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Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Reading Stats

2016 was a great reading year for me--SO many good reads!

Up until October, when Buddy Fitzwilliam suddenly appeared on the scene and changed my sluggish daily routine, I had been humming along in my reading life. He's been with us for three months now and while I'm not exactly back into a reading groove, we're starting to get into something that looks like it might eventually turn into a routine.

Buddy Fitzwilliam - #1 Reading Buddy (WildmooBooks)
Last read of the year with my reading Buddy

For years now my annual reading goal has been to read 52 books. That's one book a week and doesn't make me shy away from big books. It also doesn't make me feel pressured about reading when life gets crazy busy.

Here's some breakdown:
  • 58 books read
  • 37 by women
  • 20 by men 
  • 1 gender neutral
  • 3 published in the 19th century
  • 16 published in the 20th century
  • 39 published in the 21st century
  • 20 published in 2016 (super high for me and only 7 were ARCs)
  • 4 ebooks (same as last year)
  • 3 audiobooks (also same as last year)
  • 2 translated into English (one less than last year)
  • 11 qualified towards #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks 
  • 6 for The Classics Club
  • 1 for Australian Women Writers (#AWW2016)
List of books read. Yellow highlights are my Top 10 of 2016

Author
Title
Atwood, Kathyrn
Women Heroes of WWII: The Pacific Theater
Austen, Jane
Pride and Prejudice
BarkPost
Dogs and Their People
Caspary, Vera
Laura
Chbosky, Stephen
Perks of Being a Wall Flower, The
Chopin, Kate
Awakening, The
Christie, Agatha
And Then There Were None
Clark, Marcia
Blood Defense
Cornwell, Patricia
Chasing the Ripper
Doemer, Cornelia
Martin Luther’s Travel Guide
Du Maurier, Daphne
Rebecca
Ehrlich, Amy
Willa: The Story of Willa Cather, an American Writer
Eustice, Helen
Horizontal Man, The
Fleming, Jacky
Trouble with Women, The
Gilbert, Elizabeth
Big Magic
Gilman, George G.
Blind Side, The
Gorman, Jane
Blind Eye, The
Gyasi, Yaa
Homegoing
Hammett, Dashiell
Thin Man, The
Hawkins, Paula
Girl on the Train, The
Heller, Joseph
Catch-22 (DNF)
Hemingway, Ernest
Moveable Feast, A
Highsmith, Patricia
Price of Salt, The
Irving, John
Prayer for Owen Meany, A
Jackson, Shirley
Haunting of Hill House, The (reread)
Kiernan, Stephen P
Hummingbird, The
King, Stephen
Mr. Mercedes *
King, Stephen
Finders Keepers *
King, Stephen
End of Watch *
Kovic, Ron
Hurricane Street
Lagercrantz, David
Girl in the Spider’s Web, The
Lamb, Wally
She’s Come Undone
Longo, Stacey (ed)
Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors
Maran, Meredith
Why We Write About Ourselves
McNamara, Frances
Death at the Paris Exposition
Oakley, Barbara
Mind for Numbers, A
Olson, Karen E.
Sacred Cows
Patchette, Anne
Bel Canto
Penny, Louise
Great Reckoning, A
Pinckney, Darryl
Black Deutschland
Raabe, Melanie
Trap, The
Rhys, Jean
Good Morning, Midnight
Rhys, Jean
Wide Sargasso Sea, The
Scottoline, Lisa
Final Appeal
Seay, Martin
Mirror Thief, The
Shoemaker, Karen Gettert
Meaning of Names, The
Speart, Jessica
Winged Obsession
Stein, Triss
Brooklyn Secrets
Strecker, Susan
Nowhere Girl
Thorson, Robert M.
Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls**
Tremblay, Paul
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
Twain, Mark
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, A
Viskic, Emma
Resurrection Bay
Whitehead, Colson
Underground Railroad, The
Wilson, Anne A.
Hover
Woodham, Jane
Twister
Yun, Jung
Shelter
Zacks, Richard
Chasing the Last Laugh

 * When Emily and I listed our Top 10 reads of 2016 on episode two of the Book Cougars, I cheated and listed Stephen King's Bill Hodges Trilogy as one book.

