The Book Jam Blog
Read our latest reviews
Years ago, the Book Jam began as a dare and became a podcast recorded on a simple digital recorder purchased from somewhere we can't remember at this point. We recorded in the basement of our beloved Norwich Public Library; lucky for us, we both ended up on the board there and organizing their first ever special event/fundraiser as part of this "rental agreement".
The podcasting dropped off due to crazy schedules and other jobs; we began to blog and organize live events to raise money for libraries and other literacy organizations across New England instead.
Well, what comes around goes around or something like that. We have jumped back on the podcasting bandwagon with a new, delightfully fun podcast called Shelf Help. The Book Jam serves as the organizer and host. Our local cable media service - CATV serves as our terrific and much needed moral and technical support (particular thanks to Samantha Davidson Green, Chico Eastridge, and David Eric). Shelf Help's fabulous, smart, funny, and sincere stars are the owners of our three superb local independent bookstores - Kari Muetsch of Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, Vermont (her co-owner Kristian Preloswki is our silent partner, but we hope to coax him on air soon); Sam Kaas and Emma Nichols of the Norwich Bookstore in our hometown of Norwich, Vermont; and Allie Levy of Still North Books and Bar in Hanover, New Hampshire. Truly -- they are amazing individuals, extremely well read (even if, as listeners learn, they are not reading as much as they'd like), and always recommend a wide range of great books to read.
On Shelf Help each week, these terrific booksellers answer real questions from listeners who need help finding the perfect book - or as we would say - needing help getting out of a Book Jam. To add your questions, just contact them on the social media platform of your choice, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help you find this stupendous resource, today we highlight and link to each Shelf Help episode and list the books recommended thusfar. We are thrilled to inform you all episodes can be found at CATV, Apple podcasts, Spotify, IHeartRadio, Stitcher, buzzsprout and other sites. We hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoy organizing and hosting these brilliant booksellers. And, we hope you subscribe using your favorite podcasting platform.
So without further ado, an introduction to some of the books recently recommended on Shelf Help.
The fabulous booksellers - Kari, Sam, Emma, and Allie - introduce themselves in Episode One by picking ONE (this is more difficult than it appears) book that is representative of them. Their picks include:
The question for Episode Two was to select and describe just one book the booksellers can recommend to anyone. Their picks are:
Episode Three honors April’s poetry month with a selection of poetry from each bookseller. We hope you will be inspired to read each recommendation.
Episode Four discussed gardening as a means to help us all fully embrace spring and summer and beyond.
May’s Mental Health Awareness Month provides the inspiration for Episode Five. We promise it is not depressing, but instead filled with hope, help, and healing. And one of the bookstore owners - hi Kari - snuck in a second selection.
In Episode Six, each bookseller reviews a short book for those phases when you have a limited amount of time, or when your book club just needs a very quick read. In this episode, three of the bookstore owners had a hard time limiting their selections to one book, and they somehow independently picked two different books by the same author, implying Mr. Delillo is an expert with the short novel.
In Episode Seven, each bookseller describes one book that is either funny and/or "provides a superb balance between fun and thought" based on an instagram question from Karen.
For Episode Eight, each bookseller channels our inner Sam (whose enthusiasm over this question caused him to mention three books) as we discuss a question left for us on Instagram: "please discuss 'Ottessa Moshfegh-ish' literary fiction. Something grotesque and damaged but beautiful."
Episode Nine originates with an email from Cindy, “I am a first grade teacher and want to teach a unit on graphic novels. I have some graphic novels, but it is hard to find ones that are appropriate for little ones and that the reading level is not too challenging. Help!!" To assist Cindy, each bookseller discusses one book, ok maybe two or three. As a bonus, we highlighted the Center for Cartoon Studies located within a baseball throw from where we record.
