June Book Club: Behind The Beautiful Forevers

Pardon the multiple postings for today but I decided to update my book club news, since I haven’t posted anything on that topic since May’s THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS.

For June, I picked a heavier book – based on subject, not weight – BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS by Pulitzer winning author and journalist, Katherine Boo.

As you all may have figured out, I like to make each book club a mini party – with themed decorations and food. And, since this book is set in India, I had a field day! A quick trip to a local Indian store provided the treats. I also got the exact biscuits that were mentioned in the book. Luckily for me, they also happen to be some of my favorites!

We had a great discussion of this very painful-to-think-about subject. As some of you may know, Behind The Beautful Forevers is the result of three years that journalist Katherine Boo spent talking to some of the inhabitants of a horrific slum in Mumbai. The book is powerful, written as a very readable narrative, and will leave you thinking of the brutal topics for a very long time. I still haven’t decided what my take-away from this book is. I’ve vacillated between feelings of inspiration and hopelessness. On the one hand, despite the horrific conditions (living on open sewage, having to fight for everything they can) the inhabitants still feel a sense of hope and ambition, have dreams of a better life, celebrate birthdays, and even smile from time to time. Now, isn’t that a great testament to the resilience of the human spirit? On the other hand, at every step, they are also torn down by their own jealous neighbors, have to battle corruption and brutal authorities, and for every step forward, are hurled maybe five steps back. And that’s where my hopelessness comes in from this book: it all seems arbitrary, who succeeds and who fails. Hard work and honor are not always rewarded. And the biggest obstacle to these poor people was not the rampant TB, starvation, or floods – it was the brutality of other men.
I look forward to seeing how these ideas simmer and stew in my mind – because as hard as thinking about subjects like this is, I think it’s worse not to think about them at all.

The Magic Of Reading

Yesterday was World Literacy Day and, as of 2015, there are 1 billion illiterate adults in the world (UNESCO).Reading is something most of us take for granted. It is vital for improving our standard of life, staying informed with politics and current events that can impact us directly, and knowing how to improve and maintain our health. It is heartbreaking that this number is so high. Maybe not as vital to life as the previous reasons – but just as important to quality of life – is that books also have a way of stimulating your imagination and your dreams, and exposing you to perspectives that you may not normally be exposed to.

Books have given me some of the most wonderful memories of my life. Wherever I was, however young I was, there was a book to capture that particular time and place. My childhood was spent voraciously wolfing down every volume of Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys I could get my hands on. Even earlier than that, was Enid Blyton – especially The Famous Five and The Naughtiest Girl In School. Georgette Heyer reminds me of my best friend in high school, whose mother introduced us to that author. Tintin and Asterix will forever remind me of traveling to India with my family – my dad would always buy me one of those comics for the trip.

My summer vacations, spent with family in India, brought me many more, very dusty bookshelves to raid and that was when, at the age of 10, I first discovered the plays of George Bernard Shaw – who remains one of my favorite writers to this day. I remember reading Pygmalion for the very first time, lying on my aunt’s bed, a hot Indian afternoon, with the window open right next to me. And outside that window was a sapota (sapodilla) tree with the sweetest, ripest fruit you could imagine. Every now and then, between Acts in the play, perhaps, I would reach over and pluck a sweet, sticky snack. It’s one of my fondest memories of childhood.

Five Questions With Grace: Nancy Pearl

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Welcome to the newly relaunched Five Questions With Grace! After a much needed hiatus, I’m back with a long list of fun interviews with your favorite authors!

I decided to relaunch on the pub day for the fiction debut of America’s favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl! She has published several non-fiction books, is a regular contributor to NPR, and has a popular monthly show, Book Lust With Nancy Pearl, on the Seattle Channel. Nancy’s novel, George and Lizzie (Touchstone) came out on September 9th and has been highly anticipated! She gave me an advanced copy when I saw her a week ago, so I’ve been getting lost in the exquisitely-crafted tale. Be sure to pick up your own copy of this wonderful book!

Here are Nancy’s answers to my Five Questions:

 

 

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be and why?

There’s so many books that came to mind when I read this question, among them Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Ruth Doan Macdougall’s The Cheerleader, Laurie Colwin’s Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, Leah Hager Cohen’s Heart, You Bully, You Punk, but if forced to choose just one, it would be Anne Tyler’s Searching for Caleb. It was a difficult choice between that and Tyler’s novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant because they both have everything I look for in a book: wonderfully quirky characters, beautiful but not baroque or self-conscious writing, and a plot that grows out of the character of the characters, rather than having the story thrust upon them. Yes, Searching for Caleb for sure.

 

 

 

 

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book? (E.g. Gallons of coffee, absolute quiet, a lucky pen…)

Diet Pepsi and almost total quiet. Also, a place to write that isn’t at home and has no Internet access. I live in a pretty small and narrow townhouse, so I have to write in the center of everything, at the dining room table, and of course we have Internet. It’s too easy to sit down at the computer and check my email or Twitter or Facebook, then look around the house at the things I need to do (make dinner, dust the shelves, take out the trash, and, of course, read all the books that have come in for review). My best writing is done when I’m visiting someone who’s gone all day and their house is empty and I have no responsibilities for it.

 

 

3. For some horribly twisted reason you are forced to condense your book collection to just one small shelf. What six books would make the cut?

The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman
The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon
Anne Tyler: Searching for Caleb
The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin
Merle Miller : A Gay and Melancholy Sound

 

 

 

 

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you were first starting off as a writer?

I’m going to sneak in two bits of advice, because they’re short: 1) Write for yourself, not for the thought of possible publication; and 2) To manage to create a balance between believing in yourself and your work and heeding the advice of people who give you suggestions for making your work better.

 

 

 

 

 

5. SPOILER ALERT Which character from your new book, George and Lizzie, was the hardest to write and why?

All the character were pretty easy to write about because I felt I understood who they were and why they were that way. For that reason, even Lydia and Mendel, Lizzie’s parents, were easy to write about even though I disliked them intensely. The one character I felt the most distance from is Alicia, and luckily for me (and Lizzie, who feels the same way I do), she’s not around a lot.

Please watch this site for the next set of Five Questions – this time with best-selling picture book author and illustrator, Ben Clanton.