Dear bookish reader,
Barnes & Noble recently asked me to recommend a few books on their blog, which I was thrilled to do. Here’s my response.
“It’s dangerous to ask a bookseller and avid reader to recommend books – and it depends a lot on what I’ve read most recently and who I am recommending it to. But here are a few of my current favorites:”
I go on to list three books: a collection of poetry, a novel, and a strange and wonderful blend of genres. The poetry book is a tattered and well-loved copy, the novel is an e-book, and the third is a beautiful new hardbound edition.
Read more here.
And how about you? Reading anything good at the moment? What is your favorite to recommend?
Yesterday at the grocery store I ran into my first librarian. When I was a little girl, Jeanne ran the Palmer Public Library, which at that time was a cramped room in city hall. There was a jar on the counter where you could put a quarter if you felt guilty about turning in a book late. And in a cozy back corner, I would flip through picture books.
Jeanne was always friendly and helpful, and when my mom and I walked through the door, she seemed genuinely glad to see us. She planted the warm spot in my heart for libraries.
During this past year of book events, I’ve come to realize that libraries are close to many people’s hearts, and for good reason. It’s the only place that I know of in our society where anyone is welcome, everything is free, and books are the focus.
This past month I participated in the Anchorage Reads library program. Anchorage Public Libaries chose The Snow Child for this year’s book, and they organized a snowman building contest, readings, a panel and other events. I’ve also phoned in to other library book clubs around the country as they’ve met to discuss The Snow Child. Again and again I’m struck by what a wonderful blessing these libraries and their events are to communities. They welcome people of all ages, interests and walks of life and bring them together in the joy of reading.
I’m looking forward to some more library events. On Thursday evening at 7 p.m. I’ll be close to home at Wasilla Public Library where I’ll do a reading and answer questions from readers. Then at the beginning of May, I’ll be in Bend, Oregon for “A Novel Idea”, organized by Deschutes Public Library.
I want to offer my gratitude, and three cheers, for libraries around the world that give the love of reading to children, a sanctuary of ideas and literacy to whoever seeks it, and inspiration to writers.
Dear Alaskan reader,
I’m honored to announce that Anchorage, Alaska, has selected The Snow Child for its community read this year. Events began Friday with a lovely reception at the Alaska Humanities Forum, and during the next six weeks there will be opportunities to attend writing panels, build snow men, and learn more about the program.
Anchorage Reads is organized by Anchorage Public Library and, like similar events around the country, it aims to foster literacy and bring people of all ages and walks of life together around one book. Last year, Anchorage chose the graphic novel Persepolis, and in previous years there have been classics like Frankenstein and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as modern books like The Trap.
Here is a schedule for Anchorage Reads 2013. All events are free and open to the public.
Feb. 2 SNOWMAN DAY: 2-4 p.m. Help decorate the Loussac Library lawn with snowmen for Anchorage Reads 2013! This all-ages kickoff event will feature a snowman-building contest, a live ice sculpture demonstration, cookies and hot cocoa. I hope to see you there!
Feb. 4 BOOK SIGNING & INTERVIEW: 5-7 p.m. I’ll be at the UAA Book Store for a reading, book signing, and an interview with UAA Creative Arts Director David Stevenson.
Feb. 6 KSKA HOMETOWN ALASKA: 2-3 pm. Tune in to 91.1 FM for Hometown Alaska, where we’ll talk about Anchorage Reads and The Snow Child and you can call in with your questions.
Feb. 9 49 WRITERS: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston Theatre
- 10 a.m. – noon “Writing Your Place” Workshop with Alaska author Douglass Bourne.
- 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. I’ll be on stage for a reading and Q&A.
- 2:15 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Alaska Authors Panel. I’ll join Alaska authors Seth Kantner, Don Rearden, and Sherry Simpson to discuss how we write about place.
Feb. 16 ANCHORAGE READS FINALE: 1-3 pm Loussac Library, Wilda Marston Theatre. I’ll do a reading and Q&A. There will also be a local dance performance and other fun.
Feb. 18 SNOW MAIDEN LECTURE: 5-7 pm UAA Bookstore
The Snow-Maiden Fairytale in Russian Folklore, Literature, Music and Arts, by visiting Professor Victoria Kno.
In addition to all these events, readers can particpate in an online discussion about the book on the AnchorageReads2013 Facebook page. For book clubs, Snow Child‘ book club bags are available through Anchorage Public Library. Bags contain 10 books, author biography and ten book club tips in a tote bag.
And keep your eye out for photos of Alaskans reading The Snow Child. Anchorage Public Library has printed a series of posters with hockey players, government leaders, and other local celebrities reading the book.
P.S. Thank you to all the organizers and sponsors who make these events possible.
