Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Celibate by Maria Giura

When she was a young woman, Maria Giura fell in love with a Catholic priest. In her new memoir, Celibate, Giura writes about their complicated, angry relationship and how it led her to finally find her true calling.

In working through her history with Father Infanzi, Giura writes about how she began to appreciate that neither partner in their relationship was all right or all wrong; everyone brings emotional wounds from youth into adult relationships. Unlike what she felt at the time, Giura came to understand that she was not a victim of circumstance or even God’s will, but that she had choices.

Writing her book – and figuring out the real truth about her relationship with the priest, her mother, others close to her, even her relationship with God – helped Giura grow up and leave behind a lot of anger. Giura tells her story with guts and grace.

Recommended for readers interested in stories about personal relationships, mother/daughter relationships, faith, the Catholic Church, and Italian American families.


Read my Rose City Reader interview with Maria Giura here. Maria talked about her book, writing, and upcoming projects. She also gave a list of her favorite contemporary and classic memoirs by women dealing with crises of faith. It's worth checking out!

Publisher's Description:
When twenty-eight-year-old Maria Giura fell in love with Catholic priest Father James Infanzi, she had no idea how needy and angry they both were nor how complicated their attraction would become.

His attention seemed to fill the void left by her fractured family, but he also seemed to be a sign for her to finally face the celibate vocation she'd been running from ever since she first felt God's call. Celibate focuses on her ten-year struggle to let go of this priest, to heal from her childhood, and to finally embrace her true calling. Fiercely honest and tender, this memoir is ultimately a story about surrender, forgiveness, and facing one's deepest needs.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

2020 CHALLENGE: The Audiobook Challenge


I'm signing up this year for the 2020 Audiobook Challenge hosted by Hot Listens and Caffeinated Reviewer. The goal is to listen to more audiobooks in 2020 than in 2019. I love audiobooks and read a lot of books with my ears. I listened to 42 audiobooks in 2019. It might be hard to top that.

I am signing up for the "My Precious" level 30+ audiobooks in 2020, with the goal of getting to at least 43 and beating my 2019 number. I don't have any in mind yet. I keep a wish list on my library account, and keep several holds going, so I often take pot luck of what hold comes up first.

My usual method of adding to my wish list or library holds is to go through all the book lists I'm working on and see what's available from my library. They add audiobooks all the time. I've gotten through a number of Must Reads and Prize Winners this way, which appeals to the list ticker in me.


I will list my books here as I read them.


First, I am firmly in the camp that counts an audiobook as "reading" a book. (As long as it is an unabridged edition; but I don't count reading an abridged edition with your eyes as reading the book either.) If the words of a book go into your brain through one of your sense receptors - eyes, ears, or fingertips - that counts as reading the book, in my book.

Second, I love audiobooks. Especially now that they are available for instant download, they are so convenient! And the download versions have the nice added features of being able to back up in 15 second bits if you miss something and listen at faster speeds, which is really nice. I find 1.25 is good for most books. I listen while I fold laundry, cook, walk to work, drive, or putter around the house. I can't listen while I do anything that requires verbal thinking.

Finally, audiobooks have helped me get through several chunky classics I probably wouldn't have tackled in paper. I prefer audio books for older literature. Someone else has parsed the dense, long paragraphs and figured out the proper phrasing; the use of different voices for the characters make them more engaging; and the books are just more lively. It's like the difference between trying to read a Shakespeare play -- difficult -- and watching one performed -- enjoyable.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2020 CHALLENGE: The Reading Classic Books Challenge


hosted by the The Broken Spine

I am signing up for the 2020 Reading Classic Books Challenge hosted by Erica at The Broken Spine.

The goal is to read more classic books. Erica isn't a stickler about her definition, although book must have been originally published more than 50 years ago. There are 12 prompts and each book can count for one or two prompts. I'm going to try to read at least six classic books for this challenge. I'm trying to make some progress on my Classics Club list in 2020 and this challenge will be a good way to do it.


1) Read a classic over 500 pages
2) Read a classic by a POC and/or with a POC as the main character
3) Read a classic that takes place in a country other than where you live
4) Read a classic in translation
5) Read a classic by a new to you author
6) Read a book of poetry
7) Read a classic written between 1800-1860
8) Read a classic written by an LGBT author and/or with an LGBT main character
9) Read a classic written by a woman
10) Read a classic novella
11) Read a classic nonfiction
12) Read a classic that has been banned or censored


1) over 500 pages: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
2) POC:
3) another country: Something to Answer For by P. H. Newby (Egypt)
4) translation: Cheri by Colette
5) new author: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand
6) poetry:
7) 1800-1860:
8) LGBT: Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
9) woman: A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
10) novella:
11) nonfiction: Prospero's Cell: A Guide To The Landscape And Manners of The Island Of Corfu by Lawrence Durrell
12) banned or censored:


Goodreads @ Reading Classic Books
Twitter @Read_Classics
Instagram @Reading Classic Books
hashtag #readclassicbooks2020


The Classics Club is an ongoing book challenge where participants pledge to read at least 50 classic books in five years. It has been going since 2012 and many participants are on their second or more lists by now. I am still working on my first CC list.

