GrapesI was brought up on the King James Bible and when I came upon Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in eighth-grade English, it was the Biblical sweep of the book that captivated me. It was the great Dust Bowl pilgrimage from the misery of Oklahoma and Texas across the desert to the Canaan of California, and it was Steinbeck’s Jamesean cadences. The passage about the turtles crossing the hot highway, I remember, and the agonized preacher trying to find what remained of his faith. The pregnant Rose of Sharon. It was the Book of Exodus brought to life on the dusty plains of America, except that the Joads found their pharaohs at the end of the journey in the form of the wicked growers who conspired against the workers. I grew up in a large family without much money. We had a big garden in which we kids worked, hoeing and weeding and picking tomatoes, corn, melons, and squash, and once in a while we all eight of us piled into a station wagon and drove from Minnesota to Spokane to visit relatives, with my mother making us baloney sandwiches on the way. It was easy for me to imagine myself riding in the back of that old pickup truck with the mattresses and the furniture tied down and camping at night by the side of the road. I think The Grapes of Wrath was the first novel I ever believed in entirely, whole-heartedly.

keillerComing May 1,2014: The Keillor Reader, the latest book from author Garrison Keillor. When, at thirteen, he caught on as a sportswriter for the Anoka Herald, Garrison Keillor set out to become a professional writer, and so he has done—a storyteller, sometime comedian, essayist, newspaper columnist, screenwriter, poet. Now a single volume brings together the full range of his work including never before published works.

About Garrison Keillor

More Books by Garrison Keillor


From the office of the Riverhead Books publisher, Geoff Kloske:

Peter Matthiessen, award-winning author of more than thirty books, world-renowned naturalist, explorer, Buddhist teacher, and political activist, died at 5:15 PM on Saturday April 5, 2014 after an illness of some months. He was eighty-six years old.

Photo credit: Linda Girvin

Photo credit: Linda Girvin

Matthiessen is the only writer to win the National Book Award more than once – in fact three times, twice in two nonfiction categories for The Snow Leopard, published in 1978, and in fiction three decades later for Shadow Country. His final book, In Paradise,is scheduled to be published by Riverhead Books on April 8, 2014. A novel inspired by a profound experience Matthiessen underwent as a participant in a Zen meditation retreat at Auschwitz in the 1990s, In Paradise is a powerful and uncompromising exploration of the legacy of evil and our unquenchable, imperfect desire to wrest good from it. “We are deeply honored to be custodians of Peter’s final, characteristically bold work of art,” says Riverhead Books publisher Geoff Kloske, noting that the publication reunited Matthiessen with editorial director Rebecca Saletan, who had worked with him on several books since the early 1980s, initially under the auspices of Random House editorial director Jason Epstein. In a recent essay in The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks writes, “Matthiessen’s work has always carried a powerful moral message.… In Paradise is a logical conclusion to a long writing career.”

Matthiessen’s exceptional body of work, much of it about the planet’s remaining wild places and the people who inhabit them, was inspired by boundless curiosity and lifelong travels, most recently to Mongolia in the summer of 2012, when he was 85. It was also fueled by a disciplined work ethic. “Peter was a force of nature, relentlessly curious, persistent, demanding—of himself and others,” says his literary agent, Neil Olson. “But he was also funny, deeply wise and compassionate.” The resultant writing was largely nonfiction, published both as books and as journalism, including in The New Yorker under William Shawn. But Matthiessen’s first love was fiction. He sold a short story to the Atlantic while an undergraduate at Yale and became the first fiction editor of The Paris Review, which he cofounded with Doc Hume in 1953. He went on to publish four novels before he was forty, including At Play in the Fields of the Lord, which was nominated for a National Book Award and later made into a feature film. His travels fueled not only his nonfiction but his fiction, and he was as fearless in pushing the horizons on the page as in the physical world. His experience among Caribbean turtle fishermen resulted in Far Tortuga, written entirely not only in dialogue but in their Grand Cayman dialect.

