Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Irene Butter, Author of Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story - AUTHOR INTERVIEW

headshot of author and Holocaust activist Irene Butter

Irene Butter was Anne Frank's neighbor in Amsterdam before her family was shipped to a concentration camp. In her new memoir, Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story, Butter makes public a story she did not share to a large audience for decades.

Irene Butter talked with Rose City Reader about her book and what we learn from Holocaust stories: 

It was decades after the Holocaust that you first told your story. Why did you not talk about your experience earlier and how did you begin to talk about it?

Several reasons:  First of all for quite a few years people were not willing/able to listen to Holocaust survivors. I focused on building a new life which was very demanding;

Education, career and family.  I was unaware of the importance of telling stories about the Holocaust until I listened to Elie Wiesel: “ If you were in the camps, if you smelled the air and heard the silence of the dead, it is  your duty to provide testimony to be a witness so that the victims do not die twice.”

How did you come to write Shores Beyond Shores?

After telling my story to students in Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges and other for more than 35 years, and received such remarkably insightful feedback I decided to write my memoir which students can read after I am no longer able to visit schools.

Your memoir is an intensely personal account of your family’s survival of the Holocaust. Was it difficult to tell such an intimate story in a book?

It was far from easy. It took five years with a number of breaks and if it were not for my co-writers and dear friends, Kris Holloway and John Bidwell, the book might never have been completed.

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

My main target audience is young people , who are still trying to find their identity, what kind of a person they want to be and what they want to accomplish in their lives. I encourage them to help build a better world,  to fight for equality, equity and justice for all.  My hope is that these young people will help to stamp out hatred and refuse to be enemies.

Can you recommend any other books about the Holocaust?  Are there personal accounts like yours?

There are numerous Holocaust memoirs, many different perspectives, and each one is unique.

What do you think people today can learn from the stories of Holocaust survivors?

People should become aware that we are all human beings, regardless of race, color, religion, ethnicity, sexuality etc. and that all of us deserve the same basic human rights, and that when we open ourselves to "the other" we discover that our differences are far less significant than all we have in common. We need to respect and protect each other.

Do you think it is important to keep Holocaust memory alive and, if so, why?

Yes I do. The Holocaust was an era of the most massive, most brutal, most comprehensive assault on humanity, encompassing a whole continent. Unfortunately the world has not learned the lessons offered by the Holocaust.

By focusing on young people we hope that History will stop repeating itself.

In addition to writing your memoir, are you otherwise involved in other work with Holocaust survivors?

I have been a member of several survivor groups.  Sadly the numbers are dwindling.

It means a lot to  me to be  part of a group of children of survivors who tell their stories at a Temple I belong to, this group is often known as Second Generation.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

I continue to tell my story (now on Zoom) to classes, libraries, museums, and aspire to have my memoir translated into other languages to make it more accessible to more people. It has just been translated into Dutch and launched in The Netherlands in June of this year. The Portuguese edition launched this past month. It will be out in the Czech Republic by the end of the year and in German at the end of 2021. Prior to these foreign language editions it was published in the UK in November of 2019.

I would hope that teachers, librarians, and members of bookclubs will be interested to invite me for a talk with middle grade or high school students or anyone interested in the Holocaust and World War II. Links to past talks can be found on my website.


THANK YOU, IRENE!

SHORES BEYOND SHORES IS AVAILABLE ONLINE IN PAPERBACK AND EBOOK. 



Monday, August 10, 2020

Billy (the Kid) by Peter Meech - Book Review


What if Sheriff Pat Garrett hadn't shot and killed William Bonney in 1881? What if Billy the Kid survived, escaped, and rode off into the sunset? Well, then he might have become a dentist and retired in Pueblo, Colorado in 1932. That's the beguiling premise of Peter Meech's new novel Billy (the Kid). Meech's alternate history finds an older, contemplative Billy living in a boarding house in the sleepy backwater of Pueblo. Sleepy that is until rival bootleggers move in to open a second speakeasy, threatening the livelihood – and lives – of Billy's friends. 

The book has the loping pace and recognizable icons of a classic western – saloons, dusty streets, good guys and bad guys, guns, and horseback riding. And of course there's a pretty lady that Billy has his eye on. But 1932 is the twilight of the Wild West. The New West has arrived. Instead of outlaws on horses robbing banks, young gangsters drive cars and run rum. Billy is a part of but out of place in this New West, so a feeling of nostalgia hovers over the story. 

This feeling plays out through Billy's interactions with the other characters. There is a lot of reminiscing with former Rough Riders, delivering life lessons to a young protégé, and jawboning with buddies at the Spit 'n' Argue club. Some of these scenes move the plot, others are set pieces. All of them make the story a delight. The main relationship that develops is Billy's with Grace O'Bannion, the widow of the former sheriff. Her character and the bond that grows between them adds dimension to the story and gives it a satisfying arc. 