Dear book clubbing reader,
In celebration of the paperback release of The Snow Child here in the United States, my publisher Little, Brown and Company is hosting a fun giveaway on its Facebook page. This week they will announce a chance to win a snow party gift basket and copies of the book for your book club.
So watch the Little, Brown and Company Facebook page, and I hope you all win.
Dear writerly reader,
First I want to thank you all for your brilliant/lovely/surprising descriptions of summer nights. Comments appeared both here on my blog and through the website goodreads. Cicadas, fireflies, sparrows, the late-setting sun, noisy traffic, hooting owls — I was transported to London, Florida, Chicago, Australia, Iowa, the Netherlands, Italy. You all are amazing!
I also want to share some exciting news. I learned this morning that The Snow Child is among reader-nominated titles being considered for the long list for The Guardian First Book Award. This is one of UK’s most prestigious book prizes, and I am so thrilled to have my book in the mix.
The long list for the prize consists of 10 books, fiction and nonfiction, published in the UK during the current year. It must be the author’s first book. The Guardian has already selected nine titles for the long list, but the final title will be chosen based on reader response.
According to The Guardian:
“If you have read The Snow Child, add your review to the book page and have a say in the final selection. The 10th title will be announced at the end of July.”
The Guardian will announce the 10th title at the end of July, and it’ll go forward to the longlist, to be judged as by Waterstones books groups around the country, along with a central panel.
I have been so touched by the response from readers around the world. Thank you everyone!
For years, when people asked if I had read The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, I would stumble around on my words. In fact, it was one of my favorite books ever, but somehow I felt like I hadn’t earned the right to say that. Because (this is where I lean in closer to you and lower my voice to a whisper) I listened to an audio version of it.
BUT it was unabridged, and I listened to every word, and if I sound defensive it’s because I am.
For some reason I’ve always felt like a cheater when I listen to a book rather than read it. In fact, I eventually read the print version of The Shipping News, partly because I loved it so much, but also because I didn’t want any more of those awkward social moments. Now I can state loudly and perhaps too emphatically, “Yes, I have read that.”
Yet I suspect it’s a silly, slightly snobby way of looking at books. Of course listening counts. And I know there are books I’ve finished and ultimately really enjoyed because it was an audio book. The Shipping News is one of them. Several people recommended it to me, but every time I started the first few pages, I found it so depressing I couldn’t go on.
One winter I was running a trapline north of our home. I had an hour drive to get to the trail. To pass the time, I decided to listen to The Shipping News. At first it was sad and slow, but before long I was reluctant to leave the warm truck and incredible story when I arrived at the trail head. I would sit there for a few minutes, listening, before finally turning off the truck and putting on my backpack.
I’m not running a trapline this year, but for other reasons I’ve been making frequent trips to Anchorage. It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive, one way, from our house. So when I was at the Sutton Public Library the other day, I picked up Bill Bryson’s At Home on CD. He is an author I’ve always wanted to read, but I rarely make time for nonfiction.
The book was fascinating to listen to as I drove. I learned about how silverware first came into use, and how people’s fancy wigs used to get infested with vermin, and why concrete houses never became popular. Bryson’s voice is wry and clever, and he seems to let his curiosity carry him, and the listener, from one odd fact to another.
I was disappointed when it was over. But the next time I was at the library, I picked up the unabridged audio of In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. Again this is a narrative nonfiction, this one set in Germany during the rise of Hitler. It follows the fate of the unusual American ambassador to Germany at the time. Again, this is not typically my kind of book — I mostly read novels. But it is an incredible story, and with just two CDs left, I find myself bringing it in from the car each afternoon so I can listen to more of it while I wash the dishes.
Even as I’ve listened to these audio history books, I’ve read a half-dozen print novels. And I wonder if I’m experiencing them differently, the audio versus the print.
Do you ever listen to audio books? And do you feel the same about them as print books you’ve read?
A woman recently sent me a kind message on Twitter — she enjoyed The Snow Child and wanted to discuss it with other readers. Did I have any suggestions for starting up a book club?
Her question got me thinking about my own book club. About nine years ago, my mom read the novel Unless by Carol Shields and couldn’t decide what she thought of it, or what it meant. She asked me to read it, and we spent the next several jogs together discussing it. But we still felt unsatisfied, so we decided to start a book club.
I have mentioned The Betties in earlier letters to you. We are a group of women of varied ages, political backgrounds, and careers. But one of our commonalities — we all love to read.
I’ve also attended several other book clubs recently as an author to discuss The Snow Child. One was organized through a local church, and the women met at 11 a.m. on a weekday with a potluck brunch. Another was a neighborhood club that gathered on a weekend evening at a house at the end of a long, snowy road. There were men and women, wine, moose meatballs, salads, and guacamole. Another group was coordinated through a local library, met on a Saturday morning, and featured hot coffee, sweet breads, and fresh strawberries.