Anyone can join. The Classics Club website has lots of fun stuff for participants, like games, events, and an enormous book list if you need inspiration for "classic" books.

2019 Challenge: COMPLETED - Back to the Classics

2019 Back to the Classics

I love the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Books and Chocolate, but I've been hit or miss with it over the years. The prompts are good and I enjoy participating, but I have failed several times to sign up in time. But I got on board in time for 2019 and I finished the six book I signed up to read!

The idea is to read six, nine, or 12 books published more than 50 years ago, one each from a list of categories. Other than being more than 50 years old, Karen at Books and Chocolate does not strictly define a “classic” book. However, she provides guidelines for each of her categories.

I signed up in 2019 at the six-book level, and ended up reading nine.


Karen offers a prize for those who complete the challenge and review the books they read. She does a drawing for the prize and participants get one entry if they complete six books, two entries for those who complete nine books, and three entries for those who complete 12 books.

I didn't review any of the books I read for this challenge -- I haven't had much time to review books lately! So I'm just happy to have read my nine books even though I don't qualify for the drawing. Like I said, I'm a little hit or miss with this one. Oh well. Book blogging is supposed to be fun!

Friday, December 27, 2019

2020 CHALLENGE: The European Reading Challenge

for the 2020 European Reading Challenge

This is my sign-up post or the 2020 ERC. To sign up yourself (and I hope you do), go to the main page for the 2020 European Reading Challenge here, or click the picture above.

The idea is to read books set in different European countries or written by authors from different European countries. You can sign up to complete the challenge by reading one to five books, each from a different country. Of course, you can read more than five to compete for the Jet Setter Prize. Or just to visit more countries! Read all the details on the main challenge page.

I've signed up for the "FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE)" level to read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. This year, I decided to read five nonfiction books. My nonfiction shelves are overflowing. None get me to far-flung corners of Europe, but this year I’m determined to clear some space on my nonfiction shelves!


ITALY: A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance by Marlena de Blasi.

FRANCE: Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train by Ina Caro.

GREECE: Prospero’s Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu by Lawrence Durrell.

U.K.: Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape by Oliver Tearle.

IRELAND: Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O’Brien.

NOTE: WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"? For the European Reading Challenge, we stick with the standard list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Book Beginning: The Adults by Caroline Hulse



Matt had known about the trip for months before he dropped it into conversation.

The Adults by Caroline Hulse. A divorced couple convince their new partners to go on vacation together over Christmas for the good of their young daughter, who invites her imaginary friend Posey the giant purple rabbit along on the trip. Things go farcically downhill and blood is shed before the happy ending. It's a delightful holiday romp of a book.

From the publisher's description:

Claire and Matt are no longer together but decide that it would be best for their daughter, Scarlett, to have a “normal” family Christmas. They can’t agree on whose idea it was to go to the Happy Forest holiday park, or who said they should bring their new partners. But someone did—and it’s too late to pull the plug. Claire brings her new boyfriend, Patrick (never Pat), a seemingly sensible, eligible from a distance Ironman in Waiting. Matt brings the new love of his life, Alex, funny, smart, and extremely patient. Scarlett, who is seven, brings her imaginary friend Posey. He’s a giant rabbit. Together the five (or six?) of them grit their teeth over Forced Fun Activities, drink a little too much after Scarlett’s bedtime, overshare classified secrets about their pasts . . . and before you know it, their holiday is a powder keg that ends where this novel begins—with a tearful, frightened call to the police.

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

EARLY BIRDS & SLOWPOKES: This weekly post goes up Thursday evening for those who like to get their posts up and linked early on. But feel free to add a link all week.

SOCIAL MEDIA: If you are on Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, please post using the hash tag #BookBeginnings. I try to follow all Book Beginnings participants on whatever interweb sites you are on, so please let me know if I have missed any and I will catch up. Please find me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.


TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


Sometimes he felt like Claire enjoyed the whole thing a little too much. Like Claire wanted an imaginary friend too.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

2019 Challenge: COMPLETED - 2019 European Reading Challenge

2019 European Reading Challenge



This is my wrap-up post for the 2019 European Reading Challenge. 

To sign up for the 2020 challenge (and I hope you do), go to the main 2020 Challenge page here.

To post your own wrap-up post for the 2019 Challenge, go to the wrap-up post here

I've been hosting the The European Reading Challenge here on Rose City Reader since 2012. It is a tour of Europe through books. The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author is from).

Participants sign up to read 1 to 5 books. In addition, the person who reads and reviews books from the most countries wins a prize. There are, officially, 50 sovereign states commonly recognized as part of Europe, so someone could read 50 books for this challenge if they wanted to guarantee a shot at the prize.