The story is told in the third person, from Billy's point of view, augmented by lots of dialog. Even in the third person, Billy is an unreliable narrator. It is never clear whether he is Billy the Kid, writing his memoirs and avoiding trouble, or a fantasist and historian, writing a biography of the famous gunslinger and collecting memorabilia. The ambiguity enhances the charm of the story. 

Billy (the Kid) was my favorite summer read of 2020. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an imaginative story to get lost in.

NOTES

Read my Rose City Reader interview of author Peter Meech here


Friday, August 7, 2020

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley on Book Beginnings

BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

Good grief! It's Friday afternoon and I just remembered to post Book Beginnings. This week has been crazy busy and I'm playing nurse to my husband who had minor surgery (nothing serious). The week went by in a blur. I am looking forward to the weekend! How about you?

Time to post the first sentence or so of the book you are enjoying. Please share your post with a link below. If you post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnnings. 

YOUR BOOK BEGINNINGS

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MY BOOK BEGINNING

I did have fun this week reading two Lucy Foley's thrillers back to back, The Hunting Party and The Guest List. I read them with my ears when my library holds for the audiobooks both came available at the same time. I don't normally read books by the same author together, but I enjoyed the immersion.

Have you read either of these yet? I loved them both. They are classic "closed room" mysteries with the same twist made popular in Big Little Lies -- not only do we not know who dunnit until the end, we don't know who the dead person is until the end. 


I see a man coming through the falling snow. From a distance, through the curtain of white, he looks hardly human, like a shadow figure.

THE FRIDAY 56

Every Friday, Freda's Voice hosts another teaser event where you can share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your highlighted book. Visit Freda's blog for details and to link your post.

MY FRIDAY 56

Miranda, when she wants to, can assert serious charm. Anyone who knows her has been on the receiving end of it.



Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Arzak + Arzak by Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak - BOOK REVIEW


Arzak + Arzak by Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak (2020, Grub Street Cookery)

Restaurante Arzak in San Sebastian is legendary. The family eatery started in the same building over 120 years ago and the restaurant has had three Michelin stars since 1989.

I’ve never been to Spain, San Sebastian, or Arzak. But I am fascinated by San Sebastian and Restaurante Arzak since I watched an episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain when he visits Arzak and tours San Sebastian with Juan Mari. Juan Mari is the third generation of chefs at his family's eponymous restaurant. His daughter Elena joined him 20 years ago and is poised to take over.

Arzak + Arzak is a gorgeous new book celebrating New Basque Cuisine, the Arzak family, and Restaurante Arzak. It tells the story of Juan Mari, who earned his first Michelin star in 1972. Juan Mari has been a cutting-edge chef since then, focusing on fresh, local ingredients in innovative, even avant garde presentations. He put San Sebastian on the map and inspired generations of young chefs. The book also follows Elena Arzak's career from her training in other famous kitchens to co-chef with her father as Restaurante Arzak looks to the future.

The first half of the book is narrative, broken into five chapters, set off by striking, behind-the-scenes, black and white photographs, most of them full page. The first chapter, "Arzak-Enea: A father, a daughter and a Basque restaurant," describes the building that has housed the restaurant since 1897 and describes a day in the life of Restaurante Arzak.

Chapter two, "The Dining Room: Juan Mari and the history or Arzak," describes Juan Mari's typical day at the restaurant and gives a biography of his fascinating career. Juan Mari was one of the founders of the New Basque Cuisine movement, which took root in the 1970s, around the same time Alice Waters pioneered a new "California cuisine" and Nouvelle Cuisine was taking off in France. He has always held onto the familiar flavors of Basque cooking, but with inventive twists.

The third chapter is called "The Laboratory: A recipe for creativity" and takes the readers inside El Laboratorio, the creative center of Arzak.  Part test kitchen, part science lab, it is here where Arzak comes up with more than 50 new dishes every year, to keep its cuisine evolving.

Chapter four, "The Chef's Table: The Extended Family," is my favorite chapter because it describes the beating heart of the restaurant – the big table nearest the open kitchen:

The long marble chef's table is, in effect, the control centre where the daily business of the restaurant is orchestrated and played out.

The staff eats breakfast at this table; family members like Elena's husband and two kids stop by for lunch; old friends, journalists, and visiting chefs linger here in the afternoon. It is also where Elena and Juan Mari hold meetings with purveyors, their sommelier, and staff. But in the evening, the Chef's Table is set for guests because it is the most requested table in the house.