A 1973 expedition to the Himalayas after the early death of his second wife resulted in The Snow Leopard, whose enduring success eclipsed his fiction for some years. But he always regarded himself primarily as a novelist, and he devoted more than twenty-five years to his masterwork, a historical epic about the Everglades sugar planter and outlaw Edgar Watson. When the project grew overlong in both time and volume, he allowed it to be published initially as a trilogy, Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone. But he never stopped thinking of it as a single work, and after the final volume appeared in 1999, he devoted another eight years to cutting, restructuring, and revising it into a single novel, which was published as the National Book Award-winning Shadow Country in 2008. “In everything he wrote, Peter was always relentless in his quest to get it right, to drive the impression on the page ever closer to the vision in his imagination, through draft after draft,” says Saletan. ”Every galley page was a palimpsest, even on this final book.”

Matthiessen’s outspoken activism for environmental and social causes was also reflected in his books, including the 1983 In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, about the American Indian Movement, which resulted in libel suits again Matthiessen and his publisher, Viking Penguin, by a former governor of South Dakota and an FBI agent he wrote about; the suits were finally dismissed in 1990.

Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1974 and designated State Author of New York in 1995-97, Matthiessen was the recipient of the William Dean Howells Award, given by the Academy once every five years for fiction, for Shadow Country, and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, among many other honors. A longtime student of Zen Buddhism, Matthiessen eventually became a priest of the White Plum Asanga. Until the time of his death he lived for decades on the South Fork of Long Island, where he had worked as a commercial fisherman in his twenties. He is survived by his wife, the former Maria Eckhart; six children – a son, Lukas, and a daughter, Sara Carey, with his first wife, Patsy Southgate; a daughter, Rue, and a son, Alexander, with his second wife, Deborah Love; and two stepdaughters, Antonia and Sarah, from his third marriage—and six grandchildren.


The-Big-TinyDee Williams is the author of The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir and the proud owner of an 84 square-foot house. She is a teacher and sustainability advocate, and the co-owner of Portland Alternative Dwellings where she leads workshops focused on tiny houses, green building, and community design. This blog post is part of a series drawing from Dee’s experiences and themes from The Big Tiny, on sale April 22.

“A few days ago, I spent almost an hour trying to recondition an oscillating fan that I found in a junk pile. I’m not certain, but I think the reason it was tossed out was because it had a frightening wad of human hair wrapped around the spindle where the fan blades connect to the motor. It was disgusting and curious, and exactly the sort of thing you find on junk day in Olympia.

I love junk day. Everyone puts out their rubbish—their busted-up washing machines and hot water heaters, dysfunctional blenders and vacuum cleaners—all so they can be hauled off to the dump. But before they go, passersby like me can walk around scanning for useful goods, occasionally lunging into the debris piles like a pearl diver. Last year I found a perfectly good electric lawn mower that I was able to rewire and repair with a couple rolls of duct tape; today I found this hairy fan.

I took everything apart in the garage, cut the toupee out of the machinery, and repaired a break in the electric cord. I sprayed the fan with vinegar and swabbed the plastic, dabbing here and there, and flipping the unit like it was a newborn and I was a neonatal surgeon.”

Excerpt from The Big Tiny

Ten years ago, as I was getting ready to build my house, I couldn’t fathom spending my time meandering through my neighborhood picking through junk piles.  I was completely absorbed, and marginally overwhelmed, by the design process; drawing sketches, making lists and re-thinking exactly how much space I needed to make a peanut butter sandwich, put on a pair of pants, or sit-up in bed.  I started carrying a tape measure and pocket notebook everywhere I went, so I could not-so-subtly investigate the height of my desk at work, the size of my chair, or the rise and run of the steps leading up to my doctor’s office.  I read a thousand books and dreamed about sheds and cabins.

A month later when I finally picked up my trailer – the foundation for my little house – my plans had firmed up enough to start cracking things open with a Skill-Saw.  I’ll never forget standing in my driveway, staring at the bric-a-brac of tools and wood stacked around my trailer, clicking things off in my head  - extension cord, power drill, coffee, gumption… check, check, check and mostly-check. I realized that this was IT.  I was now going to do a swan dive into the grizzled manly world of carpentry.  I took one step back and immediately fell into a tool bucket, knee-caps over earlobes.

In the next three months, I discovered that carpentry wasn’t something I could learn from a book. Not even a really awesome book with pictures, annotated references, and color-coded “Helpful Hints,” though they are a good place to start.  I couldn’t learn by watching YouTube videos either, since it hadn’t been invented yet; instead, I had to learn by doing — by gripping a stick of wood and trying to manage it onto a wobbly-wheeled cart at the lumberyard.

