of place and character to his Michigan-based stories.  So why not cozy up to his website and learn more about him before we discuss The Lock Artist?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Daniel Woodrell

Here's a interview done last year with Daniel Woodrell, author of The Bayou Trilogy, in which he graciously and frankly discussed his career, writing style and life in the Ozarks.  Movie projects and future books were also discussed as was his break-out book, Winter's Bone.

Since characters are so important to the success of the stories in The Bayou Trilogy, you'll be interested to know that he stated, "I always start with character, I never start with plot. I like to muse on a character and see where they go in my imagination and then follow them and begin to see what they’re up to. Which is a slower way of doing things, but it’s the only way it’s fun for me. And if this racket isn’t fun, there are a lot of things where you can make a lot more money. So it’s got to be fun or I’m not doing it."  Read on to learn how the three Shade novels came about and what he thought of them. Interesting reading.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Christie Hodgen

Christie Hodgen, author of Elegies for the Brokenhearted,  is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an award-winning writer. Her father (shown above with her daughter) is John Hodgen, a poet and college teacher.  A 2006 interview by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette with Christie and her father can be read here.  As John Hodgen notes, Christie has always been quite observant, and that quality stands out as a strength in her writing.  

Certainly the characters in Elegies for the Brokenhearted are beautifully observed portraits of flawed or wounded individuals leading marginal lives, lives most of us might overlook or ignore.  Her narrator, Mary Murphy, does not overlook them, but rather speaks to the ways, large and small, each of five dead people have shaped her own life. These five people may have known her for only a brief time (a college roommate) or all her life (her mother), but each one has impacted Mary's own course through a difficult upbringing. 

While never having experienced a scatter shot life of poverty and marginalization herself, Hodgen creates such memorable, well-formed characters existing on the fringes of society that the reader might think otherwise. The voices given her characters are embued with as much depth as her descriptions of them, each character perfectly identifiable by dialogue and cadence of speech.  Perhaps it was the influence of poetry in her upbringing that gave Hodgen the ability to lift heavy topics to a lyrical, captivating sphere, a place where the reader will not want to look away, but rather savor each story, each elegy.
~review by Evelyn Fischel~

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Broken for You

Published in 2004, Broken for You is the debut novel of Seattle-based writer Stephanie Kallos. The book received numerous positive reviews, and she was named Best First Novelist in 2005 by Library Journal.  Her second book, Sing Them Home, also garnered praise for its development of characters in a physical and spiritual landscape of loss and healing.  While her stories deal with death and loss, sadness and broken lives, the author's use of humor and whimsy lightens the load, reminding us that what is damaged (in life or in the physicality of things) might come to be mended in unexpected ways. To get a taste of the author's whimsical humor, visit Kallos's Web site for her charming, chatty biography, not the official bio, but the one entitled Directions To Where I Live.  The author also includes a lengthy question and answer posting for book groups, so I hope our group will explore away here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Sneakers Advised

The merry month of May is just the perfect time to read and discuss Phillip Lopate's Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan.  Our improving weather offers a suitable kick to get us out the door, feet on the street, and heads craned in search of great vistas. We're primed and ready for new adventures - to paraphrase Mr. Lopate, well, that's Spring for you!  

And, of course, Phillip Lopate's book offers innumerable possibilities for day hikes and strolls in neighboring New York.  Coincidentally, there are several walking events taking place in Manhattan this weekend which are referenced by the author.  One is the Great Saunter sponsored by the Shorewalkers which takes place tomorrow.  You'll recall that Mr. Lopate participated (to some extent) in this 35 mile organized walk around Manhattan's shores.  Here is their Web site.  The other notable walking event is sponsored by the Municipal Art Society of New York and is entitled Jane's Walk NYC, in honor of urban booster Jane Jacobs who was discussed numerous times in Waterfront.  There will be over 70 guided, free walking tours throughout the boroughs on both Saturday and Sunday.  Roosevelt Island is featured in one of the tours, and another one is entitled "An Accessible Waterfront for East Harlem."  Link to their Web site here for more information.

In no case are you to pay any attention to these!  Your duty is to show up and discuss the book, right?! Well, I hope to see many of you for our discussion tomorrow; if not, I'll know where you've been. If you wish, please refer to my commentary on Waterfront in Book News and More, also.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is an award-winning biographer and the author of Saturday Samplers next book, Cleopatra: a Life.  Her biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupery published in 1994 became a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and Schiff's biography of Vera Nabokov won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000.  A biography of Benjamin Franklin preceded her latest publication, Cleopatra.  (Link here for a list of her books and essays.)  Born in 1961, Schiff attended Williams College and worked for Simon and Schuster as a writer and editor until 1990, at which point she appears to have settled into the steady work of an acclaimed biographer. The video interview below from Borders touches on her writing plans for the future, but is primarily directed to questions about Cleopatra - the person and the book.
~Evelyn Fischel~

Friday, March 2, 2012

Orange or Khaki?

Piper Kerman's prison memoir Orange is the New Black will be discussed tomorrow by our Saturday Samplers group.  Perhaps we should start with the title?  Can't wait to hear what you think of both Kerman and her story.  Here's a Slate review which sentences the author to thirty lashes, while The Book Lady's Blog would vote to commute her sentence.  You be the judge!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Human Nature, Capote-Style

Yes, we did meet in December, didn't we, and we discussed The Complete Stories of Truman Capote.  Our group had mixed feelings about these stories, but that would be natural considering his oeurvre ranged from the 1940's to the 1980's.  Capote's understanding of human nature was remarked upon, even though some members thought he dwelt heavily on its darker side, as exemplified by "A Tree of Night."  The dreamlike inability of the young character, Kay, to help herself stood out in this short story as Kay rode a night train back to college, forced to share seating with strangely unsavory passengers. Victims abound in his stories, many of them young, but Capote also made the victimizer a young person in "The Walls are Cold."  The group enjoyed the ease of Truman Capote's southern storytelling and admired his literary style very much.  The sentimental favorite "A Christmas Memory" and the charming  "Jug of Silver" counterbalanced  more deeply imagined character explorations in such stories as "Master Misery" and "Children on their Birthdays."