silent_wifeWhenever we get books desk dropped at work, I always get excited.  It’s literally a book recommendation being delivered to you from the best of the best in the publishing world.  So when a copy of A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife showed up on my desk this summer, I knew it would be coming with me on my vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The book wasn’t too long and even the cover design intrigued me.  All in all, I felt like it would an appropriate beach read.

I could not have been more correct.  Because here’s the truth of the matter – while I love the idea of lying on the beach relaxing, it also stresses me out a little.  What am I supposed to really be doing besides lying there?  Falling asleep is out of the question.  It’s much too loud for me and what if I don’t wake up in time to roll over to make sure my tan is even?  Plus, I was responsible for holding the dog’s leash, so having a book that I could not put down served to be the perfect beach companion.

One could easily argue who the main character of this book is.  To me, it was the title “silent wife.”  What I loved about her was that even though she was at times borderline crazy, she’s also completely relatable.  How is that even possible?  I don’t know, but trust me – it is.  Overall, I felt that all of the characters were very realistically written.  So while you may not always, or ever, agree with a character’ actions, you can absolutely see where they were coming from.

My method of telling if I’ve just read a good book has always been the impression that it leaves on me.  A book doesn’t even need to be particularly well-written (though this one is) or have fully developed characters (again though, this one does) as long as I’m still thinking about it between readings and long after I’ve finished it.  It’s been a couple of months since my vacation and Silent Wife still pops into my head from time to time.  Another way I can tell is that I start recommending it to my friends and family because I really need to talk about it.  Like, right now.

So naturally, after I finished the book, I immediately passed it on to my mother-in-law.  Suddenly she was the one only half paying attention to the rest of us when we were sunning ourselves on the beach or hanging out on the deck of the house we had rented.  But it was okay, because I knew exactly where she was.  Caught up, just as I had been (and still kind of am), in the lives of Todd Gilbert and his silent wife.

— Sonia Lynaugh, Recruiter, Human Resources

the_neverending_story_michael_endeOne week ago today, I was sitting in a crowd with hundreds of other people, gathered in McCarren Park Williamsburg, Brooklyn on a beautiful clear night, to watch the last SummerScreen movie of the season. Not just because I love watching movies outside in the summer, but because the audience voted online for the final film, The Neverending Story.

I danced and sang to the theme song for the movie, I shouted “Falcor!”, the name of the giant luckdragon when he made his first appearance, I cheered when Atreyu made it past the Southern Oracle, got slightly teary eyed when Atreyu’s horse Artex submits himself to the Swamp of Sadness, was on edge when Bastian couldn’t see that he was the only one who could save Fantasia, and smiled when he did.

And while the movie may be a bit different from the book, I was introduced to the movie first when I saw it in a theater when I was nine years old. I don’t remember going to the actual theater, but I do remember when my mother bought me the book, which was black and had the AURYN, the lemniscate symbol with two serpents devouring each other. Bastian wrapped himself up in musty blankets and read his copy of the The Neverending Story in a chilly, dark attic, the pages illuminated by candle light. I used a crochet afghan that my mother made me and opted for a flashlight.

neverending_story_childhood_bookjpgSome books make us nostalgic about our childhood. They remind us of a time when life seemed less chaotic—when our priorities for the day involved things like daydreaming and reading a good book—and help reinforce the importance of the power of imagination. Bastian reads The Neverending Story, but becomes part of it as well.

‘I wonder,’ he said to himself, ‘what’s in a book while it’s closed. Oh, I know it’s full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there’s a whole story with people I don’t know yet and all kinds of adventures and deeds and battles. And sometimes there are storms at sea, or it takes you to strange cities and countries. All those things are somehow shut up in a book. Of course you have to read it to find out. But it’s already there, that’s the funny thing. I wish I knew how it could be.’

Suddenly an almost festive mood came over him.

He settled himself, picked up the book, opened it to the first page, and began to read

The Neverending Story.

There’s a cycle here. I can’t even count the times I have seen the movie, but after seeing it on the large screen again, I decided to re-read the book. Sadly, I don’t have my original copy anymore, but I borrowed a friend’s last summer when I discovered it on his childhood bookshelf at his summer beach house. Dave, I’ll give you your book back after I’m done. Promise.