I signed up in 2019 for the "Five Star (Deluxe Entourage)" level to read five books.


I ended up visiting eight countries in 2019. As usual, I read many UK books this year, so could have picked several. Likewise, I had quite a few Irish books and French choices. The rule of the challenge is that you only count one book from each country.

The Girl from Oto by Amy Maroney (Spain)

Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith (Russia)

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (Italy)

The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall (Germany)

The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark (U.K.)

The Heart-Keeper by Françoise Sagan (France - the book was set in Hollywood, but Sagan was from France and the book was first published there, in French)

The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking (Denmark)

Milkman by Anna Burns (Ireland)


If you want to play along in 2020, please sign up on the main 2020 Challenge page. You do not have to have a blog to join in. Play along on Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or on your own. Just leave a comment on the main challenge page to let us know you are participating and where to find you if applicable. Leave updates in comments on the review page and a wrap up in a comment on the wrap-up page.

3 Days to Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

2019 Challenge: COMPLETED - 2X19 and Mt. TBR


At the beginning of 2019, book challenge season, I posted a dual challenge for myself that I've been doing for seven years now. The goal of these two challenges is to clear some books off my TBR shelves, which is always a good idea.

I've now completed both challenges. I'm going to do similar challenges in 2020. Who else has TBR challenges lined up for the new year?

2X19: The first of my two 2019 challenges was a personal challenge I called the 2X19 Challenge and was to read 38 books off my TBR shelves. I've done the same thing since 2013 -- tried to read a "two times the year" number of books off my shelves. Of course, the challenge kept getting more difficult!

I plan to switch to one book for each year in 2020. There must be a challenge already planned for this. I've seen a few "read 20 books in 2020" challenges. Is there a "read 20 books on your TBR shelves" challenge? "TBR 20" or something?

MtTBR: The second TBR challenge I do every year is the Mt. TBR Challenge. Bev hosts this popular annual event on her blog, My Reader's Block.

I've now finished both challenges, although I will polish off at least one more and maybe another for the Mt. TBR challenge before we ring in the new year.

Happy Holidays!



Because 2019 involved reading 38 books, I intentionally chose short books this year (short in pages, not height, but see below). My preference is for long, shaggy, plot-driven novels, so intentionally picking short books made me read books that have been sitting on my TBR shelves for a long, long time.

The results were mixed. There were a couple gems I am glad I finally read, like the Muriel Spark dark satire, The Abbess of Crewe and Levels of Life by Julian Barnes for the essay on grief. But a couple of the short ones I could have skipped, like the maudlin short story, Friend of My Springtime by Willa Cather.


I took this picture last December when I planned the challenge, which explains the Christmas theme.  I read them in the order listed below: The first were New Year's resolution books; the next two I was excited to read; and the rest I read in order of height, from tallest to shortest, for no reason except I was feeling goofy. After I took the picture, I realized I had two Françoise Sagan books, so I swapped one for Wise Virgin.

A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You by Donna Cameron (my interview with Donna Cameron is here)

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior

The Girl from Oto by Amy Maroney (my interview with Amy Maroney is here)

The Shame of Losing by Sarah Cannon (my interview with Sarah Cannon is here)

An Affair with a House by Bunny Williams

Mark Hampton on Decorating by Mark Hampton

The Tenth Man by Graham Greene

Friend of My Springtime by Willa Cather

Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy by Diana Kirk (my interview with Diana Kirk is here)

Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum

Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth

The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion

The Robineau Look by Kathleen Moore Knight

Agents and Patients by Anthony Powell

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

A Woman of Means by Peter Taylor

The Poorhouse Fair by John Updike

Girl, 20 by Kingsley Amis

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Slam by Nick Hornby

Lady Into Fox by David Garnett (James Tait Black Memorial Prize Winner)

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot

Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat by William Bradon

The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery by Kyril Bonfiglioli

The Gift of a Letter by Alexandra Stoddard

Do the Windows Open? by Julie Hecht

Dirty Friends by Morris Lurie

Something Special by Iris Murdoch

The Imitation Game by Ian McEwan

The Small Room by May Sarton

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

Wise Virgin by A. N. Wilson

The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

The Heart-Keeper by Françoise Sagan

The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

First Love by Joyce Carol Oates



Every year, I join the Mt, TBR Challenge on My Reader's Block. In 2019, I signed up for the Mr. Kilimanjaro level of 60 books. I tried this same level in 2018 and fell sort by two books. This year, I have to read 22 in addition to the 38 from my 2X19 Challenge.

I've read 61 books so far, so reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and am still climbing. I will probably finish two more books before the end of the year. That won't get me to the next peak in Bev's challenge, but it will get a few more books off my shelves.