** Currently reading and will finish today or tomorrow. Usually I'm anal and work it so that I finish whatever I'm reading on the last day of the year and then start a new read on the first day of the year, but apparently I'm living on the edge these days. Oh, and there are two books not on the list above that I've already started but didn't list since I'm not near the half way point on either: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (audio and hardcover) and Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall by St. Sukie de la Croix (on my ereader).

I'm looking forward to more great reading in 2017 and my next post will be about my reading plans for the new year. The older I get, the less time I spend with books that don't engage me, so my overall enjoyment of reading seems to be increasing with each passing year.

Here's to health, happiness, world peace, and good reads in 2017!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Trying Something New: 2017 Reading Journal

I'm 99% committed to start using this Leuchtturm1917 Ex Libris Private Reading Journal in 2017. My sister-in-law gave it to me last Christmas and I've been eyeballing it as it sat patiently on my shelf for the last year. We'll see how it goes.

Leuchtturm1917 Ex Libris Private Reading Journal (WildmooBooks.com)

I have a habit of starting and abandoning reading journals. I'll begin one, but soon my reading notes start showing up on bookmarks, index cards, loose leaf paper (I love both bound journals and binders--a love that sometimes causes organizational conflict). I also underlined books, write marginalia, and use sticky tabs, but I'm not really into highlighting.

Granted, not all books spark the same level of engagement to take notes, but I like the idea of having one physical place where I chronologically record information about what I've read. I use Goodreads more regularly than the detailed spreadsheet I try to keep, but neither is very tactile and I get tired of screens. I'm also feeling like I want some of my reading life to be . . . not exactly private, but not so . . . public.

Leuchtturm1917 Ex Libris Private Reading Journal - WildmooBooks.com
Page shot

As you can see in the page shot above, there's one page to chronicle each book. The prompts are:
  • Title (book or audio)
  • Author
  • Read (when? where?)
  • Date of Publication
  • Original Language
  • Genre
  • Notes/Questions
  • Appraisal (1-6)
  • Gift from/Discovered by
  • Gift to
But there's not much room for reading notes.

So, I'm thinking I'll use this journal for the big picture. I'll jot down general thoughts in the 'notes' section after finishing a book and my "real time" reading notes will still manifest however they need to (and then get filed or tossed or, as is often the case, lost). This will work well when I'm reading multiple books as the Leuchtturm will maintain the chronology that I'm so fond of, yet I'll be able to take as many notes as I want on a book without worrying about space restrictions.

The journal has 252 pages. Of these 156 pages are for book entries, which will be about 2-3 years of reading for me (my annual goal is to read 52 books). There are also tabs in the back for 'books to read,' 'to give,' 'lent to/borrowed from,' and a blank tab for my own category. Especially helpful are alphabetized index pages to easily locate entries on past reads.

It's looking like writing this post has helped me work through that 1% of doubt.

Do you keep a reading journal or have a system for note taking? I'd love to hear about it if you're willing to share.

Product page:
Leuchtturm1917 Ex Libris Private Reading Journal

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 (#AWW2017)

#AWW2017 on WildmooBooks.com

At the end of December 2015 I planned on reading four books by Australian Women Writers in 2016. I ended up reading only one, but it was excellent:  Emma Viskec's award-winning thriller, Resurrection Bay.

For 2017 I am again planning to read four books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge (#AWW2017). I hope that listing them will help me follow-through. I love making lists of books to read, but tend to rebel against actually reading them. Hope springs eternal.