In the first weeks of building, I had as many set-backs as successes.  I nearly twisted my arm off with a power drill. I glued my hair to the house and spent countless hours salvaging wood only to find out I couldn’t use it.  I kept at it, though, and one day without really thinking about it, I discovered my arms knew exactly how to run a piece of wood through a table saw and my back remembered how to gracefully lift plywood off my car’s roof rack. I knew how to read the grain on a piece of wood, and could problem-solve why the rafters weren’t lining up perfectly.  My muscle memory took over, and it saved the day, day after day for three months.

If I had it to do over, I’d have celebrated a little more the first time I was able to lift a 60-pound piece of plywood without feeling I’d rip my arm out of socket, and I’d have seen what a miracle it was that I – a small woman, a cardiac care patient, a ding-dong when it came to carpentry – was building my house.

My advice to other would-be builders is to DO IT!  Get some good books and then volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or other building organization.  Take a carpentry class, or help your carpenter-neighbor build a deck. You can’t beat the education you’ll get by unloading a truck that is full of lumber, or by holding sticks of wood together so they can be fastened in place.  You won’t just get smart, handy, and sore, you’ll also probably have a ton of self-satisfied fun.

Fun is what motivates me out on junk day, and it is the thing that’s currently nudging me to stop writing so I can get back to banging the rusty nails out of the stack of beautiful scrap wood I just dragged home from the neighbor’s junk pile. Cheers to having fun while living the dream!


I Never Knew That About New York, By Christopher WinnThe key to writing a book such as I Never Knew That About New York is how to order things – where do I begin, how should I divide the chapters, should the narrative be historical or geographical? What route should I take so as not to miss anything?

With New York it was easy. I could arrive via the Upper Bay, just as the first European settlers did, and begin where New York began – at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. And history and geography march together in New York – northwards along Broadway. New York was founded as New Amsterdam in 1625, with a fort erected where the Customs House now stands. Broadway was already there, an Indian trail running the length of the island which naturally formed New Amsterdam’s main street or ‘Broad Way’. As the city grew and developed it could only expand northwards along Broadway, with new areas filling out to east and west. Each stretch of Broadway and each new neighborhood has its own story and its own atmosphere and its own chapter.

Although I started out thinking to write about all five boroughs of Greater New York, I soon realized this was unrealistic when I found I had written half a book before even reaching Bowling Green. And so I decided to concentrate on Manhattan Island only – no easy decision since there is so much of interest in the other boroughs – I must return and write their story one day soon.

And although it was fascinating and exciting to peer behind the facades of the iconic, film-set locations such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Great Lawn in Central Park, Bloomingdales, etc, there was a special pleasure for me in discovering the hidden, unknown aspects of New York – becoming more than just a tourist.

The world sees New York as relentlessly modern, a city of skyscrapers – it has more of them than any other city in the world except Hong Kong – many of them glorious, like the Flatiron, which gets lovelier each time I see it, the Chrysler Building, the Woolworth Building.

And yet, tucked away in the shadow of these soaring towers are some startling and lesser known beauties, thrilling glimpses of the past. Magnificent 18th-century buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1835, including the very first house you see (but probably don’t notice) when disembarking from the Staten Island Ferry, the James Watson House (1799), built for a rich merchant who wanted a waterfront home from where to keep an eye on his ships in the harbor, and Fraunces Tavern (1719), where George Washington said goodbye to his victorious officers in 1783.

Enjoying an evening meal amongst the converted 19th-century warehouses of Stone Street was an unexpected treat. And a little further up Broadway there is St Paul’s Chapel (1764), where George Washington and the future King William IV both worshipped – and which also served as the rescue headquarters for a very modern disaster, September 9, 2001.

Perhaps the most surprising 18th-century house I came across was Gracie Mansion (1799), since 1942 the official residence of the Mayor of New York, although some mayors have refused to live there as there are strict rules governing who stays overnight! It lies right at the far end of East 89th Street, a tiny oasis of gracious 18th-century living embowered in trees and sandwiched between the dark, looming 20th-century towers of the Upper East Side and the choppy East River as it flows towards Hell Gate.

Then there is the Federal style Hamilton Grange, built in 1802 as a country retreat for founding father Alexander Hamilton and now marooned on the side of a hill having been ignominiously moved around because it was in the way, and the magnificent, classical Morris-Jumel Mansion of 1765, set on its own hill, where in 1790 the first three US Presidents all sat down to dinner together.