In addition to the 38 books listed above, I read:

Educated by Tara Westover

The Jewel in the Crown (The Raj Quartet, Book I) by Paul Scott

The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan

The Day of the Scorpion (The Raj Quartet, Book II) by Paul Scott

The Towers of Silence (The Raj Quartet, Book III) by Paul Scott

A Division of Spoils (The Raj Quartet, Book IV) by Paul Scott

Staying On by Paul Scott (Booker Prize winner)

In the Woods by Tana French

Collected Poems by Kingsley Amis

A Man of Property (The Forsyte Saga, Book I) by John Galsworthy

In Chancery (The Forsyte Saga, Book II) by John Galsworthy

To Let (The Forsyte Saga, Book III) by John Galsworthy

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

The Best of Friends by Joanna Trollope

A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold John le Carre

Set in Darkness by Ian Rankin

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

A Cat Abroad by Peter Gethers

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs

Shattered by Dick Francis

The Hunter by John Lescroart


Updated as of December 21, 2019.

Author Interview: Dawn Newton

In her new book, Winded: A Memoir in Four Stages, Dawn Newton writes about living life to the fullest after she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Her new book is available now from Apprentice House Press.

Dawn recently talked with Rose City Reader about her book, memoir writing, her health, and mindfulness: 

How did you come to write your new memoir Winded?

I’d been a practicing writer and college instructor for years, focusing primarily on fiction. I had a handful of short story publications and an even bigger handful of rejections for a novel I’d written. Shortly after my fall semester of teaching began, I experienced a series of events that eventually lead to a cancer diagnosis. I took the winter semester off work to adjust to my treatment, and I began journaling about my days and my apprehension about my diagnosis. I think if you have writing in your bones – and I’d developed the itch early in life, arguably during elementary school – you just go to writing as your therapy or your way to understand things. Up to that point, I’d focused primarily on fiction in my life, but I’d also been a writer in more mundane ways, writing drafts of thank you notes, scripts for difficult phone calls, and instruction manuals for babysitters. I’d never been a dedicated keeper of journals, but that winter, I started writing in one journal, filled it up, started another one, and just kept going.

You write unflinchingly but with tenderness about your cancer and your struggle with depression. Was it difficult to tell such an intimate story?

I like that phrase – “unflinchingly but with tenderness.” For me, the writing or telling of the story was different from the publication of the book. I am a straightforward person and talk honestly about a lot of things in my life to close friends and family. The first-person voice telling the story in most sections of the book tumbled out easily, as if I were talking things through with family members, friends, or my psychologist. Much more challenging was the idea of publishing these personal observations and struggles. I worried a lot about revealing too much about family dynamics and intense emotions, especially because a lot of people see my calm exterior and don’t realize that I’m rather intense on the inside.

On the other hand, I’ve struggled so much with depression over the course of my life that once I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt a strong urge to come out of the closet with my depression. That idea – coming out of the closet – filled me with both relief and with some trepidation. My biggest fear: Did I whine too much? Did I not take responsibility for my actions? I am quite hard on myself, so once I told the story, I needed to perseverate about whether to publish it.

Who is your intended audience and what do you hope your readers will gain from your book?

The intended audience is anyone who has ever suffered from depression, cancer, or a chronic illness as well as individuals close to those who’ve had that experience.

In terms of what I want readers to gain, initially, I don’t think I had an agenda other than a deep need for understanding. At the most basic level, I wanted to speak to a large-scale audience with the plea for understanding of one person’s story about parenting with depression and then cancer. Now that I can step back from it a bit, I think it is also a story about economics and how difficult it is to negotiate the world if you don’t have the right tools. My mother and father didn’t know much about getting a college education because they hadn’t gotten one themselves. But when I talked about being a writer, my father kept urging my sisters and me into computers. We were living in the late seventies, and he was so prescient about what was to come with computers. Unfortunately, I wanted to write. Thus, one of the key lessons I’ve learned is about the difficulty of being or becoming an artist if you’re raised in the working class.

A second lesson I learned is that in any sort of art, only a small percentage of people are going to “make it.” Which means you need to find a reliable day job that you can have for years, so you can secure reliable health insurance as well as some sort of retirement plan. And that’s ultimately where I settle, in terms of pinpointing a message that I’d like readers to gain -- all my experiences in being an artist and just a plain citizen lead me to this bolus of frustration with health care. I don’t want to be the person who speaks the dark, disillusioning message about the world not being a fair place, but in many ways, I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere in the world of American economics if we don’t recognize that health insurance or the lack thereof traps everyone, whether it’s the General Motors employee who stays in her job for 20 years because she knows the union will negotiate to get her family (particularly offspring) the best health insurance possible, or whether we’re the family of the cancer patient who doesn’t have the insurance to get the radiation necessary for extending survival, or whether we are the family of the late-twenty or thirty-something who takes her life because she’s got depression-based neurochemistry in her brain and doesn’t have the kind of job that allows her to seek out mental health treatment. So, I want to encourage readers to stay in touch with their capacity for empathy, whenever they can, so we can support one another. And we all need to appreciate the moments whenever we can.