The last of the narrative chapters is "The Kitchen: Elena Arzak and the future." Elena has gradually taken over from her father as she worked with him over the past 20 years. Not yet 50, the future of Arzak is in her talented hands. This chapter gives her culinary biography and vision for the restaurant.

book pages from Arzak + Arzak showing recipe and picture of fancy food

The recipe section is gorgeous and certainly beguiling, even if daunting to all but the most ambitious of home chefs. Each of the 64 recipes is accompanied by a dramatic color photo, most of them full page. While extraordinarily complicated, reading the recipes drives home what Arzak is all about. The laborious effort that goes into each dish is extraordinary, which is why Restaurante Arzak exists and keeps its three stars year in and year out.    

For those diners lucky enough to enjoy Arzak in person, the Arzak + Arzak book would be a perfect keepsake. Even for readers like me who have never been there, the story of Arzak and its father/daughter chefs is absorbing. It is exciting to learn about running a famous restaurant with a history tied so deeply to a particular region.

NOTES

Arzak + Arzak now has pride of place in my Cookbook Library, even if I will never cook any of the recipes from it. I'll probably display it as a coffee table book instead - it's beautiful enough.



Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch on Book Beginnings



Another summer week is rolling by. This one feels like it has gone so fast. It's the first really warm week of the summer here in Portland, Oregon, with our first run of days over 90 degrees. That may sound funny, since it will be August this weekend, but this is a chilly, damp corner of the country. And as soon as summer finally arrives, we complain that it is too hot. Oregonians!

BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

It's time to share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are enjoying this week. Leave a link to your post below. If you post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings so we can find each other. 

MY BOOK BEGINNING

I'm reading A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch this week. It's her 5th novel, published in 1961. 


OPENING SENTENCES:
"You're sure she doesn't know," said Georgie.

"Antonia? About us? Certain."

A Severed Head starts off with a common Murdoch set up. Martin Lynch-Gibbon is perfectly happy married to his wife Antonia with his girlfriend Georgie on the side. His girlfriend knows about his wife but his wife doesn't know about his girlfriend. Murdoch likes to squeeze every drop she can get from this arrangement.

From the back cover, I know the story is going to go a different direction when Martin's wife leaves them for a mutual friend who is also her psychoanalyst. Looks like this one could get fun. 

YOUR BOOK BEGINNING

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THE FRIDAY 56



Every Friday, Freda's Voice hosts another weekly blog event called The Friday 56. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 (or the electronic equivalent) of the book they are enjoying. Visit Freda's blog for details and to share your post.

MY FRIDAY 56

I loved her with a wild undignified joy, and also with a certain cheerful brutality, both of which were absent from my always more decorous, my essentially sweeter relationship with Antonia. I adored Georgie too for her dryness, her toughness, her independence, her lack of intensity, her wit, and altogether for her being such a contrast, such a compliment, to the softer and more moist attractions, the more dewy radiance of my lovely wife.

Iris Murdoch is one of my favorite authors. Any other fans? I am trying to read all of her fiction. I keep a list of her books here and keep track of those I read. 



Sunday, July 26, 2020

Hidden Falls by Kevin Myers - BOOK REVIEW

book cover of Hidden Falls by Kevin Myers


Kevin Myers' new novel, Hidden Falls, follows protagonist Michael Quinn back to Massachusetts following the unexpected death of his father. Middle-aged, single, in a strained relationship with his own kid, and at the peak of a dead-end job in print journalism, Michael is on the brink of a classic mid-life crisis. What he gets instead is a real-life crisis when he discovers his father was involved with organized crime and Michael lands in the middle of a criminal conspiracy.

Although it starts with a bang, literally, the first chapter is just a teaser, before the story starts for real "a few weeks before." Then the first quarter of the book is about Michael's workaday life in Portland. He's a columnist for the Portland Daily newspaper, waiting to be downsized out of a job in the next round of layoffs. He's divorced, with a son just starting college, and is trying to navigate the stormy waters of middle-aged dating. One amusing subplot has Michael following the "Missed Connections" listings on Craigslist, convinced a younger co-worker is flirting with him.

Michael carries his everyday concerns with him to New Bedford when he returns for his father's funeral. These concerns don't go away – especially when his ex-wife, son, and potential girlfriend show up for the funeral – but Michael's perception changes as he falls deeper into the realities of his family's life in New Bedford. Those realities are exciting enough, with gamblers, gangsters, and crooked cops to spare. Tensions are high, tempers run hot, and Michael is right in the middle of it. It's a good yarn.

Meyers chose his setting well. New Bedford, with its whaling history, is the archetype of a certain kind of New England town, once great centers of now dead American industries. Meyers explores what is like to grow up in a town like New Bedford, with the pride shown for a heritage long past, a fierce connection to professional and amateur sports, and a hometown bond that is not easy to explain. He has an ear for the accent and an eye for the mores that bring New Bedford to life for the reader.

Meyers tells Michael's story with subtle humor and a big heart. Don't expect an edge of your seat, blood and guts thriller. But if you like a good story, well told, Hidden Falls is the book for you. It's got humor, romance, family drama, and enough crime to make it exciting.