And the modest Dyckman Farmhouse, filled with simple furniture and redolent of the time when the north of Manhattan Island was all farmland, acting as gatekeeper above Broadway just before the bridge to the mainland – I don’t think I ever really believed that Manhattan was actually an island until I gazed across the Harlem River to the cliffs of the Bronx from Inwood Park.

There are so many happy memories of the everyday New York that only New Yorkers know. The uncrowded lawns and hills of north Central Park so calm and spacious with the lovely Conservatory Gardens and serene Harlem Meer, the breezy heights of the West Side with sinuous Riverside Park, sweeping views across the majestic Hudson, the Little Red Lighthouse set by the water beneath the huge George Washington Bridge – busiest bridge in the world.

Sitting with an American beer in my favourite New York bar, the Ceile just off Bennett Park, Manhattan Island’s highest natural point, enjoying the buzz and the bargains of Harlem’s colourful markets, climbing up from the Polo Grounds on the John T. Brush staircase where once you could watch the New York Giants for free, eating a burger from Shake Shack in Madison Square Gardens, riding the Roosevelt Island Tramway, with its unique views of downtown, the Staten Island Ferry – greatest free ride in the world.

Enjoying a drink above the treetops of Central Park in the Met’s hidden rooftop Sculpture Garden, walking the High Line, taking the No 4 bus from the Cloisters to downtown – best bus ride in Manhattan – watching the red kites in Washington Square Park, renting a top floor apartment near Union Square up six flights of steps and no lift – just like Barefoot in the Park.

There really is nowhere quite like New York…

 

 

 


I Never Knew That About New York, By Christopher WinnThe first and only city I have written about prior to writing about New York is my home town of London, and what struck me quite forcibly as I was doing my preliminary research is how many similarities there are between these two great world cities that sit facing each other across the Atlantic Ocean.

Both began life as ports and grew prosperous on international trade. As a result both have attracted people from all across the globe, with the result that New York and London are now the two most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Both have English as their official language although scores of different languages can be heard on the streets, while both cities enjoy culture and cuisine from every corner of the globe.

They are also by far and away their nation’s largest cities in terms of population, with New York and London each having a population of something over 8 million people.

Both have grown into leading international financial centers with financial institutions that sprang from humble beginnings in coffee shops, Tontine’s Coffee House on the corner of Wall Street and Water Street in New York, Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley in the City of London.

Both have suffered devastating fires which changed the face of the city, London with the Great Fire of London in 1666, New York with the Great Fire of 1835.

Both New York and London are cultural capitals, boasting the best theater in the world, with the world’s top two theater districts, Broadway in New York and the West End in London, and are home to their respective nation’s best museums and art galleries, the Met, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Museum, Victoria and Albert, Tate Galleries in London, as well as premier music and concert venues, the Lincoln Center and Madison Square Gardens in New York, the Royal Opera House, Barbican and South Bank Center in London.

New York and London possess two of the world’s most luxurious shopping streets, Fifth Avenue in New York being the most expensive in the world, Bond Street in London the second most expensive.

New York and London share many of the same place names too, Chelsea, Greenwich, Soho. In New York, the name SoHo is derived from South of Houston, while in London, Soho was an old hunting cry. There is even a Downing Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, named after the same Sir George Downing who gave his name to the famous London street where the British Prime Minister lives, at No 10. He was responsible for arranging the handover of New Amsterdam from the Dutch to the British in 1664.

Perhaps it is these similarities that help explain why someone who feels comfortable on the streets of New York will probably also feel comfortable on the streets of London and vice versa. Certainly, New York and London are the two cities I love the most – if I could live six months of the year in each how great would that be?

 

 


This Book Was A Tree, by Marcie Chambers CuffOnce upon a time, in a land maybe not so far away, there lived a perfectly programmed little kid. And it was you. You were an accomplished creative scientist with just about any convenient medium—crayons, finger paints, mud puddles, noodles—buzzing with ideas and willing to take wondrous risks with your actions and your thoughts. You dazzled the world with your vivid imagination. Discarded cardboard boxes metamorphosed into mailboxes and rocket ships, sofa cushions became modified superhero headquarters, and dirt piles were mountains inhabited by creepy villainous monsters. You broadcast your scientific findings throughout your world. And then, most likely, somewhere along the way, you had to deal with everyday stuff, and your natural creative and experimental tendencies were somehow gobbled up along the way. It is sad but true that an innately inquisitive child such as you could potentially develop into an incurious adult.