The first two were written-up in the January issue of BookPage magazine:
1. The Dry by Jane Harper
2. The Strays by Emily Bitto

#AWW2017 January BookPage on WildmooBooks.com

The second two are classics, a category on which challenge organizers would like to put more emphasis:
3. My Brilliant Career (1901) by Miles Franklin
4. Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909) by Miles Franklin

And then there's this big list of Lesbian and Queer Women Writers that I want to check out. Sigh. I know everyone says it, but SO MANY BOOKS! SO LITTLE TIME!

If you'd like to check out the challenge or sign-up for it yourself, visit the website: australianwomenwriters.com. There you'll find great resources for reading Australian Women Writers and links to the challenge's various social media groups.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Trouble with Women by Jacky Fleming

The Trouble with Women by Jacky Fleming (WildmooBooks.com)

Apparently, I won this book from the publisher; at least that's what the note inside said. Don't remember where I entered-to-win. Goodreads? Library Thing? Shelf Awareness? It doesn't matter, but a big thank you to Andrews McMeel Publishing for sending this little gem my way and introducing me to the wit and wicked cartoon skills of Jacky Fleming.

The Trouble with Women is a funny and biting satire on how women have been left out of history and relegated to their own sphere by ridiculous notions of femininity and masculinity. Several male "geniuses" are targeted for their ridiculous theories. Ironies, double-standards, and plain ridiculousness-es are pointed out, such as: Women's hands are weak, so they can't hold paint brushes long enough to create great art, yet at the same time women are also slaves and work in coal mines.

I was cranky when I picked up The Trouble with Women from my TBR pile. But its a short little book and I was in the mood for something short. The first couple pages made me wary. Did I really want to read another book about how women have been stunted for eons? After all, I was crabby already. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it. Then I turned to this page...

Embroidery Samples - The Trouble with Women by Jacky Fleming (WildmooBooks.com)

 ...and burst out laughing. There's something about that "HELP ME" that hit my funny bone. Hard. By the end of the book I was in a much better mood and ready to seize the day . . . and the rest of my life.

Sure, the book still made me angry at times, which is the point, but there's something healing and inspiring about poking fun of the "genius" men who claimed women can't be geniuses. It is an energy boost to the head and heart to keep us moving forward and fighting for equality today.

Title: The Trouble with Women
Author/Illustrator: Jacky Fleming
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016
Source: won it
Goodreads link
Bottom line: Read it now! Buy it for your feminist friends!



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Giveaway! Dogs and Their People by BarkPost

Regular readers of this blog know that Buddy Fitzwilliam came into my life on October 1st. At least one of you have demanded more pictures of Buddy and this post will satisfy that demand and introduce you to a great gift idea for the dog lover in your life.

Shortly after Buddy's arrival, his fur-cousins in Austin, TX, Ibo and Pepper, gifted him a BarkBox subscription. Inside Buddy's first box was this toy:

WildmooBooks - BarkBox toy
It's a crinkly, cloth dog toy version of BarkBox's book for humans that came out in October, Dogs and Their People. Talk about great marketing!

Buddy Fitzwilliam with his BarkBox toy (WildmooBooks)
Buddy with his Dogs and Their People book, which he LOVED. Yes, past-tense. Toys don't last very long with Buddy Fitzwilliam.

It was a case of canine synchronicity when, just a few days after Buddy received this toy, the publicist contacted me to ask if I'd be interested in reviewing Dogs and Their People and doing a give-a-way. I immediately said yes. BarkBox is a fun subscription--Buddy has enjoyed all the toys and treats so far--and who wouldn't love a book celebrating dogs?

Dogs and Their People: Photos and Stories of Life with a Four-Legged Love is fantastic treat for dog loving humans. It's actually a "community-sourced" book, full of photos and stories from hundreds of Instagram contributors. The stories and photos are all so touching, I laughed and also shed a tear or two, but mainly rejoiced that there are so many loving, dog-obsessed people out there.