- Nicole, Online Marketing

It’s not summer without a rom-com in theaters and with Austenland opening in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, Keri Russell embodies all our less-than-secret Janeite ambitions: to live in an Austen novel. Even if the idea of wearing a corset or being without a smartphone is unappealing, it’s not hard to imagine how fun it might be to watch others grapple with these issues.

Austenland is based on a book by Shannon Hale, which is part of the genre I like to call “Jane Austen fan fic”. While some books are direct riffs on Austen novels, others include characters who suddenly find themselves in an Austen novel. Or, in the case of Bridget Jones, in a love triangle that is remarkably like Pride and Prejudice (Austenland follows a similar path). And then there are the “how-to” books with important lessons we can learn from Jane Austen, some serious, some tongue-in-cheek. Ever since Jane Austen first wrote Mr. Darcy into existence, people have been getting lost in her work…and then writing their own takes on her world.


Living in a Jane Austen Novel

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Lost in Austen, Emma Campbell Webster

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Laurie Viera Rigler


New, previously undiscovered Jane Austen Novels

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Dear Mr. Darcy, Amanda Grange

The Confessions of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mary Street

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James


A Little Help from Jane Austen

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Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, Rebecca Smith

Dear Jane Austen, Patrice Hannon

Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift, Kathleen Anderson


Austen-Influenced Non-Fiction

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Jane Austen’s England, Roy and Lesley Adkins

A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad, May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt

The Making of Pride and Prejudice, Susie Conklin


The Modern Jane Austen Heroine

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Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, Karen Doornebos


- Posted By: Julie Schaeffer, Senior Online Content Coordinator

appointment_in_samarraYears ago, someone challenged a book group I was part of to see who had read the most novels on Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list. I can’t remember if I had the top number, but I had read about half of them and was determined then to read every novel on that list. I love literary lists.

Ulysses, rightfully so, is at the top of the list. And there’s Great Gatsby. A fine novel…a little over rated and over-read…but not as much as #55’s On the Road. At #22 on this list—nestled in there between Saul Bellow and John Dos Passos—sits Appointment in Samarra, a novel I skipped over to read later for some reason. Why didn’t I consider this novel at the time? Was it the clinical sounding “Appointment” in the title? Did I assume it was a Middle East war story? Something Biblical?

I never made it through the entire list and didn’t take notice of the title again until a couple months ago, when I saw our stunning new cover for the novel. Jazz & fast cars & dancing & highballs…obviously not a Biblical story and certainly not clinical.

So I Wiki’d the book & the author John O’Hara and discovered he penned Butterfield 8, the source of one of my favorite Liz Taylor movies. “Mama, face it: I was the slut of all time.”

I knew I needed to reconsider this book.

I was sold after I read W. Somerset Maugham’s epigraph:


There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

The novel did not disappoint.

Written about ten years after Gatsby and set in 1930, this was called the hangover generation and the novel’s plot follows the unraveling of the central male protagonist during Christmastime after he drunkenly throws a highball in the face of a “friend” at a party. One bad decision leads to another for our anti-hero and at the end of three days of excessive drinking and cloudy, hung-over damage control, things do not end well. The moral of the story? Imbibe a few less drinks; don’t throw your drink in the face of the guy who loaned you $20k; don’t sleep with the mob boss’s mistress; and don’t beat up a one-armed war veteran.

John O’Hara presents us with a colorful world filled with small town country clubs, where African-Americans and Jews are outsiders and Protestants and Catholics are in constant conflict. A world where the drinks are always flowing, along with the dipsomaniacal insults, and misfortune might have been averted had there been one less holiday highball.

- Clinton Wilson, Marketing Manager

callthemidwifeI am obsessed with the PBS show Call the Midwife. When it first aired, I wasn’t sure that I really cared about babies and nurses. But I quickly realized, Call the Midwife, like Downton Abbey, is a soapy drama with costumes. There’s really nothing to dislike…except the appalling living conditions of the slums of London’s East End in the 1950s.

Jennifer Worth, whose memoirs the show is based on, says in her introduction that she wrote Call the Midwife because there was a lack of books about midwifery in the world. As a registered nurse, who worked with a group of nuns (and who doesn’t love nuns?) she certainly has many stories to tell.