They all were fun, engaging groups. So what’s the recipe for a good book club?
You begin with the people. And I don’t necessarily think they all have to be people you know really well. Acquaintances can make great club members, because the one thing you’ll have in common is the book.
There might already be a group organized through a local library or bookstore, but if you want to start your own, reach out to friends, coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances from the local coffee shop or bookstore. A diversity of age and background is helpful because it can provide more depth to the discussion.
A lot of clubs, it seems, are all women. I know of one local group that is restricted to men. Originally we had wanted to include both men and women but at the time couldn’t find any men who were willing to sign on, and hence we became The Betties.
While you might begin by being open to whoever stops by, I’ve found that in the long run book clubs do best with a stable membership. Over time, you will hopefully establish a rapport and comfort level, and even develop your own inside jokes having to do with the books you’ve read. To protect that feeling of safety and familiarity, you might want to close to new members at some point.
From what I’ve seen, 6 to 12 members is rather ideal.
So besides the people, the only absolutely necessity? No, not food and wine, although those are nice, too. Books. Some clubs choose books for the entire year and make up a schedule. In our group, we just pick the next read the night of book club. It allows for some spontaneity. If someone has just heard of a new book or has a recommendation, we can jump in.
We try to read everything — fiction, nonfiction, new release bestsellers, classics, translations. We read poems during National Poetry Month (which is April, by the way.) And at least once a year we choose a young reader book so our children can join in.
Perhaps surprisingly, books we all enjoy are sometimes duds for a discussion. “I liked it” “Yep, me, too” “So … how is Jenny liking fifth grade?”
Instead, complex, layered, controversial books often lead to the most intense conversations.
Another smaller, but also important, detail: where to meet? Library meeting rooms, coffee shops, and bookstores are all great options. Our own group rotates among the members’ homes. There are a couple of advantages — visiting someone’s house can make you feel more connected. It also allows us to do a potluck meal. We each bring a salad, dessert, or main dish, as well as a bottle or two of wine.
But if you’re just starting out, you don’t know the club members well, or you don’t want to have to frantically clean your house, then a public place is a great way to go.
As for the discussion, you can opt for formally organized or more relaxed. To keep things on task, some groups I know assign a discussion leader for each meeting. They bring talking points, questions, background information, etc. While I suspect this works well for guiding the discussion, we Betties have opted for a more casual approach. We just start talking. Someone will often read aloud a passage they enjoyed or questioned. Another person will sometimes bring historical background or further reading.
For about an hour or so, we concentrate on the book, asking each other questions, trying to probe more deeply into the text. Then the discussion is usually drawn to other matters — our children, our jobs, our pets, our trials and tribulations.
But that can also be the joy of a book club: you begin with books, and end in friendship.
I’d love to hear from you — are you in a book club? How is it organized? Or are you thinking of starting one?
Dear lucky-charm reader,
I’ve had some exciting news these past few weeks. Here in the United States, The Snow Child has stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for four weeks running — it’s currently #24. And in the UK, it is consistently making the top 10 on the Sunday Times bestseller list.
Some other exciting news: my personal copies of the US and UK editions recently arrived. To celebrate and thank all of you for coming along on the adventure with me, I’ve decided to have a contest.
Next Saturday, on lucky St. Patrick’s Day, I will give away one copy each of the US and UK editions. To enter the random drawing, leave a comment on this blog post (not any other post) between now and Friday, March 16, and tell me: which edition are you hoping to win? Also tell me if you would like me to sign it, and if you want it inscribed, to whom. These will be first edition, first printings.
On St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll randomly select the two winners.
Dear book-seeking reader,
I have discovered an unexpected joy in being a published author — I get to meet other authors and find out about their books! During these past few months, this has led me to some wonderful novels I want to share with you.
The Detour is the newest novel by Alaskan novelist Andromeda Romano-Lax. I first saw Andromeda at a public reading years ago in Anchorage where she was sharing a passage from her debut novel, The Spanish Bow. I was mesmerized by her description of the cello and music in general. Interestingly, Andromeda’s first two novels are not set in her home state of Alaska, but instead in historical Europe. During an on-stage talk between the two of us a few weeks ago, she says she might still have an Alaskan novel up her sleeve. In the meantime, read The Detour. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the relationship between Hitler and art, individuals and the social forces that shape history. But it is told through the intimate, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, perspective of one man — Ernst Vogler.
When two authors have novels released around the same time, they begin to bump into each other on the book trail. Fortunate for me, this has happened to me with Julianna Baggott. Her most recent novel Pure was released in February around the same time as The Snow Child. I first met her in Oregon at a bookselling conference, and then again in New Orleans for a similar event where we signed books next to each other. Between the two events, I devoured her novel. Pure is the first in a post-apocolyptic trilogy. It tells the story of Pressia, a young girl who is surviving in a strange, twisted, destroyed future Earth. The story is page-turning and surprising; the images haunting.