Some people may shy away from a “cancer memoir” because they fear it will be unbearably sad. Yours is sad, but not unbearably. Can you give a little explanation of the treatment you get and your current situation?

Thank you for asking. One of the other soapboxes I occasionally climb onto is the one about how living with metastatic cancer is not the same as being in remission. Since there is no cure for most of the metastatic cancers out there, there is no remission. You get to live longer, but you are still getting treatment, generally. I take a generic version of the original drug I started on, Tarceva. The generic is called erlotinib, and I take 100 milligrams every day. It is a tolerable drug, although it has side effects that can create complications. For example, I have the “Tarceva rash” on my face. I took a stronger antibiotic than usual in the couple of months leading up to my book launch to help clear up the rash, but after the book launch and reading was over, I went back on the milder drug, minocycline, and the rash has re-sprouted pretty intensely. Thus, I am Cinderella without the slipper and the nice dress again. Avoiding the mirror.

I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer because I originally had metastasis to the bones. Those spots are not currently active. However, every three months I receive CT scans to check on the lungs and bones. Every year or so, I get an MRI. The reason for the MRI is that the brain is one of the places to which lung cancer often metastasizes. I went for five years taking the daily pill before I had a significant finding on my lung scans; I then had stereotactic body radiation for a growing spot in my lungs in February of 2018. The oncologist’s goal is to keep the disease localized. But any mystery spot on my scan is fodder for more testing. I recently had to undergo a colonoscopy because of a shadow that showed up on my colon in one of my routine scans.

At present, I have a few questionable spots in my lungs, one of which appears to be growing. Even though I get a bit of a reprieve from worrying until my next appointment in February, my oncologist has already mentioned the possibility of stereotactic body radiation again early next year. It’s relatively painless, so no sweat, right? Except how many people can’t have this treatment because they don’t have the right health insurance, or any at all? And having these treatments and this worry of what’s coming next takes its toll on any type of personality, whether one has a tendency toward anxiety or depression or not. I just turned 60, and I have been telling people that with all the drugs, tests, side effects and anticipatory worries, I’m more like a 70-year old. It’s been great to have seven years on a drug that usually gives people 18 months, don’t get me wrong. But I am weary.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the experiences you describe or the writing process – that most surprised you?

From the pure perspective of learning, I loved learning about writing memoir, and about my own limitations in working with that genre. In many ways, I probably learned how to write non-fiction essays before I learned about writing fiction. But I got a degree in writing fiction, and I spent the bulk of my early adult life studying it with various teachers and reading, reading, reading. I love writing dialogue, and although most of my fiction is quiet and not too talky, “scene” is a basic staple of writing for me in fiction.

But with non-fiction, or, in this case, memoir, I found that I avoided writing in scene, or at least the kind of scene that uses dialogue, which I refer to as “active scene.” I didn’t want to imagine dialogue from the past. I don’t judge anyone for doing do; I understand that with memoir, since so few of us can remember word for word those past discussions or arguments, we have to rely on our imaginations to fill in some of the details, preserving the basic remembered flavor or main emotion of a given scene. And yet, I found it difficult to do, especially since I wasn’t writing about the distant past but about events that were unfolding quickly.

I read a lot of memoirs, but I also read a couple of books about memoir that made me more comfortable with the sparse dialogue in my book. I learned a lot from Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story, but I feel like I got “permission” to go with less dialogue from Sven Birkerts’ book, The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again. Like Gornick, Birkerts asserts that the memoirist “serves the spirit of the past, not the letter.” In his presentation of various memoirs and types to examine, he also discusses “lyrical seekers,” focusing on Woolf, Nabokov, and Dillard. I latched onto that label. I am not particularly poetic in my writing, but I allowed this label, “lyrical seeker” to give me permission to move away from narrative scene with dialogue to discussion or sometimes just description and imagery. Birkerts provided an appellation, and whether it’s accurate or not, I grabbed it to describe my approach and decided I didn’t have to work so much in active scenes.

What non-medical activities or resources have helped you the most since your cancer diagnosis?

One of the practices that my psychologist introduced me to as we dealt with my relentless depression is that of mindfulness breathing. I learned about it in conjunction with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), but also as a separate approach to well-being in general. I purchased The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, and started using the CD that went along with it, which happened to be narrated by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I fell in love with his voice. I’d included an essay about him in my memoir which I removed when I realized it was merely a plagiarized portion of one of the CD tracks along with a joke about the seductiveness of his voice.

But truthfully, the thing about his guiding style I was most struck by is the way he works with the depressed person’s tendency to be self-critical. He emphasizes repeatedly that you can’t do mindfulness incorrectly. This kind of affirmative support is huge for the depressed person who has the tendency to feel incompetent. I’ve talked to so many people who had the same apprehension about meditation that I did: you must practice, practice, practice, and do it in this one right way. Zinn debunks that idea. And I think that’s why “mindfulness” is more appealing to me than “meditation” although they might be viewed as the same. In addition to the Zinn materials, a friend also gave me Being Well (Even When You’re Sick): Mindfulness Practices for People with Cancer and Other Serious Illnesses by Elana Rosenbaum. It’s extremely helpful. I also do yoga classes when I can, to augment the mindfulness. I sing with a church choir, and I dance around my house from time to time, usually to Motown.

