With all the celebrations we've had-- the store turning 25 and Read to Grow turning 15--I haven't had a chance to "talk" books with you. Here's a mish mash of topics, books and observations. Sorry if it's too much--just read a little every day!
Let's start with two books you MUST read:
One is Elizabeth Alexander's poignant smart memoir, The Light of the World, about the sudden death of her young husband. Some background--Elizabeth is a poet, Yale professor and the woman who read a poem at President Obama's 2009 inauguration. I read the book in one night and found myself trying to define the essence of this exquisite story. It came to me when I attended her book signing at the Yale Art Gallery. As I watched her numerous fans, students and friends interact with her, I was struck by her generosity, her capacity to listen intently and her sense of humanity. It is those qualities that saturate her writing, enhanced by prose that reads like poetry-feels like beautiful music-and is enveloped by love. It is then I realized that the book is above all else a love story and I felt enriched in every way.
The second book is Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed of Wild fame. Before she published Wild, Cheryl wrote an advice column "Dear Sugar" for the literary site, The Rumpus. This collection of letters written to Dear Sugar envelop all that life has to offer-this is, in a way, a type of memoir that emerges as she answers questions silly and sad and profound. I was hooked from page one-she is funny, kind and remarkably wise. (She also doesn't have a filter when it comes to topics concerning sex, so you may find parts pretty racy). Read this if you want to celebrate life with all its warts and warmth. I loved it!
A Blast from the Past
As part of our 25th celebration, we reviewed our best selling books over the last 25 years-it was a blast looking this list over. Striking in which books were huge but have disappeared or been forgotten and which continue to be best sellers of one type or another. We have a display in the store of the top staff pick from each year and a list of runners-up from each year. (Click here for the list of winners.) Over the next few months I will highlight those that you may have never read or even heard about, that were, and are, some of my favorites. For this month, the two books that I encourage you to read are A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines and Map of the World by Jane Hamilton. They both brilliantly address moral dilemmas and are gripping reads that challenge and provoke our understanding of humanity. Decades later they remain vivid and important to me.
There is a new biography of Saul Bellow, The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune by Zachary Leader, that has re-intrigued me about his books and his life story. Herzog is one of my favorites and now with this bio out it makes me wonder if there is enough interest in our getting together. We can read the new biography or one from 2000 that a friend of mine, Jim Atlas, wrote entitled Bellow: A Biography, and then we can read two or more of Bellow's novels and discuss. (Plus, Jim would join us for a first-hand glimpse into Bellow's life!) If you would be interested, please let me know--if there is enough interest we can get something scheduled.
Pen Literary Gala and Free Expression Awards
I had the good fortune to attend the Pen Literary Gala and Free Expression Awards the other night. It was an amazing night, it had everything that, for me, makes for a dazzling evening--brilliant, inspiring speeches, an audience filled with legendary and debut authors, and fantastic fashion! It started with an exquisite speech by Markus Dohle, Penguin Random House CEO. He was honored for "resisting censorship and promoting reverence for the written word." Tom Stoppard then received a Lifetime Achievement Award and he was mesmerizing. And lastly, the honor that necessitated about fifty highly-armed police officers surrounding The Museum of Natural History was given to the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo. I, like everyone else, remain incredibly intrigued about the complex, provocative questions raised by the protest about their award: when does free speech tip over to hate speech? As Tom Stoppard noted in his acceptance speech, "words...They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos." I left elated, intrigued and happy. I don't know if it will translate by video but Random House graciously provided a link to the event. Click here to view.
Alexander Hamilton-a Game Changer?
The notion of free speech provides a segway to a play I recently attended, "Hamilton," based on the Ron Chernow biography Alexander Hamilton and billed as a "musical changing" play. I didn't find it as redefining as Bob Fosse's Chorus Line but I did find it to be a fantastic version of Les Mis meets hip hop with an outstanding cast. It did get me motivated to read Chernow's biography on Hamilton and George Washington, Washington: A Life. Thinking of all these Presidents has made me set a new goal for myself; read a book on every President in our country's history (I'm not setting an end date...yet).
Okay, I think I've said enough...
See you in the store,
Roxanne J. Coady