I don’t know if I would have picked up J. Courtney Sullivan’s newest novel Maine on my own. The cover looks like a beach read, which isn’t my usual choice. But then at Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, we were a part of the same author event. When Courtney stood at the microphone and read a few pages from the book, I was stirred to laughter, shock, and recognition. I decided right then to read the novel, and I’m glad I did. Maine tells of three generations of Kellehers women tied to a cottage in Maine. It is about the love and strife that comes between mothers and daughters, and the urge to shape ourselves even as we cannot deny the influence of our families.
Dear steadfast reader,
In my last letter, I left us in Glasgow, Scotland, with snow flurries out the window and a suitcase full of books.
Sam and I rose early Sunday morning and headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. We were met by the publicist Samantha and Thomas Quinn of The Big Issue and his wife. As we sipped on our coffee and tea, Thomas interviewed me and Sam about The Snow Child and our lives in Alaska. The Big Issue is a fascinating, quality publication with a special aim — to help the homeless.
After the breakfast interview, Samantha, Sam and I set out on the streets of Glasgow to visit Waterstones bookstores on Sauchiehall Street and Argyll Street so I could sign copies of my book.
Glasgow is a city of contrasts — ornate stone buildings beside modern squares of concrete, an icy wind through the streets and the warm welcome of the locals. For the first time on the trip, Sam and I had an hour to explore and visit shops. I found a locally woven cashmere scarf for myself, as well as some gifts for the neighbors who were taking care of things for us back home.
But our lunch would give us a true picture of this city. Gillian, who works for my UK publisher in Glasgow, invited Sam, Samantha and me to her flat for lunch. We were greeted by her two cats and the fragrance of homemade leek soup. Gillian’s partner, Graham, and several friends soon came through the door after a morning tennis match.
We spent the next hour enjoying warm soup, delicious cheeses, homemade scones, clotted cream, bramble jam, and easy conversation. We talked about Scotland and Alaska — they found our town on Google Maps and even got a street view of the bookstore where I work. I discovered from the 12- and 9-year-old girls that they must wear uniforms to school, and they made no attempt to hide their envy that my own daughters don’t, and can even wear “trainers” to school.
After lunch, we went for a stroll around the neighborhood. We hiked up a wooded hill, along a creek, and took in the views of Kelvingrove Park.
On the return trip, we stopped by Gillian and Graham’s favorite neighborhood pub for a “wee dram” of whiskey. Since they all taste the same to me — a bit like paint thinner — I opted for a glass of sparkling water. But Sam and everyone else enjoyed the warming effect of their drinks.
And then we had to say goodbye to these welcoming people, and to Scotland. But not before Sam could buy two bottles of fine Scotch whiskey to bring home to Alaska.
We caught our flight back to London with just enough time for me and Sam to dash to a nearby Thai restaurant for dinner. We had to be back to our hotel room by 9 p.m. for a telephone interview that proved well worth the rush.
Gavin Pugh and Simon Savidge co-host a delightful podcast about books called The Readers. They interviewed me in tandem, asking insightful questions about my book, my relationship to fairy tales, and my characters. It was one of the most enjoyable interviews of my journey.
That night, Sam and I spent our last sleep in the UK. But the adventure wasn’t over just yet.
We rose early the next morning, packed our suitcases full of whiskey and books (this had been a good trip for both of us!) Then, arms loaded with luggage, we caught a taxi to the BBC Western House where we met once more with Samantha. At 10 a.m., I enjoyed a last, fond memory of Scotland, as I was interviewed by the wonderful BBC Scotland The Book Cafe.
Then we darted around the corner to the studio for BBC’s Radio 4 Woman’s Hour.
It was my last interview of my whirlwind UK adventure. And perhaps my most prestigious. Women such as Diane Keaton, Kirsten Dunst, and Joan Collins have been on the show. And I would later learn that the other guest being interviewed for today’s show beside me was the folk singer Joan Baez.
But somehow I didn’t feel nervous — Jane Garvey is clearly a skilled interviewer. She had read my book, and has some great questions about the story and my life in Alaska.
My last interview wrapped up, we met outside the BBC building with Samantha. I was sad to say goodbye to her. We hugged, and I told her she should come with me back to Alaska. We could hang out, and I would never be late for an appointment.
The taxi to the airport was waiting, however, so we waved to Samantha out the window and said goodbye to the UK.
After Sam and I found our seats on the British Airways flight, I cracked open The Great Escape by UK novelist Fiona Gibson. Within the first page, I was chuckling out loud. This would certainly make the long trip home go faster.