Are there other memoirs, either about people with cancer or other memoirs, you recommend?

There are two significant memoirs about cancer that I have NOT read, although I will someday. I was already writing my memoir when the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi came out. I didn’t want it to affect my writing, although I was obviously drawn to it. I bought it and made my husband read it, which he did for a book group discussion at his work. Then my daughter sent me "One Day," the Nina Riggs piece from The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying in the NYT Modern Love series, saying, “Mom, this is like something you would write.” I think about Paul Kalanithi and Nina Riggs often, especially when I’m not being appreciative of my “extra time.” I read Valerie Harper’s memoir I, Rhoda just after it came out. There is only a chapter on her cancer, but I have Googled her over the years and took it hard when she passed away this year; I believe she, too, took Tarceva.

As for other memoirs, I have read several of the mainstream stories; one of the not-so-mainstream is White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine by Janet Sternburg, which I found powerful and humbling, with its mental health component. My interest in depression also led me to Jill Bialosky’s History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life and Darin Strauss’s Half a Life. And although it is more classic nonfiction than memoir, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption reads like a memoir, and I think everyone should read it. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson and Hunger by Roxane Gay provide pain, wisdom, and crucial reflection. I hope to read Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day next; I heard her speak once, and I loved her honesty.

Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?

Thank you for asking! On November 26, my 60th birthday, my family held a fabulous book launch, public reading, and birthday celebration at my church. It was one of the most memorable events of my lifetime. I was so touched and overwhelmed. In 2020, I have some readings and library events coming up in Michigan.



4 Days to Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book Beginning: Pelham Grenville Wodehouse: Volume 1: "This is Jolly Old Fame" by Paul Kent



In 2015, three of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse's best-loved comic characters celebrated their 100th birthdays.

-- Pelham Grenville Wodehouse: Volume 1: "This is Jolly Old Fame" by Paul Kent. He was talking about Bertie Wooster (without surname in 1915), Jeeves, and Clarence Threepwood, ninth Earl of Elmswoorth. Shows you the enduring power of P. G. Wodehouse's comic genius.

I am a huge Wodehouse fan. I keep a list of Wodehouse books here on this blog and am working my way through them, sometimes in order, sometimes when I can find an audiobook at the library. I especially love Wodehouse in audiobook editions.

This is the first volume of Paul Kent's three-volume biography of Wodehouse, based in part on new access to Wodehouse's papers and library. This first volume is out in the UK. For American readers, you have to order it from the publisher, TSB an imprint of Can of Worms Enterprises, or from Book Depository.

Honoria Plum at Plumtopia has a fun review here.

From the publisher's description:
Whether you re an absolute beginner or an aficionado, Paul Kent has captured the essence of what made Wodehouse tick without spoiling all the fun; and makes a compelling case for why we owe it to our collective sanity to keep on reading him. P.G. Wodehouse 1881-1975 Humourist, Novelist, Lyricist, Playwright So reads the simple inscription on the memorial stone unveiled in London s Westminster Abbey in September 2019, honouring the greatest comic writer of the 20th century. It takes a steady hand and a steely nerve to insist that sweetness and light can prevail in a world that seems hell-bent on proving the opposite, and over 40 years after his death, Wodehouse is not just surviving but thriving all over the world. Young Indian professionals can t get enough of him; he s hugely popular in Japan; his books have been translated into more than 30 languages, from Azerbaijani to Ukrainian via Hebrew, Italian, Swedish and Chinese; and there are established Wodehouse societies in the UK, the USA, Belgium, Holland and Russia. His books are demonstrating the staying power of true classics, and are all currently in print, making him as relevant and funny - as he ever was.

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

EARLY BIRDS & SLOWPOKES: This weekly post goes up Thursday evening for those who like to get their posts up and linked early on. But feel free to add a link all week.

SOCIAL MEDIA: If you are on Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, please post using the hash tag #BookBeginnings. I try to follow all Book Beginnings participants on whatever interweb sites you are on, so please let me know if I have missed any and I will catch up. Please find me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.


TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


“If you must kill off one of your characters”, the young sage recommended, “do it behind the scenes and let someone else tell a friend all about it”. . . . A small but telling recommendation from the future master of lightness.

6 Days to Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Author Interview: Stephany Wilkes

Stephany Wilkes started out searching for "local yarn" and ended up learning how to shear sheep. Eventually, she found herself at the center of a growing community of hardworking Americans trying to bring eco-friendly wool to market. Her book, Raw Material: Working Wool in the West (OSU Press) explains this fascinating industry and introduces the people involved.