NOTES

I'd recommend Hidden Falls for fans of Richard Russo, Jim Harrison, and Dennis Lehane, and anyone who likes a good midlife crisis story, father/son story, stories set in New England, or just something new.

Read my interview of Kevin Meyers here on Rose City Reader.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Likeness by Tana French on Book Beginnings


BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

I am late posting this week! So sorry!

My sister is moving and I was helping her the last couple of days. I lost track of the days of the week. Good grief! Things are a little crazy here in Portland. My sister is fed up with living downtown and is moving to the suburbs, for a lot of reasons. She will miss her beautiful apartment in an old building, but I understand her decision completely.

Here is the link to post your Book Beginnings. I will come back after a work meeting and post my own.

YOUR BOOK BEGINNINGS


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MY BOOK BEGINNING



Some nights, if I'm sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House.

-- The Likeness by Tana French.The Likeness is the second book in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series after In The Woods. Detective Cassie Maddox is the star of this one.

Any other Tana French fans? What did you think of The Likeness?

I confess I gave up on Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and switched to this one. I was looking forward to it, but it just wasn’t keeping my attention like the first two did. And the audiobook is 38 hours long! After two days, I was only 9% of the way through. Maybe someday. But not now.

I’m a completist and rarely give up on a book, especially the third in a trilogy. In fact I probably can count on one hand the books I’ve abandoned. One of my goals is to be better about giving up on books that I don’t enjoy and not be bothered by that feeling of leaving something unfinished.

Is there a name for the need to scratch things off lists? If there is, I have it. Who else? Is there a cure?



THE FRIDAY 56

Over at Freda's Voice, Freda hosts The Friday 56 where participants share a teaser from page 56 of the book they are reading or featuring. Visit Freda's Voice for details or to link your post.

MY FRIDAY 56

The squad room holds 20, but it was Sunday-evening empty: computers off, desks scattered with paperwork and fast-food wrappers -- the cleaners don't come in till Monday morning. In the back corner by the window, the desks where Rob and I used to sit were still at right angles, the way we liked them, so we could be shoulder to shoulder.



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Sandell Morse, Author of The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in WWII: Author Interview

headshot of author Sandell Morse

Author Sandell Morse has written widely for literary magazines including Ploughshares and the New England Review. Her new book, The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II is out now from Schaffner Press. It is both a memoir and the history of the Jewish resistance movement in the French village of Auvillar.

book cover of The Spiral Shell by Sandell Morse

Sandell talked with Rose City Reader about The Spiral Shell, writing in France, WWII stories, and book tours during COVID19:


How did you come to write your memoir, The Spiral Shell?

In 2011 at age 72, I was awarded a writing residency at Moulin à Nef, an artists’ retreat owned and operated by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, a village in southwest France. Before leaving home, I researched the village and learned that Auvillar was on one of the pilgrimage routes that ends at the Shrine of Saint James in Santiago del Compostello, Spain. I thought of Crusaders walking that route, and whenever I think of Crusaders, I think of Jews. My thoughts jumped to the Second World War and I wondered if Jews had lived there then. My original intent was to write a series of essays on this subject.

Your memoir is also the story of Jewish resistance during World War II in the French village of Auvillar. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

I was very lucky to find Gerhard Schneider, a German, Catholic theologian who lived in the village. Not only was Gerhard willing to talk to me, he was interested in facing the dark history of both Germany and France. Gerhard was married to a French woman, and early in their marriage, he set out to bridge the two cultures. So, like me, Gerhard was interested in connection and our common humanity. Others, also shared stories of their families. I read a lot, researched a lot.

If you’re asking me about specific resistance in that area, yes, the resistance worked there. I researched Jean Hirsch, a nine-year-old resistance courier during the war. He and his family sheltered in Auvillar. His father and mother both worked for the Jewish Scouts of France, a normal scouting organization before the war, an organization dedicated to saving Jewish children during the war. Both parents were sent to Auschwitz. I won’t say more because I tell their story in the book. Also the German presence was nearby. There were also Nazis sympathizers in the village.

How does your story, the memoir part of your book, connect with the story of Auvillar?

My maiden name is Hirsch, and I felt an immediate connection to Jean Hirsch and his family. I was not on a quest for my roots, but I understood, that my fate as a Jew rested on the fact that my father’s family had left the Alsace Lorraine in the mid 19th century and his had not. In addition to his story, I tell the story of four families deported from Auvillar, a history that to this day remains hidden to most villagers and visitors. Nothing marks the houses where they lived. For years and even today, many in France do not want to face their past any more than we in the States want to face our legacy of slavery or our native American genocide. I would say the memory part of my book connects with Auvillar on a deeply human level.

What is the meaning of the title, The Spiral Shell?