Sample page (source)

Contributor's Instagram user names are included so you can see more photos of and follow your favorite pups from the book. There's a very brief history of BarkBox, cartoons, and helpful tips and suggestions for things to do for or with the dog(s) in your life. There's also an itemized list of how much it costs to own a dog. Estimated average cost per year: $2, 858. But the reward for owning a dog is an average of 31, 697 cuddles per year. An excellent cost-benefit ratio.

Enter to win a copy of the human version of Dogs and Their People by leaving a comment below along with your email address, twitter handle, or someway that I can contact you when you win. A random winner will be chosen around noon ET on Monday, 12/19/16. The book will be shipped directly from the publisher. Open to U.S. addresses only.

Buddy Fitzwilliam doesn't have his own Instagram account, but he does have his own Facebook page so family and friends can see what he's up to. I'll end this post with a video of Buddy playing with his Dogs and Their People toy.


Title: Dogs and Their People: Photos and Stories of Life with a Four-Legged Love
Author: BarkPost
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons, October 18, 2016
Hardcover $25
Source: Review copy
Bottom line: A great gift for dog lovers.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

New Book Adventure: Book Cougars Podcast

Book Cougars Podcast - Chris Wolak and Emily Fine (WildmooBooks)
Book Cougars logo designed by Laura Thoma

I have a new book adventure that I'm so excited to share with you all today. My friend Emily Fine and I have started a book podcast!

Introducing--drum roll, please--the Book Cougars: Two Middle-Aged Women on the Hunt for a Good Read.

Our first episode went live on Tuesday and you can stream or download it from our website: bookcougars.com. We're working to get it on iTunes.

The first episode is just over an hour long. The first half is a test run where we talk about doing the podcast, who we are, where we are, etc., and the second half is a "proper" episode with what we believe will be our regular segments: Just Read, Currently Reading, Literary Adventures, Upcoming Jaunts, Upcoming Reads.

Emily and I met because of a book podcast, namely, Books on the Nightstand, hosted by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, so it seemed kind of natural for us to start our own podcast (especially since Ann and Michael have, for now, retired their podcast).

Michael gave us a wonderful shout-out on Twitter:
  Thank you, Michael!


Book Cougars Podcast - Chris Wolak and Emily Fine (WildmooBooks)
Literary Adventures and Joint Jaunts

We've already recorded Episode 2, a holiday special, which will be available early next week. In that episode Emily and I each talk about our top 10 reads of 2016 and offer some holiday gift ideas for book lovers.

You can find us on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BookCougars/ and
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BookCougars

And if you'd like to send us feedback or ask a question our email address is bookcougars at gmail dot com.

I'd be so honored if you'd give us a listen. 

P.s. What is it with me and animals in my titles? WildmooBooks blog, Book Cougars podcast...?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Martin Luther's Travel Guide by Cornelia Dömer

Martin Luther's Travel Guide (WildmooBooks.com)

Martin Luther's Travel Guide is a helpful guide for planning a pilgrimage to Germany and a nice introduction to Luther's life and times. It covers the major locations, people, and conflicts in Luther's life and work, and offers websites, hotel recommendations, maps, and sites to see in each city/town as well as travel suggestions by car or rail.

I like that the address, phone number, and website of monuments, museums, hotels, and other sites are individually listed. For being only 176 pages, this book packs in a ton of information. Its small size (5x8 inches) makes it an easy resource to carry around in a day-pack or purse and it is sturdily constructed to withstand actual travel usage.

The book includes s a list of some of the larger events and exhibits throughout Germany that celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95th Theses to the Wittenburg church castle door on October 31, 1517.

I've been making the rounds, visiting the recommended websites, and a good please to start is, visit-luther.com.

The book also lists three Luther related exhibits currently on in the US:
  • Los Angeles: www.lacma.org (now through March 26, 2017)
  • Minneapolis: new.artsmia.org/luther (now through January 15, 2017)
  • New York: themorgan.org (now through January 22, 2017)

Colorful photographs of sites and key players in Luther's life grace just about every page.

