Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Literary Update and a Great New Book!

I’ve been busy collecting new books to read. Last week I met with the wonderful Erin Lovett of W.W. Norton and talked about some of their very interesting books coming up for Fall ’11. I’m looking forward to reading a new book by Pam Houston (love her!), as well as two other novels, White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby (sounds like a great book for foodies) and Heft by Liz Moore, a Philadelphia author.

Speaking of Philadelphia authors, in October I’ll be launching a new reading series at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts ( called Philly Writes, in which we’ll be featuring local published authors. If you want to save the dates for the first few readings, they will be October 19, November 9, December 14, and January 11. Authors to be announced soon!

And speaking of reading, I read a wonderful first novel in my last meeting of this past spring/summer session of Hot Off the Press called The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (Viking). I love this book! It’s smart, quirky, fun, unusual, and well-written. Just my kind of book!

If you want to learn more about it go to the author’s website and start by reading an FAQ written by the author. You’ll like her immediately—she’s sharp, funny, and sassy:

The Borrower borrows its title from a classic children’s book by Mary Norton and tells the story of children’s librarian Lucy Hull, who borrows a ten-year-old boy named Ian Drake for a cross-country road trip where one of them may or may not be kidnapping the other.

The story begins in a Midwestern city that Lucy decides to call Hannibal, MO. Lucy meets Ian during the library story hours she conducts. He is an exceptionally bright child whose reading interests are hampered by his evangelical parents (who may be trying to de-gay him with classes with Pastor Bob). Soon they wind up taking off on a journey that brings them into contact with a host of wacky characters including Lucy’s Russian immigrant father, a pianist (lots of fun to be had with that word!) named Glenn, and more!

The book is fun and playful and clever and you might stop there and never notice (but you should) that beneath its deceptively playful exterior is an examination of a complex array of serious issues (what it means to be an expatriate, running away, the importance of literature...). There are Lolita and Huck Finn parallels and references to a wealth of wonderful children’s (and adult) literature. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I get the prize – not the Nobel, not the Pulitzer – the Patchett! I have now read every single book Ann Patchett ever wrote! I set myself this literary goal and I achieved it! Hurrah for me!

Here’s what I read (Note: I did not read it in chronological order):



The final entry on my Patchett reading list was Taft. It was wonderful! In fact, after Bel Canto, it’s my favorite of her novels. It’s the story (I think) of two men struggling to figure out how to be good fathers. The first is John Nickel, a former drummer who manages a bar in Memphis (it takes place late 80s/early 9os). His ex-girlfriend has recently moved to Miami with their nine-year-old son Franklin, and he is struggling with learning how to father the boy from afar, and filled with regret for his perceived past misdeeds, such as not marrying Franklin’s mother, Marion.

Into John’s bar one day walks a young girl named Fay seeking work. Fay brings with her a host of complications, including her brother Carl, and a sad story that slowly unfolds of their father, Taft, who has recently died, and the life they left behind in a “hillbilly” town in eastern Tennessee. As Fay comes to mean more and more to John, he begins to imagine the life of Fay and Carl’s father, and the story begins to cut back and forth between these imaginings (or are they real?) and the present day story, which encompasses the bar, music, love and relationships, family, and some danger. (When John casually mentions, early in the book, the gun left in his desk drawer by the bar’s owner, we must think of Chekov’s warning: when there’s a gun in Act I, it will go off by Act III.)

The book is masterfully written and is, I think, a Patchett gem that should receive more acclaim. Some refer to it as one of her weaker books, but I disagree. I also read somewhere that she doesn’t think it is well-titled. With that I do agree. Nonetheless, if you’re a Patchett fan and haven’t read this one yet, bump it up the list!

Now back to that prize I mentioned. I was chatting yesterday with my friend Debbie Albert, who is also a member of this select club of readers who have conquered the Patchett canon. Debbie thinks we deserve lunch with the author. I think that’s quite an excellent idea. I told her I’d look into it. So as soon as I post this, I’m going to e-mail Ms. Patchett’s publicist at HarperCollins and send her this link. So, Jane, what do you say?