Raw Material would make a great gift for the knitter on your list, as well as anyone interested in sustainable fashion, shopping locally, and life in the West. It is a really interesting book!

Stephany recently talked with Rose City Reader about her book Raw Material and the whole idea of "regenerative" fashion:

What is “local yarn”?

For me, my working, ideal definition is yarn made from natural fibers (sheep, cotton, hemp, alpaca, etc.) grown within 120 miles of my house, and processed within my home state of California, ideally at either one of my two nearest mills: Mendocino Wool Fiber or Valley Oak Wool Mill. It might also be wool I sheared (which may or may not be near my primary physical address, but was local to me at the time) and had processed at a California mill.

Why did you decide to learn how to shear sheep?

The long answer is in my book, of course, but the short answer is that I learned there was a lack of qualified sheep shearers, especially those willing to shear small flocks (two to less than 100 sheep). This created a bottleneck in the local yarn supply chain and I, chock full of urban hubris and curiosity, thought I might try to clear that bottleneck. I was helped along by deep misery created by my day job, and had been grasping about wildly for job ideas that didn’t mainly involve my sitting in front of a screen.

How did you come to write Raw Material?

Pretty accidentally. When I got home from particularly funny, harrowing, or otherwise embarrassing early shearing jobs, I would post stories about them on Facebook, and people said “You should write a book about this, it’s so unbelievable.” So I did.

What is your background and how did it prepare you to write a book about wool?

I’m not sure anything can prepare you for writing a book, which is a painful struggle and personal saga. I have a B.A. in English, but my program wasn’t a writing one. I guess the best answer is working. Writing is just one more kind of work, and I am (and have always been) a working person. I have had so many jobs – house cleaner, bartender, nanny, consultant, prep cook, many dozens -- sometimes two or three of these jobs at the same time. I always gravitated to writers who wrote about working, because I found it strange and distracting that so many writers (published ones, anyway) wrote stories in which no one seemed to be working. How were any of these characters making a living?! Maybe I had to bone to pick about that, so I wrote about working, and the work farmers, ranchers, grazers, and mill owners are doing.

What will readers learn from your book?

That agriculture and fashion, two of the biggest contributors to global warming, are also two of the biggest solutions to that same problem, especially when fashion shifts to using regeneratively grown, natural fibers, and when we shift to buying less clothing and wearing the clothing we do have, longer.

In addition to writing about local and eco-friendly wool production, you advocate for natural fibers in general. Can you give us a thumbnail explanation?

Synthetic fibers and dyes are fundamentally extractive (mined out of the earth), nonrenewable, neither compostable nor biodegradable, and often not recyclable. A fleece jacket made of recycled plastic sounds appealing, but those plastics (also known as microplastics or microfibers) just get smaller and smaller, and – with every load of laundry we do -- enter our waterways, wildlife, drinking water supply, and even our air. The recently released book, Secondhand, has a great section on synthetic fibers and why they’re problematic. Natural fibers can, when grown using regenerative methods, actually draw down and sequester carbon in soil, where it belongs, and then be composted at the end of their lives.

Can you recommend other resources for people interested in finding local wool or supporting a sustainable textile industry?

There is a wealth of information available on what a more sustainable textile industry might look like, including several captivating new books like Vanishing Fleece by Clara Parkes; Fibershed by Rebecca Burgess; The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth Cline; and Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter. The website (like a watershed, but for fiber) has a map of Fibershed affiliates all over the world, so there’s a good chance there’s an affiliate nearby with wool from producers in your region.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

How grueling it is to wrench a story out of your body. I am amazed anyone writes a second book. Who knew writing could be more painful than sheep shearing?!

You have a terrific website and blog, and are also active on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. From an author's perspective, how important is social media to connect with your readers and promote your book?

I am no expert here, but Instagram, at least, helped me engage with the folks most likely to be interested in my book: knitters, hand spinners, fellow sheep shearers, and so on, primarily through the use of hashtags.

Do you have any events coming up to promote your book or local wool efforts?

Not in the terribly near future, as I’ve had a solid year of events and am trying to take December off before shearing season gears up again in January. In April 2020, I am speaking at PLY Away in Kansas City, Missouri; and in May I have two events, the Kira K Designs retreat in Petaluma, California; and the Flag Wool & Fiber Festival in Flagstaff, Arizona. I really limit my flying and airline emissions these days, so I love to combine book-related events with shearing jobs, family visits, and the like. Make each trip count!

What are you working on now?

Too much, always too much. Let’s see… A book proposal for a nonfiction book about regenerative fabric, months overdue to a lovely publisher who asked for it, because I am terrible and working too much; a novel; a memoir about my life with my grandmother, who has dementia and whom I moved to California with me via cross-country Winnebago; and various short stories and essays. I also sent a bunch of wool (from myself and other sheep shearers) to my local wool mill this year, as I got the fool notion to try to make and sell some yarn rather than throw that wool away, but I don’t know what I’m doing and just feel low-grade panic when I think about it, so we’ll see! I’m also including a new service line related to sheep shearing in 2020, which is teaching small groups of people how to handle their sheep more easily, and shear their own sheep better.