While Downton Abbey appeals as a tale of the English aristocracy in decline, Call the Midwife is an intercity story. In the United States, the 1950s were a period of post-war prosperity, but much of Europe was still recovering from the war. Worth mentions children playing in bombed out buildings and many of the tenements had no running water. Worth goes out of her way to explain that people in the slums didn’t really know anything else but she doesn’t hide or shy away from her culture shock, which the readers experience with her.

The story is told from Worth’s point of view and it reads more like a first person narrative than a memoir, which I’m sure is on purpose, and no doubt the companionable tone helped it to become a TV show. But let’s get to the questions on everyone’s minds (or at least the ones on mine when I picked up the book) how similar is the book to the TV show? Are the characters the same? Is Chummy there??

Yes, yes she is. Of Chummy, née Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, Worth writes, “The first time I saw [her], I thought it was a bloke in drag.” If anything, Chummy’s more endearing in the book because she says things like “old bean” and “jolly good show, what”, as if she’s some P.G. Wodehouse character.

All in all, Call the Midwife is a great light non-fiction read for the summer. If you don’t watch the show, you will probably want to as some scenes from the book are painstakingly recreated in the show (such as the cake incident when Jenny first meets Sister Monica Joan). And if you love the show, this book is the best cure for Call the Midwife withdrawal.

- Julie Schaeffer, Senior Online Content Coordinator

9781594489600H“Please turn off all electronic devices,” the flight attendant says over the speaker as we begin taxiing toward the runway. For the first time in weeks, I shut off my phone and tablet. Reaching into my backpack, I pull out my book. A calming sense comes over me and I can finally remember that I have no place to be, but here. I’m on vacation.

The thing about reading in New York City is distraction, whether it’s on the subway or hanging with your roommate. Whether your phone’s blowing up or there’s a new Netflix series awaiting your stream, attention deficit can be imminent. Of course this isn’t the case for everyone, but it certainly is for me. And when ascending into the air, an electronic free environment soothes my eyes into the pages. Lost in a new book while drifting away from the earth below, is there a better way to travel? Flipping open the pages I look down and begin a renowned modern classic, The Kite Runner, by Khaled Housseini.

What makes a vacation read innately special? Is it the entertainment or the diversion from downtime? Maybe. But I like to think that reading a book in a new environment is an individually moving experience. Without daily routine or familiarity, a book on vacation is a constant. Your imagination reaches new heights. No one around but you and these words. While away in a distant place without cell phone service, you may seek solace in your book, your companion. It’s an adventure within an adventure. Adventure-ception?

And so, my vacation began in Umbria, Italy. Umbria is a region outside Tuscany that looks like every Italian portrait you would ever paint. Surrounded by vineyards, poppy fields, and medieval castles, I was paralyzed by beauty and history. After arriving at our villa, we put our stuff down and took time to relax. I was ready to take out my book and get back to where I left off. Our new home for the next week was an 800 year old farm house converted into a dreamy, rustic home atop a mountain with breathtaking views. Enveloped by culture, this was the perfect location to read.

[Images: (left) Reading in the garden, (right) Spectacular view from my bedroom window]

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The Kite Runner is a book that relishes in culture and ethnic pride. Reading this novel alone in the pristine country, I felt at peace. While this wasn’t nearly the middle east, I was in a new land abroad. This helped me connect with the story and its characters on a personal level. Housseini taught me about self identity and the importance of contentment. Without it, you will carry this weight until the end of time. A story, one focused on love, family, redemption, and fate is meant to be learned in the midst of a journey.

* * *

Memorable quotes:

“Not a word passes between us, not because we have nothing to say, but because we don’t have to say anything–that’s how it is between people who are each other’s first memories…” -page 133

“‘She said, ‘I’m so afraid.’ And I said, ‘Why?,’ and she said, ‘Because I’m so profoundly happy, Dr. Rasul. Happiness like this is frightening.’ I asked her why and she said, ‘They only let you be this happy if they’re preparing to take something from you…’” -page 271

“I set my hands on the rusty bars, remembering how I’d run through these same gates thousands of times as a child, for things that mattered not at all now and yet had seemed so important then.” -page 283

“And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir Jan, when guilt leads to good.” -page 326


- Lindsay Jacobsen, Online Content Coordinator