I was on a walking tour in Paris, exploring a part of the marais, Jewish Section, I hadn’t explored before. The tour leader stopped and pointed to a limestone building block. France was once an inland sea and buildings in Paris are made from limestone dug from quarries under the city. I couldn’t see what I was supposed to see. Then I saw it, the indentation of a spiral shell, a fossil. Then, later the tour leader found a tiny spiral shell among crushed up shells that made a path. He dropped it into my palm. It sits on my desk. The shell is like my narrative; it spirals up.

Did you consider turning your personal experiences and what you learned about Auvillar into fiction and writing your story as a novel?

I did not. I started out as a fiction writer, and I have about four unpublished novels on my shelf. I’ve had agents. I’ve come in second in contests. I figured that was enough. I turned to essays, and I loved the form.

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

I want everyone to read and love The Spiral Shell. In the book, I cultivate empathy and connection, two things we need desperately right now.

Can you recommend any other memoirs about the Holocaust or Jewish resistance in World War II?

A classic would be Margaret Duras, The War, A Memoir. I loved The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Wall, not exactly a resistance story, but I found myself retracing his peoples’ steps in Paris. De Waal led me to the Musée Nissim de Camando in Paris. I highly recommend The Lost Childhood by Yehuda Nir. It’s published by Schaffner Press, publisher of The Spiral Shell. Three more are A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Crooked Mirror by Louise Steinman, and The Rescuer by Dara Horn.

What do you think people today can learn from the stories about WWII and the Holocaust?

Is everything an okay answer? The struggle for justice is never over. It’s an ongoing fight. The challenge is to retain our humanity in dark times. This, too, is an ongoing struggle.

You have a terrific website and are active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads. From an author's perspective, how important are social networking sites and other internet resources?

In this time of COVID19, they are my lifeline. So many wonderful people have taken me under their wing. I’m a debut book writer with no track record, and my book came out when the country shut down. I felt like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up hill. Then, the wonderful Jenna Blum introduced the book on pub day on A Mighty Blaze.

Many, but not all, of my bookstore events went to Zoom. I’ll be interviewed by Annie Mcdonnell of The Write Review on August 31st.  I list all of my events on the events page on my website.

What are you working on now?

I’m keeping it pretty close. I will say it’s another memoir, and it takes place during the time I was writing this memoir and visiting France, so 2011- 2017. It’s a family story, and it has many of the same themes, social justice, what it means to be a mother, and for me a grandmother. We live simultaneous lives, but we can only write about one at a time.


THANK YOU, SANDELL!

THE SPIRAL SHELL IS AVAILABLE ONLINE FROM ALL MAJOR SOURCES.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Off Island by Lara Tupper: Book Review

book cover of Off Island by Lara Tupper

Off Island by Lara Tupper (Encircle Publications, 2020)

In Off Island, Lara Tupper creates an imagined history of artist Paul Gauguin, famed for his vibrant paintings from the South Seas, visiting an island off the coast of Maine. A hundred years later, a contemporary painter finds the paintings and letters Gauguin left behind and learns that maybe Gauguin also left a family in Maine.

The two stories run parallel. While Gauguin is in Maine painting and writing letters home, his wife Metter Gad is in Denmark, raising five children and trying to make ends meet. In 2003, Pete is a painter and Molly holds down the fort. Both Gauguin and Pete wrestle with addiction issues. The most powerful part of the book is Mette's story. Tupper is careful to give her an independent voice and not make her a victim. The two story lines intersect convincingly by the end.

Tupper teases out coastal themes that work with the story. Artists paint seascapes; characters are at sea. There is tension between permanent residents and outsiders, the fishing community and artists who live there and the city tourists. These themes and conflicts give the story a nice heft.

Off Island is a terrific book for anyone who enjoys fictionalized art history and historical fiction with a braided contemporary narrative.

NOTES

Lara Tupper has written short stories, an earlier novel, and a screenplay, and is a jazz and pop singer. She taught at Rutgers University for many years and now presents writing workshops and retreats in Massachusetts where she now lives.

Read my Rose City Reader author interview with Lara Tupper here, where Lara talked about Off Island, the authority of a narrator's voice, Zooming her book tour, and other fun bookish stuff.

Read an article about Lara Tupper and Off Island from The Boothbay Register, where Lara talks about her book and the research that went into it, as well as growing up in Maine.




Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Small Earnest Question and Signatures: Literary Encounters of a Lifetime on Book Beginnings



BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

Fridays seem to come around faster and faster, even though the hours of each coronatime day can go so slowly! All this working from home is distorting my sense of time as well as dissolving my social skills.

But here it is, Friday again and time to share our Book Beginnings. Please share the opening sentence (or so) from the book you are featuring this week. Link to your blog or social media post. Or, if you want, just leave the opening sentence and name of the book in a comment below.

If you post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings so we can find each other and encourage others to join in the fun!

MY BOOK BEGINNINGS

I have two book beginnings today because loads of new books have been drifting into my house lately.