7 Days to Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Teaser Tuesday: This Particular Happiness by Jackie Shannon Hollis

How could a man have two marriages and almost thirty-nine years and not have kids? I tried to think of any man his age I knew who didn't.

-- This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis, from Forest Avenue Press. This new memoir is the story of one woman's decision to love and marry a man who did not want children.

This Particular Happiness has generated a lot of buzz already, including endorsements from Cheryl Strayed and others, press coverage, and places on several best of 2019 book lists, like this list from Gateway Women.

Here is the Publisher's Description:

Knowing where your scars come from doesn’t make them go away. When Jackie Shannon Hollis marries Bill, a man who does not want children, she joyfully commits to a childless life. But soon after the wedding, she returns to the family ranch in rural Oregon and holds her newborn niece. Jackie falls deep into baby love and longing and begins to question her decision. As she navigates the overlapping roles of wife, daughter, aunt, sister, survivor, counselor, and friend, she explores what it really means to choose a different path. This Particular Happiness delves into the messy and beautiful territory of what we keep and what we abandon to make the space for love.
From Jackie's website:
Jackie’s memoir, This Particular Happiness, explores the complicated relationship with the self through the lens of childlessness and the unfolding relationships between husband and wife, mother and daughter, friends, and sisters. A childless woman surrounded by children (with over forty nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews), Jackie believes we all have an important role in supporting the children in our lives.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by The Purple Booker. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from the book they are reading or featuring. Please remember to include the name of the book and the author. You can share your teaser in a comment below, or with a comment or link at the Teaser Tuesday site, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

8 Days to Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Author Interview: Amy Goldman

Author and gardener Amy Goldman is an zealous advocate for heirloom seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Her latest book, The Melon, is an expanded revamp of a book on melons she published years ago. This new version is glorious. It should be a top pick for gardener gift giving.

I got a copy of The Melon and was so enchanted by the pictures and melon stories that I immediately ordered copies of Amy's Heirloom Tomato and Compleat Squash books. AND I DO NOT GARDEN! I just love these books.

Amy recently talked with Rose City Reader about her new book, heirloom varieties, and all things melon:

What are “heirloom” vegetables?

Heirloom vegetables are oldies but goodies. Varieties of value that breed true from seed and can be handed down to the next generation. Standard and open-pollinated, heirlooms differ from modern F1 hybrids, which don’t breed true from harvested seed.

What is your background and how did it lead you to write your book, The Melon?

I grew up in a family that celebrated fruits and vegetables. Melons and watermelons are a lifelong love and calling. Ten years after my first melon book was published, I decided to write another, since I’d grown and learned a lot more.

Really, watermelons are not melons? Please explain.

Melons and watermelons are vining crops that belong to two different species within the cucurbitaceae or gourd family of plants. Recent phylogenetic studies show that the cucurbits most likely originated in Asia over 70 million years ago. Various lineages found their way time and again to different continents by transoceanic long-distance dispersal. Picture gourds afloat! Watermelon’s more recent place of origin in Africa; the wild progenitor of melon has been found growing in India.

What else will readers learn from your book?

The Melon teaches you everything you need to know about growing and harvesting melons and watermelons; picking and choosing the best specimens in the market; saving and sourcing seeds; and using melons in cookery (there are twenty wonderful recipes included). Readers will learn about 125 rare and fascinating varieties from all over the world. Their stories are as diverse as the fruits themselves.

The photographs in your book are luscious. And you’ve worked with photographer Victor Schrager on some of your other gorgeous books, including The Heirloom Tomato and The Compleat Squash. Tell us a little about your collaboration with Victor.

It’s been a tremendous privilege and pleasure to work side by side with Victor Schrager during the past twenty years. From day one we’ve been on the same page. Together we’ve created four books on heirloom vegetables that celebrate their beauty, flavor, history, and diversity. Victor remains amazingly fresh in his approach. How he works his magic with my homegrown veggies still boggles my mind!

In addition to writing about heirloom fruits and vegetables, you advocate for seed saving and plant breeding in general. Can you give us a thumbnail explanation?

I’ve been a food gardener since my teen years. The more heirlooms I grew over time, the more devoted I became to their conservation. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are treasures worth knowing, growing, and saving. About thirty years ago I became a member of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), which is the nation’s premier non-profit seed saving group based in Decorah, Iowa, its mission is to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but engendered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. I eventually joined the SSE board then morphed into a special advisor.

Heirlooms are the building blocks that plant breeders need to make further crop improvements and keep us well supplied with nourishing and delicious food. Numerous melon and watermelon varieties featured in The Melon hold great promise (or have already proven their worth) in breeding more resilient “climate smart” melons worldwide.

What are you working on now?

Victor and I are working on a book on peppers and another on squash.



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