Creativity is slippery and difficult to define. It’s not a talent. It’s not just something you think about doing, it’s something you do. It’s a skill—like performing a magic trick—that’s developed and applied. To be creative, you must wander freely, explore without limits, and be open to brand new ideas. Creativity is not confined to the arts—it’s possible to be creative whenever you’re using your brain to tinker with original ideas—whether baking pinwheel cookies or teaching quantitative analysis. You gather information, mess around with productive thoughts, make critical judgments along the way, and craft concepts into their best forms. Creativity is insight—just a clever merging of everyday things. And it’s magical. First, standing before you is nothing. Then voila! There’s something brand new and super sparkly.

Are you still creative? Yes, indeed you are. Your highly developed human brain is a savvy creativity machine. Your brain was built for creative problem solving and can withstand years of innovation squashing. If your brain has gotten a little flabby on its right side, a course of systematic conditioning and stretching can help it “remember” its former creative achievements. Your brain will spring right back to prizewinning shape. It’s easy, even for a rusty grownup.

This Book Was A Tree, by Marcie Chambers Cuff

Let me remind you that you’re a natural problem solver. An earmark on a book page, a paperweight on a stack of notes—you instinctively take opportunities to build simple solutions to problems. Look around and see the cleverness of everyday things—buttons, zippers, pencils, scissors, clips, snaps. Each of these began as an ingenious solution to a problem, and each is ever evolving. There are always problems to be solved. There are always improvements to be made.

Look around and find inspiration in unlikely places—your kitchen, your front porch, your backyard—and jump-start your creative engine. Be a scientist and explorer of things. Look at everything around you as an opportunity for ingenuity. Tinker with odds and ends. Take things apart, study them and test them. Learn what you can. Look at things from all angles to get different perspectives. See the world with fresh eyes. Treat each day as a treasure to unearth, each moment as a secret to discover. Spring back to your previous prizewinning creative self.

Why? Creativity is the heart of a productive world. It is central to understanding how the world works. Fundamentally, science and the creative arts are the same—both interpret and reinterpret the environment—with the particle physicist, the professional pianist, and the preschool painter each expressing a real need to discover and create something brand new—a story about the surrounding world that is whole and beautiful. At the heart of all great science lies creativity. In a quest to make sense of the natural world, the ideal scientists are in constant search of new ideas, innovative solutions to problems and possible explanations for everyday things. And they realize there’s no right or wrong. No coloring within the lines. There is no “perfect”—so, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and create something. Anything will do.

In This Book Was a Tree, science teacher Marcie Cuff issues a call for a new era of pioneers—not leathery, backwoods deerskin-wearing salt pork and hominy pioneers, but strong-minded, clever, crafty, mudpie-making, fort-building individuals committed to examining the natural world and deciphering nature’s perplexing puzzles. Within each chapter, readers will discover a principle for reconnecting with the natural world around them.


I Never Knew That About New York, By Christopher WinnRobert de Niro reckons New York is the most exciting city in the world and it would take a braver man than me to disagree with him. Anyway, he’s right, and when I decided to do a book about a city outside Britain for the first time there was no hesitation – it just had to be New York – the ultimate city.

I have loved New York since I was a boy, partly because I have always been fascinated by tall buildings – first thing I do on going anywhere is climb the highest point – and in those days New York was home to the tallest and most beautiful building in the world, the glorious Empire State Building, which for me will always be the perfect skyscraper. I just love the story of how developer John J. Raskob, when asked by the architects what his new building should look like, stood a pencil on end and asked ‘How high can you make it so that it doesn’t fall down?’

That passion for New York was deepened when I sat on the sofa with my Dad in our London home watching Detective Kojak, played by Telly Savalas, cleaning up the mean streets of 70s Manhattan. New York appeared to be impossibly glamorous, everything a city should be – bustling, brash, colorful, fast, noisy, scary, full of outlandish characters.

Kojak was always demanding something called pizza – I had no idea what that was, neither did my Dad – but boy did it look good and it seemed to epitomize New York as somewhere exotic and one step ahead of the rest of us. I can still remember the thrill when I first visited New York in 1977 and tasted my first pizza from New York’s oldest pizzeria, Lombardi’s on Spring Street in Little Italy.