Martin Luther's Travel Guide (WildmooBooks.com)
Scan of pages 76-77

The place in this book that I'm most familiar with is Dresden, my mother's home town. My first visit to this beautiful city was shortly after the Wall came down and the Frauenkirche was still in ruins. Over subsequent visits it was amazing to see the church being rebuilt and then to attend services when the restoration was complete.

The author ends her section on the Frauenkirche by saying the organ, "has not been rebuilt." I think this statement was intended to mean the original organ was not reproduced. However, there IS an amazing organ in the church that was designed specifically for the space. If you're ever in Dresden, be sure to add the Frauenkirche to your list of places to visit, and attend a service or concert if your schedule permits.

Frauenkirche - Martin Luther's Travel Guide (WildmooBooks.com)
Luther statue at the Frauenkirche, Dresden (source).
The Frauenkirche was built long after Luther's death, but he did visit Dresden twice, first in 1516 and again in 1518. Also known as The Church of Our Lady, The Frauenkirche was built from 1726 - 1743 in the Baroque style. It was destroyed by Allied bombing on February 13 & 14, 1945, left in ruins during Soviet occupation, and was fully restored in 2005.

This travel guide will be put to good use for my next visit to Germany (in 2017), during which I hope to incorporate a Luther site or two. It will no doubt be a popular book for those planning a trip and/or those wanting to learn more about the geographic particulars of Luther's life.

I was raised Lutheran and it would've been neat to have such a book when I was going through Confirmation classes.

Title: Martin Luther's Travel Guide: 500 Years of the 95 Theses: On the Trail of the Reformation in Germany
Author: Cornelia Dömer
Translator: Cindy Opitz
Publisher: Berlinica Publishing, November 2016
Source: Purchased it
Bottom line: An excellent resource for those interested in Martin Luther and travelers interested in history and historic tourism.

About the author: Cornelia Dömer, PhD, serves as a representative for the State of Rheinland-Pfalz at the federal German level and with the European Union. From 2000 to 2007, she managed the Luther-Zentrum Wittenberg. Previously, she was responsible for culture and marketing Luther at the Sachsen Anhalt GmbH, and e.V. She studied English and Romance language and literature, geography, and received postdoctoral certification at Cologne in 1992.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Institute Library in New Haven, CT - Guest Post on The Emerald City Book Review

The Institute Library, New Haven, CT (Chris Wolak - WildmooBooks)

Lory of The Emerald City Book Review asked me to write a guest post on a New England library for her year long Reading New England challenge.

Please HEAD OVER TO HER BLOG to check out my contribution featuring The Institute Library of New Haven, CT, a subscription library that was founded in 1826.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Author Home: Herman Melville's Arrowhead

Yesterday I took the day off and headed north to to visit Arrowhead, Herman Melville's home in Pittsfield, MA. It was the last day of the season for tours at the historic home. They were closed the day before due to a storm that dropped about 12 inches of snow.

Arrowhead Herman Melville Home (WildmooBooks.com)
Arrowhead
Melville lived at Arrowhead from 1850-1863, his most prolific years as a writer. His study is on the second floor, front right. His mother-in-law wanted the room for her bedroom but he claimed it for his study. The main house was built in 1784 and Melville added the side porch and the outbuildings.

Arrowhead - Herman Melville's Study (WildmooBooks.com)
Melville's study where he wrote Moby Dick and much more.
Even on a cloudy day the study gets great light and has a real warmth to it. The table pictured above  is similar to the one on which he wrote. Melville positioned the table against the window, which looks out toward Mount Greylock. The room just visible to the left is a small bedroom that Melville set up for his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne who spent a total of four nights there. Melville initially didn't let anyone else sleep there.