Episode Ten means we had a chance to help our good friend Shari Altman, from a great book resource - Literary North. She posed the question -- "I am looking for strange and beautiful novels about middle age." We note that Shari is nowhere near approaching middle age; we then debate what defines middle age. Allie, Sam, Emma, and Kari recommend a few books in response to her query, including:
In Episode Eleven, booksellers answer an anonymous question from instagram in which one desperate listener asks for the "best ways to get out of a reading slump". For this question, Lisa adds an idea for the first time - Hunting and Gathering, a "fun to read" gem by France's best-selling author Ana Gavalda that Lisa Cadow recommended to her years ago to get out of a reading slump. And the bookstore owners spend a bit more time than in previous episodes offering general advice. Kari suggests reading short stories is a great way to get reading again. Emma reminds listeners that they don't have to finish a book; stop reading if you don't like it and feel no guilt. She also suggests that reading from a genre out of your comfort zone or rereading a favorite book can help end a reading slump. Sam adds when he is in a slump he often looks for "something where I know I'm going to get"; in his case it would mean picking up a mystery or fast paced nonfiction about things he is interest in learning more about. Allie was last to speak and just seconded everything everyone said before her.
Episode Twelve emerged when Tom used FB to ask the longest question we've received thusfar, "So I could use some advice! I sorta fell out of reading regularly for fun. Due to the events of the world, I've focused more on reading educational topics. I used to read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. Some of my favorite novels are the Dune series (and prequels), and growing up I LOVED the Lost Years of Merlin. I got the book series The Magicians a few years ago and worked through that and really liked it. I'd like to get back into reading for pleasure again, but nothing has really gotten me super excited. Unfortunately, with the rise of streaming on TV it can be hard to get motivated to sit down and read. I'm trying to re-ignite my love of reading. Can you help?" Of course we can help. Discussed selections include:
In our final Episode Thirteen before taking a summer "gone reading" break, the booksellers tackle a question about great books for younger readers when the instagram handle courtpilling asked for "Middle Grade historical fiction set in 1700s-1800s".
We hope you enjoy Shelf Help!
A recent newsletter by one of our favorite booksellers, Emma Nichols of the Norwich Bookstore, discussed romance novels and their ability to entertain even when our attention span is miniscule.
We initially ignored her train of thought as we don't consider ourselves romance readers and yet...
And yet ... we recently found ourselves listening to two novels that we would best describe as "rom-coms" (think of Notting Hill, or Sweet Home Alabama, or any of Nora Ephron's movies - think When Henry Met Sally). And, Emma's note reminded us to share these two novels with you.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry (2022). This is the most Nora Ephron-like of the two books we highlight today. In this novel, Nora (Ephron tribute or coincidence?) knows she is not the typical romance heroine. She is not the one the guy falls for. She is the one the guy is initially coupled with - the brittle, career-driven, bottle blond who is left behind for a wholesome, brunette or darker blond woman by the end of the movie (think of the women in The Parent Trap). But she adores her sister Libby and she has vacation days. Thus, she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for a sisters’ trip. Libby envisions this as a small town transformation for Nora. She even makes a multi-point list of things they must do while away to appeal to Nora's uber efficient personality. However, instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a rugged doctor from the list, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie, a brooding editor, from back in New York City, who she abhors. You can sort of guess what comes next; but Emily Henry packs in enough twists to keep things interesting and writes with a festive flair that keeps pages turning. We recommend that you just enjoy this and spend a bit of time casting it in your head for the inevitable movie (eg Reese Witherspoon or Cameron Diaz would have been Libby in their 20 something years, not sure who'd be Libby now).
Forward March by Skye Quinlan (2022). This YA novel is a bit different from the rom-coms we grew up watching in the 80s and 90s, and we loved it for that fact alone. The novel swims with important representation of sexual identity, something that seems perfect to explore in YA as readers figure out sex, gender, love, and life. Forward March even throws in contemporary politics because the plot circles around the facts that Harper's (the main character) dad is running for President as a Republican, her mom is the headmaster of her prep school, and both of their conservative bents are, to understate the situation a bit, challenging for Harper and her friends of many sexual identities. Add an online dating app fiasco, and you have this great YA novel. If you don't trust us yet, School Library Journal had this to say about Skye Quinlan's debut, "Quinlan skillfully weaves everything together brilliantly into one very natural-feeling, heartwarming, and compelling story [...] A wonderful ace rom-com bursting at the seams with representation [...]"