It was early spring on Washington Island, which, as any Islander could attest, is frequently an exercise in disappointment.

A Small Earnest Question by J. F. Riordan. This is the fourth book in Riordan's North of the Tension Line series. It looks completely charming. I haven't read the earlier books, so I'll give you the publisher's description and you will know what I do:

It's spring on Washington Island. Despite her concerns about Roger's desire to bartend, Elisabeth is eager to plan a grand opening for their newly remodeled hotel, but she quickly realizes that she may also need to make accommodations for Roger's proposed goat yoga classes. Bored and lonely, Oliver Robert joins bartender Eddie in forming a great books club at Nelsen's, and Emily Martin, determined to make her mark on the community, forms a new Committee of the Concerned. When Emily decides that the Island needs a literary festival, complete with a famous author, she imprudently seeks out a notorious celebrity, hoping, as always, to enhance her own prestige. Real estate agent Marcie Landmeier confides that an unknown someone is buying up the Island's shoreline, newly-appointed Fire Chief Jim Freeberg contends with a string of suspicious fires, and Pali and Ben have a spiritual encounter that will change them both. Meanwhile, drawn once more into local controversy, and awash in suspicion herself, Fiona Campbell must determine the answers to questions that will affect her future, and the future of the entire Island. A Small Earnest Question is Book Four in the award-winning North of the Tension Line series, set on a remote island in the Great Lakes. Called a modern-day Jane Austen, author J.F. Riordan creates wry, engaging tales and vivid characters that celebrate the beauty and mysteries of everyday life.

What do you think? It sounds good to me! A Small Earnest Question launches August 3 from Beaufort Books and is available for pre-order.



The convention is that if you happen to meet authors and have just bought or acquired a book of theirs, you ask them to sign it.

Signatures: Literary Encounters of a Lifetime by David Pryce-Jones, from Encounter Books. Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator. Signatures, his latest book, is a collection of vignettes describing 90 authors and the personally inscribes books they gave him.

I knew I wanted a copy of Signatures as soon as I read about it. It is the kind of bookish memoir filled with literary tittle-tattle that is right up my alley. Authors featured include several of my favorites like Kingsley Amis, Saul Bellow, Lawrence Durrell, Rose Macauley, Jessica and Nancy Mitford, Edna O'Brien, and Muriel Spark.

YOUR BOOK BEGINNINGS

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THE FRIDAY 56

Also on Fridays, Freda of Freda's Voice hosts The Friday 56 where participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of their book. You can also share the equivalent from your e-book or audiobook by finding a teaser at 56%.

MY FRIDAY 56s

From A Small Earnest Question:

He arrived at the shop one morning at his usual unearthly hour to discover that one of the yoga groupies had set up camp in his parking lot. There was a bright blue pup tent accompanied by a pickup truck.

From Signatures:

Pentwyn is our family farmhouse twenty minute from Hay-on-Wye, and every time I drive to that bibliophile town I pass Oakfield, the handsome red-brick house that used to be the Burney home. At the age of eighteen, Christopher Burney ran away from Wellington in the hope of becoming a soldier rather than the classical scholar that the headmaster intended him to be.

-- from the chapter on Christopher Burney, author of The Dungeon Democracy (1946).







Sunday, July 12, 2020

Peter Meech, author of Billy (the Kid): Author Interview

headshot pf author Peter Meech

Peter Meech is an author and screenwriter. His debut novel, Billy (the Kid), came out earlier this year. In it, Meech imagines the famous outlaw survived Pat Garrett's bullet and, in 1932, is living as a retired dentist in Pueblo, Colorado, avoiding rum runners and falling in love with the town widow.

book cover of Billy (the Kid) by Peter Meech

Peter talked with Rose City Reader about his Billy (the Kid) novel, the authors who inspire him, Thomas Pynchon, and creative idleness:

The story takes place in Pueblo, Colorado in 1932. What drew you to this time and place for the setting of your book?

My mother was a fifth-generation Coloradoan and was born and raised in Pueblo. I grew up hearing stories of her childhood, which took place during the Great Depression. While my novel is not about the history of my mother’s childhood, it draws upon many of her childhood memories. I set the novel in 1932 because that’s when bootlegging was at its zenith. It’s also a time when the Old West was colliding with the New West, when aging outlaws were confronting young gangsters, when new inventions were replacing traditional ways of living.

How did you research the historical information and detail found in your book?

I used the internet, of course, but even in this day and age, libraries are invaluable when it comes to research. So I spent a lot of time in a lot of libraries. The Pueblo Lore, a monthly publication put out by the Pueblo Historical Society, was a great resource. But by far the greatest resource was my mother.

What is your professional background? How did it lead to writing fiction?