Mount Greylock in the distance as viewed from the parking lot.
The snow-filled clouds obscured much of Mount Greylock and my little iPhone was certainly no match for the landscape. Lore has it that a snow covered Mt. Greylock was Melville's inspiration for a white whale. Peter, my tour guide, said that in the mornings when there's better visibility it does look like a whale. The wispy fog that often hugs the mountain in the morning looks like sea foam, adding to the whale mirage.

Arrowhead - Herman Melville's Study (WildmooBooks.com)
Another view of Melville's study.
Just below Melville's study on the lower level is the parlor where guests would be received. Photography is not allowed inside Arrowhead, other than in Melville's study, so you'll just have to take my word for it that the walls are painted a pale green and the trim--ALL the trim--is painted hot pink which was THE new paint color in 1851 when Mrs. Melville made the color choice. Lest you think she was unhappy with the color combination, the Melville's also had special wallpaper made for their bedroom--a green and hot pink thistle pattern hand stamped on a creamy yellow background.

Arrowhead - Herman Melville's Study - Art Work (WildmooBooks.com)
This decorative tile that Melville purchased in Constantinople hangs in his study.

Arrowhead Herman Melville Home (WildmooBooks.com)
The back of the house.
The section of the back of the house, on the right with the three windows on the first floor, is the dinning room and above that are bedrooms. On the opposite side of the dining room, at the front of the house, is the family parlor.
Arrowhead Herman Melville Home (WildmooBooks.com)
Winter has arrived in the Berkshires!
Arrowhead opens again for regular tours in May and I highly recommend a visit. There are four special Candlelight and Chocolate tours of Arrowhead coming up in Nov & Dec if you're in the area. There's also The Melville Trail self-guided tour of 12 sites in Berkshire County related to Melville and his writing. And Edith Wharton's home, The Mount, is just a few minutes down the road as is the W.E.B. DuBois National Historic Site, which is a work in progress.

Tourism is up in the Berkshires this year due to J.K. Rowling setting Ilvermorny, the North American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, on Mount Greylock. Here's an article on Mount Greylock's influence on the literary imagination.

Arrowhead
780 Holmes Road
Pittsfield, MA 01201
(413) 442-1793
mobydick.org         <---- Lots of great info on Arrowhead's website

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Dude Diet: Clean(ish) Food for People Who Like to Eat Dirty

The Dude Diet by Serena Wolf (WildmooBooks)

I'm not much of a cook. Neither is my wife. We have some fancier recipes in our repertoire, but for the most part we like pizza, mac & cheese, dogs in blankets, etc. We're both 50 year old women, but eat like we're teenagers and it shows on the waistline. Hence, my interest in this book.

When I was a bookseller one of the sections that I tried to avoid was food and cooking. For one thing, the books are usually oversized and heavy (spend a couple hours organizing such a section to see what I mean by heavy). The section was also chronically overflowing with new titles and newfangled subsections regularly popped up to complicate matters. It was a bitch to keep organized.

Then one day a coworker told me that her bedtime reading was cookbooks. Yes, she actually read cookbooks in bed at bedtime. I thought that was weird (and still do), but it made me see cookbooks as more approachable. Now, after spending time looking through The Dude Diet, I kind of get it. I was actually in bed last night looking through it to choose something to make this weekend, which made me remember my coworker.

Serena Wolf (WildmooBooks)
Wolf studied at Le Cordon Blue Paris
The recipes in The Dude Diet are familiar dishes with standard, non-frightening ingredients. The book starts out with some backstory on how The Dude Diet was born and offers basic nutritional information and guidance. There's a helpful chapter on pantry essentials--from oils and spices to suggestions on actual cookware and tools. After that the food begins:
  • Badass Breakfasts
  • The Classics (Mac & Cheese, Burgers, Lasagna, etc)
  • Game Day Eats (Buffalo Chicken Tenders, Tacos, Quesadillas, Dogs, etc)
  • On the Grill
  • Serious Salads
  • Take-out Favorites (Lettuce Wraps, Sesame-Orange Chicken, Pad Thai, Pizza, etc)
  • Sexy Sides
  • Back-pocket Recipes (Easy and reliable recipes like Idiotproof Chicken Breasts)
  • Chronic Cocktails
  • Sweetness (Desserts! I will be making the Dark Chocolate Power Bark asap)
The textbook size and quality of this book is appealing (not too big, not too small, and seems like it'll hold up well from heavy use) and I really like the photography by Matt Armendariz. He makes the food look real, tasty, and unpretentious.