Of course everyone feels they know New York already since it is so familiar through film and television – Central Park, for instance, has been filmed more than any other location in the world. My overwhelming memory of my first visit to New York was a sense of deja vu – I felt I had grown up on these streets. In fact I almost knew my way around without a map – and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Shaft (Richard Roundtree) or Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) or one of the Corleones (Marlon Brando, Al Pacino) or even Superman strolling towards me on the sidewalk.

After that first visit I promised myself that I would one day come back to New York and explore it properly, get to know the New York behind the film set. I Never Knew That About New York is the fulfillment of that promise. And I discovered more than I could ever have imagined.

 

 

 

 

 


rainbow Betting the Rainbow will be out April 1,2014,  (no fooling) and I’m very excited.  I got the idea for this book because “betting the rainbow” is a term used in poker that means shoving all your chips (all colors) in at one time.  Betting it all on one hand.

I wanted my character, Dusti Delaney to want to change her and her sisters’ lives so badly that she would bet everything she had for one chance to win.  You’ll love this story about a group of people who meet and fall in love around a community poker game for charity.  I had fun doing the research because I barely knew how to play poker when I began.  But, I did my research.  I went out to a game in the country in an old barn and learned to play Texas Hold’em.  The lesson only cost me thirty dollars.  Then by luck, I met a woman who plays professionally in the Las Vegas games.  She invited me out to watch.  I loved it.  As a writer I found myself watching the people and barely keeping up with the game.

Though I’ve never bet much on cards, I have “bet the rainbow” on a few other things in my life.  One day twenty years ago I stopped teaching, pulled out my retirement and lived on it until I could finish writing my third book.  I thought we’d starve that year and everyone was sure I’d gone completely mad.  I think I worked longer and harder every day because I couldn’t afford to fail.

The gamble paid off.  It took several years of writing and a few part time jobs along the way, but looking back it was the smartest move I could have made.

I know you’re wondering, am I going to become a professional poker player?  No. I think I’ll stay with writing.

Be sure to visit my website at www.jodithomas.com to pre-order your copy of Betting the Rainbow. I’d also love to have you contact me so you can start receiving my online newsletters.

I’m betting you’ll walk away happy when you finish reading Betting the Rainbow.


Women have done amazing things for literature and have been an instrumental part in shaping the literature of today as well as the current publishing industry. In honor of National Women’s History Month we wanted to recognize these impressive women for all that they have done and will continue to do in the future.

There are too many amazing women, inspiring female characters, and wonderful authors to name, so instead I am going to discuss the ten books that have most inspired and/or deeply affected me in the last year. As a happy coincidence, ALL of these ten books were written by women. Today you get the second half. Check out My 10 Favorite Books from the Last 10 Months (Part 1) for the first half of this list.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

This is hands down my favorite book (at the moment). It also happens to be one that truly encapsulates Women’s History Month. The Invention of Wings follows the lives of two women from opposing backgrounds. Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a wealthy family in early nineteenth century Charelston is given a present that alters her life. Meet Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave and Sarah’s eleventh birthday present. Kidd follows the lives of these two women from childhood into adulthood. We watch as they grow up, grow apart, and rebel against the lives they were born into.

What I think is particularly compelling about this book is that it looks at slavery from the slave, the slave owner, and the abolitionists perspectives all at once. On top of the slavery discussion, this book also looks at gender roles and the strict confines of society on women. Sue Monk Kidd presents an interesting comparison between abolitionism and women’s rights that is still relevant today. This is a book that I would recommend to anyone, but particularly to a female audience.

Sue Monk Kidd is also the author of The Secret Life of Bees, another book that I would recommend.

 

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Coping with death and loss appears regularly in literature. This is a middle grade novel told from the perspective of twelve-year-old genius. Willow is not your average middle schooler, she is incredibly smart, and prefers her garden and her medical textbooks as opposed to other kids her age. When Willows adoptive parents both die in a car crash she is forced to come to terms with her parents’ death and her grief while simultaneously finding herself and her place in the new world she has been thrust into. Told through Willows’ unique, intelligent, and scientific-minded voice we follow along as this young girl turns her grief into a discovery rather than a tragedy.

I bet you were not expecting to find a middle grade novel on this list, and I can assure you that when I picked it up for the first time I was not expecting this book to be in my Top Ten either. But the surprise is what makes this book so special.