I studied screenwriting at Stanford and received a Master’s degree in Communications and later a Stanford Nichol fellowship. Alas, neither the screenwriting program nor the Stanford Nichol fellowship exists anymore. After Stanford, I began writing half-hour television, both live-action and animation, which lead to writing feature scripts, which I sold or had optioned. I love screenwriting, it’s an art form unto itself, but it’s no substitute for writing prose. With screenwriting everything is pared down to a minimum – character description, dialogue, scene description. At one point after writing screenplays for a few years, I found myself champing at the bit to write prose, and not just the typical three-line paragraph of description you find in a screenplay, but great swaths of prose, pages and pages of prose. Eventually I carved out the time to do it. I had no choice in the end. The impulse was that strong.

What did you learn from writing your book that most surprised you?

As I wrote the book I was constantly surprised at how the characters were interacting with each other. They behaved in ways I could never have imagined. Over the course of the novel many of the characters became more complex, more dimensional, in particular the female characters. At the heart of the novel there’s now a great romance that was greatly expanded from the initial outline.

Did you know right away, or have an idea, how you were going to end the story?

Before I write a story I always start out with an outline, and an outline consists of plot complications, twists, reveals, reversals, and it always has a beginning, middle and an end. But with Billy (the Kid), I was dealing with an unreliable narrator and whenever I sat down to write his story, Billy would refuse to cooperate. He would contradict what he had said a page earlier, or reveal an aspect of his character I was unaware of. So I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to end Billy’s story, but I decided to forge ahead anyway, and the ending came to me when I was writing the last page, which was the first time I understood who this man really was.

Is there a particular writer who inspired you to become a writer? And if so, what form did that inspiration take?

In high school I discovered Babylon Revisited and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald and immediately fell under Fitzgerald’s spell. Like a man possessed, I proceeded to hunt down everything Fitzgerald had ever written, including his correspondence and the lyrics he wrote for the Princeton musicals. After I had exhausted the Fitzgerald canon, I went searching for his literary influences, or literary forebears, beginning with the Romantic poets. And after immersing myself in the Romantic poets, particularly Keats and Byron, I read some of Fitzgerald’s favorite writers. Among them were Booth Tarkington, Conrad, Kipling, Dickens, Rupert Brooke, Joyce, Wilde, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker. And then I sought out those writers who might be called Fitzgerald’s literary heirs, prose stylists of the first water, and became acquainted with writers like J.D. Salinger, Truman Capote, Jay McInerney, Thomas McGuane, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And that’s how one collection of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald introduced me to a constellation of extraordinary writers.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

Besides novels of literary fiction, I like to read short stories, poetry and graphic novels. I also read a lot of nonfiction, including memoirs and biographies. At the moment I’m reading Slow Learner: Early Stories by Thomas Pynchon. What’s remarkable about this slim volume of stories is not the high quality of the stories, which you would expect from Pynchon, but the twenty-three page Introduction, in which an older Pynchon candidly discusses the literary shortcomings of his younger self. On one of my bookshelves is an unread copy of Mason & Dixon. I’ll get to it eventually, but right now these early stories are just the perfect amount of Pynchon for me.

What’s the most valuable advice you can give to young writers?

Don’t follow literary trends, or try to be fashionable. Write the book you would love to read.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

I’m taking the summer off and catching up on my reading. I believe in creative idleness.

THANK YOU, PETER!

BILLY (THE KID) IS AVAILABLE FROM A VARIETY OF ONLINE SELLERS YOU CAN FIND ON PETER'S WEBSITE.





Thursday, July 9, 2020

Make Russia Great Again by Christopher Buckley on Book Beginnings

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BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

It's time for Book Beginnings on Fridays again and it finally feels like summer here in Portland! What is it like where you are?

Please share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading or featuring this week. Link to your post below, or just share the opening sentence(s) in a comment. If you post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings.

MY BOOK BEGINNING

Christopher Buckley's new book, Make Russia Great Again, comes out next week. I got a sneak peek thanks to Simon & Schuster and it looks hilarious. It is Buckley at his best in this "whipsmart fake memoir by Herb Nutterman -- Donald Trump’s seventh chief of staff -- who has written the ultimate tell-all about Trump and Russia."

No matter which side of the aisle you sit, it looks like a funny book. It is over the top, taking jabs at everyone. Political satire is much more fun than the real thing.

book cover of Make Russia Great Again by Christopher Buckley

“How could you work for a man like that?”
“What were you thinking?”
“What possessed you?”
All the time I get this, even in here, which frankly strikes me as a bit rich. Who knew inmates at federal correctional institutions had such keenly developed senses of moral superiority?

I offer a longer bit than the first sentence to give a sense of the tone. If you liked Thank You for Smoking or any of Buckley's other books, you will breeze right through this one, laughing right along.

YOUR BOOK BEGINNING

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THE FRIDAY 56

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Another fun Friday event is The Friday 56. Share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your book on this weekly event hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice.