I had planned on making a few of these recipes and including pretty (or disastrous) action photos with this post, but last month's unexpected arrival of Buddy Fitzwilliam, our new 50 pound puppy, derailed my kitchen plans (I blame everything on Buddy these days). But I do have post-it notes on multiple pages and plan on doing more cooking this winter, so you might actually start seeing foodish photos on this blog in the future.

Title: The Dude Diet: Clean(ish) Food for People Who Like to Eat Dirty
Author: Serena Wolf
Publisher: HarperCollins 2016
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

Bottom line: Serena Wolf is a chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Her simple recipes with standard ingredients make this a great cookbook for beginners or for busy folks looking to cook healthier yet tasty versions of fast food favorites.

TLC Book Tours Host (WildmooBooks)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ruth Franklin at Northshire Bookstore

Yesterday my friend Emily and I drove up to Manchester, VT for Ruth Franklin's event at the Northshire Bookstore. It's about a three hour drive from the Connecticut shoreline, but we love the Northshire and needed a good six hours to talk about books.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Franklin's recently released biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, has been generating a lot of buzz and receiving great reviews.

“Ruth Franklin is the biographer Jackson needed: she tells the story of the author in a way that made me want to reread every word Jackson ever wrote.” — Neil Gaiman

Ruth Franklin at Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, VT
Ruth Franklin at the Northshire Bookstore

Franklin talked for about 45 minutes, read a bit from her book, and then took questions from the audience. Some highlights:
  • Jackson didn't get the recognition she deserved while she was alive for a variety of reasons, but a primary factor is that she was pigeonholed as a horror writer, a genre the literary establishment has never taken seriously. Jackson is partially responsible for this as she relished her reputation as a witch. She was a serious student of historical witches.
  • Jackson's reputation has also been harmed by a lack of scholarly apparatus. One of Franklin's goals in writing this biography was to establish a chronology of Jackson's writing: when she wrote what, when works were published, etc. Much of this information was unknown or inaccurate.
  • Jackson was a wife and mother in a time when those roles typically precluded a professional career. Being a faculty wife was a double whammy, even if she was the main breadwinner of the family for 20+ years. When she checked into the hospital to have her third child, the clerk asked what her job was, to which Jackson replied, "Writer." The clerk's reply was to write down 'housewife.' This was just after the publication and wild popularity of "The Lottery."
  • Jackson's archival papers are a rather disorganized mess (50 boxes at the Library of Congress). After she died her desk was cleared off and boxed up pretty much as is, candy wrappers included. Because of this Franklin was able to see relationships between documents that were boxed together just as Jackson had left them on her desk:  a dream journal, a letter to her therapist, and the novel she was working on, all of which are related, remained side by side.

Ruth Frankin Insist on Your Cup of Stars - Shirley Jackson
Insist on your cup of stars!

The evening ended much too soon. I could have listened to Franklin talk for hours. I purchased a copy and asked her to signed it. The inscription reads: "To Chris -- insist on your cup of stars!" Fans of The Haunting of Hill House will get that reference. Those of you who don't will just have to read the novel.

I'm looking forward to diving into this hefty biography in November. I've only read "The Lottery," We Have Always Lived in a Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House (one of my all time favorites), but based on Franklin's talk alone I foresee more Jackson works in my reading future.

Title: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Author: Ruth Franklin
Publisher:  W.W. Norton/Liveright, September 2016

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