The Book Jam Blog
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Two more shopping days until Mother's Day. Do NOT panic, the Book Jam is coming to your rescue. We have some great books to give as gifts; and we suggest that the second part of the gift is some uninterrupted time for the recipients to read them. (If you are truly last, last minute, all links to the books we recommend include an e-reader edition.)
Motherhood by Shelia Heti (2019 paperback)-
Canadian author Sheila Heti is all at once a philosopher, a poet, a radical self-inquisitor, and a cultural explorer. Her introspective writing style pulls readers into her active mind, taking them on an intellectual and emotional journey to deeply examine every facet of an issue alongside her, which in this case is the loaded subject of motherhood. To be or not to be? The nameless narrator in this, her second autobiographical novel, is a woman in her late 30's. She has found a supportive mate named Miles and we meet her as she is struggling to decide whether being a mother is right for her. Reading this book is like being on a reproductive roller coaster ride strapped into the unsteady seat next to Heti: her momentary leanings, ambivalence, and vertigo induced by the idea of parenting shifting from one page to the next. Reading this, I felt torn and simultaneously exposed, pushed to re-examine with a fresh lens my own (good for me) choice to have children (twenty plus years ago), my own ongoing confusion about this role and society's expectations, my complacency being on the other side of this decision making, and my assumptions about the younger women around me. To say that Heti is a talented writer would be like saying like Georgia O'Keeffe was a talented artist. There is a quality to her genius that allows her, like O'Keeffe, to gracefully explore internal as well as external landscapes, raw femininity, gender, power, and the many colors of emotion. The question Heti poses in this work is not new, and is, in fact, more important than her ultimate answer to it, which consistently eludes her. As she reflects, "Whether I want kids is a secret I keep from myself - it is the greatest secret I keep from myself." This book is recommended for all of us surrounded by people making reproductive decisions, for those pondering the magnitude of motherhood, or simply for those with mothers and sisters on Mother's Day- and on every day of the year. A New York Times Notable Book of 2018. ~Lisa Cadow
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis (2019) - As a woman raised in the South (Tennessee) who has now lived in New England for almost 24 years, this memoir of an Alabama belle placed/misplaced? in New York City for many years, leapt out at me from The Norwich Bookstore's shelves. The need to read it was enhanced by a glowing review from our favorite children's librarian, Ms. Beth. (Ms. Minshall - your title is coordinator so we feel OK calling Ms. Beth our favorite children's librarian.) Anyway, back to our review. Ms. Ellis insights into life as a New Yorker, wife, writer, and well, person will have you smiling throughout each of the compact essays contained in this book. You will gain insight into how to say something not-so-nice in a nice way when you can't think of anything nice to say. You will learn the art of a proper thank you note. You will receive festive hosting tips. While I did not bend over laughing as some other reviews of this book promised, my theory is that my status as a misplaced southerner myself means many of Ms. Ellis's predicaments lacked the element of surprise laughing-out-loud sometimes requires. Besides, my more subdued reaction to these essays in no way diminishes the fun readers will have with this book. It feels as if very few things of late are truly meant to just be enjoyed; I claim this book is one of them. As an NPR review stated "Ellis is fun - like the Nutter Butter snowmen she serves at her retro holiday parties". So, gift this collection to your favorite moms and then "sit a spell" with it yourself. ~ Lisa Christie
Two of our favorite things are travel and reading great books. Visiting bookstores in foreign lands allows us to combine the two into one great activity. Not only is this a great way to learn about the place you are visiting, but you often find memorable books you just would not have come across back home. So, in our inaugural post with our new web design, we decided to share some of the best books we have picked up on our travels while browsing local bookstores. We hope you like these books and our new look, and that you remember to visit a bookstore or two (or three) the next time you come across a new place.
We would like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to Danielle Allen of Root5Farm for designing this new Book Jam site. We are very excited about this new endeavor. It will eventually allow us to add some new services (e.g., eventually curating gift baskets full of books for your favorite gift giving occasions, better live events). And honestly, we just think this new site is so much better merely because it is much easier to navigate the book reviews, allowing you to better find your next perfect read. Plus, well, the design is just better. So THANK YOU Danielle.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – I discovered this haunting tale of Iceland in Rhode Island at Island Books; and, I am glad I did. Ms. Kent does a superb job of taking the true stories of 1) Agnes, a woman convicted of murdering two men, 2) the family who must house Agnes while she awaits her execution, and 3) Toti, the Reverend charged with saving Agnes’s soul, and combining them into a fabulous first novel. ~ Lisa Christie
Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun fun festivities from the four corners of the globe by Lucy Letherland (2014) – Ms. Letherland’s book encourages the reader, through fun illustrations and some well selected prose, to travel the world, while suggesting adventures specific to each unique location. When we were lucky enough to live in Spain one autumn, Pasajes, a fabulous Madrid bookstore, was our neighborhood store. Lucky because it meant weekly visits to its shelves were very convenient. On one of those visits, we discovered Ms. Letherland. Her work has been a holiday gift staple every since. ~ Lisa Christie
Hunting and Gathering by Ana Gavalda (2007) - One of my favorite books to give is Hunting and Gathering. Why? Well, it was a gift to me from Lisa Cadow when I desperately needed a well-written book that just left me feeling happy. Lisa, in turn, discovered Hunting and Gathering at WHSmith Bookstore on Rue de Rivoli (one of her most cherished places to visit when abroad) in Paris during her time abroad there. As I wrote in an October 20, 2015 Book Jam post, "Time spent with this group of Parisians is well spent. When I read this in 2008, it was the first book in a long time that left me feeling happy about the world when I finished it. And since it was recommended to me by Lisa Cadow, we recommend it again here". I can't really review it much better today. But I will add that I hope you pick it up and enjoy it soon.~ Lisa Christie (with a strong original recommendation from Lisa Cadow)
The next book in this post was not discovered in a bookstore we visited while visiting another country or city or town. Instead, Lisa Cadow discovered it visiting our hometown destination - the fabulous Norwich Bookstore. We include it here as a bonus review because it fits the spirit of this post -- that great books take you to amazing places. Enjoy!
The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti (2016) - I was immediately drawn to this Italian coming-of-age story when I saw that the New York Times described it as "a good old fashioned novel." Who doesn't seek this, especially if said book is just over 200 pages and takes place in remote alpine pastures? Set in the late in the 20th and early 21st centuries, readers journey with young Pietro and Bruno through their boyhoods and high up into the Aosta Mountains. City boy Pietro's parents rent a small house in a hamlet summers for their family of three with the hope of sharing some part of their own rural childhoods with him. It is here that he meets Bruno and spends days on end with him exploring the village ruins, cool streams, and hillsides while also learning how to be a cowherd and climbing mountain peaks with his distant father. The boys lives take very different paths into adulthood but always re-converge in the village. This novel is deeply atmospheric and quietly explores male friendship and father-son relationships. It conveys a love of mountains, nature, farming, and respect for making a living from the land with one's hands. I found this book to be an important one. It offers insight into the changing nature of post-war European economies, culture, and the challenges presented to traditional livelihoods. "The Eight Mountains" remained on the bestseller list in Italy for years, and has won both the Italian "Premio Strega" prize and the French Prix Médicis Étranger. ~Lisa Cadow