MY FRIDAY 56

Oleg had named it Maria Ivanova, in honor of Mr. Putin's mother. Apparently, no fewer than fourteen oligarchs also named their megayachts after her.




Sunday, July 5, 2020

Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice by Gretel Van Wieren - BOOK REVIEW

Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice by Gretel Van Wieren

Gretel Van Wieren went on a retreat to the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon’s western Cascade Mountains to reconnect with the natural world. She grew up on west Michigan’s lakeshore and her favorite childhood memories were of fishing with her dad, hunting for morels, digging in the garden, boiling maple sap, identifying birds, and generally spending time outdoors.

She decided to treat her writing residency in Oregon as a "spiritual experiment" to try to recapture that sense of deep connection with nature she had when growing up. Living a busy life of a college professor with a husband and three teenagers had her feeling over-scheduled, over-screened, and over-stressed. The question was whether ten days in the woods would be enough to spiritually reconnect with the natural world. She wrote about her experience and what she learned in Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice (OSU Press).

The book describes Gretel's time at the Andrews Forest, what she did and saw and what she thought about while she was there. She looks back at her childhood and experiences with her husband and children. The unifying theme of the book is her spiritual practice and how it connects her to the natural world. Gretel first realized that her childhood experiences of nature influenced her spiritual outlook when she was at Divinity School. Later, when working as a pastor in rural upstate New York, she began to explore the world of nature mysticism, which inspired and informs much of Listening at Lookout Creek.

While this book has more trees and moss – and fewer bugs (thank goodness) – it reminded me a bit of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I loved despite the bugs. Reader's who enjoyed Dillard's classic will enjoy Listening at Lookout Creek, as would parents thinking about getting their kids outdoors more and on screens less, the fishing and hunting community, and spiritual seekers. It's a book that made me want to slow down and spend time in a forest.

NOTES

Read my Q&A interview with Gretel Van Wieren here, where Gretel talks about getting kids outdoors, a spiritual connection with the natural world, and her new book, Listening at Lookout Creek.

Read Gretel's 10 Tips for Getting Your Kids Outdoors.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Independence Day!


This is the text of the Declaration of Independence, signed by representatives of the original 13 United States. The original document is on display in the Rotunda at the National Archives Museum. The spelling and punctuation reflects the original.


DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

   He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

   He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

   He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

   He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

   He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

   He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

   He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

   He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

   He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

   He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

   He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

   He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

   He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

   For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

   For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

   For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

   For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

   For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

   For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

   For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

   For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

   For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

   He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

   He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

   He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

   He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

   He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.





Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Spiral Shell and Braided in Fire: BOOK BEGINNINGS


BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAY

As we head into this long Independence Day weekend here in the US, I have two books to share on Book Beginnings on Friday. Please join me to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are featuring this week.

Add the link to your post in the Linky below. If you share your post on social media come up please use the #bookbeginnings so we can find each other.


MY BOOK BEGINNING

Both books I have are new World War II histories described as memoirs. I get the idea they are “memoirs” because the authors inserted themselves into the narratives, describing the way they investigated the histories they wanted to write about and how they interacted with the people whose stories they told. But I will understand more when I read the books. They both look excellent.

The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals Its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II by Sandell Morse

I knew so little of my own history. On my father's side, I had two names: Henriette Ducas and Jacques Hirsch, my great-grandparents, both born in Héricourt, France, a commune in the Alsace that used to go back and forth between France and Germany, a spoil of war.

The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals Its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II by Sandell Morse.

When Sandell Morse was 71 years old, she got a writer's grant to go to France. The result is The Spiral Shell in which she explores her inward journey to find her own identity as a Jew, and her outward journey as she pieces together the history of French Jews under the Vichy government.

Braided in Fire: Black GIS and Tuscan Villagers on the Gothic Line by Solace Wales

I stood in dappled shade on a small hilltop in northern Tuscany, somewhat perplexed. How had I, despite walking daily past this monument to World War II heroes, missed seeing this name before?

Braided in Fire: Black GIS and Tuscan Villagers on the Gothic Line by Solace Wales.

Solace Wales tells the story of Sommocolonia and the Black 366th Infantry Regiment that defended the village in WWII during the Battle of Garfagnana. At the center of her story are Lieutenant John Fox, who won the Medal of Honor for his heroism and the brave Biondi family.

YOUR BOOK BEGINNING

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THE FRIDAY 56

Freda at Freda's Voice hosts a weekly event where participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of their book of the week. Please visit her blog to share your post on The Friday 56.

MY FRIDAY 56

From The Spiral Shell:

"This is important to me, that he became a gendarme afterward."

Important to me, too. His father was not involved in round-ups and deportations.

From Braided in Fire:

Most of the students at Ft. Benning were white. Apart from having separate sleeping quarters, Ft. Benning was not segregated.



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