 

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot is the saddest books that I have ever read and I like sad books so that is saying a lot. I’m a fan of any book that I am still thinking about days, weeks, and months later and this book is exactly that!

Married couples splitting up have become the norm. Divorce rates are high. I am just entering the phase of life where weddings are a regular event. I have been told to enjoy this “wedding phase” while it lasts because after that comes the “kid phase,” and then the “divorce phase.” What Alice Forgot deals with all of these three phases of life. Alice has amnesia. She wakes up in the middle of a ugly divorce and her children are in their early teens. However in Alice’s head, she is a newlywed, floating in marital bliss, and pregnant with her first child. She is quite confused, as you might imagine.

Moriarty magnifies both of these two pivotal times by examining how Alice fell in and out of love. I am a fast reader and I like to start and finish a book all in the same week. This book took me a while. I found myself regularly having to stop and think about what I had just read, for a day and often for a week. This is a difficult book to read in one sitting and is not necessarily one to take on vacation. What Alice Forgot will make you pause and really think about the ways we treat others and ourselves.

 

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi

Every book on this list is here for a reason and Ghana Must Go is here for several, one of which being that it may be the most beautifully written book that I have read in my life.

Kweku Sai, a divorced father of four and renowned surgeon, is dead. His death starts the ripple of events that bring his estranged family slowly back together. Secrets and disappointments have drawn the family apart over time and it takes the death of their father to bring them back together. This novel looks at the unconditional love of family and “teaches that the truths we speak can heal the words we hide.”

This is a book that spans generations, moving seamlessly through time, point of view, and voice as it looks at how a single family grew up, grew apart, and what it took to bring them back together. Taiye Selasi is a beautifully eloquent writer who I cannot wait to read more of.

 

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan

Golden Boy, by Tara Sullivan

This is a book truly unlike any other I have ever read. Golden Boy looks at the life of thirteen-year-old Habo, who is growing up in a small Tanzanian village. His father abandoned the family because he could not accept his son. His mother will not look at him. His brother terrorizes him. The other children in the village have never asked him to play. Habo is alone and different. When Habos’ family is cast out of their village, he knows his yellow hair, light eyes, and white skin is the reason why. As his family travels across the Serengeti in order to seek refuge in Mwanza, Habo discovers his curse has a name: Albino, and there are people hunting him.

When I think of oppression and discrimination, in terms of history, there are three things that come to mind: slavery, women’s rights, and the holocaust. Maybe this is because I commonly have more access to books that discuss these issues, maybe it is because these are common topics in literature, but it is both refreshing and upsetting when you come across a case of discrimination as graphic and disturbing as the one discussed in this book. Particularly when you did not previously know it existed.

Golden Boy is a Young Adults book and while aimed at a younger audience, was one of the more enlightening and educational books that I have read this year.


Any Other Name, by Craig JohnsonA Serpent's Tooth, by Craig Johnson Spirit of Steamboat, by Craig Johnson

Being in the business I’m in, I sometimes get some strange requests, and I figured I’d share one with you. The other day I got a memo from Orion Entertainment announcing the casting of a new docu-reality television series…

The memo says they’re looking for “authentic and colorful cowboys and their families that live the throwback cowboy lifestyle. They should spend more time on their horse than in their truck!
My first response was who in the heck are these village morons, but like a Ron Popiel commercial—wait, there’s more!
The memo goes on to point out the exact lifestyle elements they should embody. All members of the family need to live a classic cowboy lifestyle and have rugged good looks. Family should have outgoing parents with at least 3 kids, ages ranging from 17 – 35, that are all great looking cowboys and cowgirls. Active grandparents are a plus.
All right, this is almost so funny I’m not sure where to start, but evidently the most important thing in reality TV is rugged good looks or being a fantastic looking cowboy or cowgirl. Now I’ve got to tell you that in all the ranches I ever worked at, the first thing I did was hand over an 8X10 just to make sure I suited the aesthetic of the outfit. I’ve been around some pretty capable hands and they do have a point here, some of the most capable and talented individuals I’ve ever met were certainly not the best looking… It’s kind of hard to look ruggedly handsome while pulling dogies out of the mud. The last point is a real hoot, in that I agree that active grandparents are a plus.
Family needs to be working stunning ranches with diverse terrain and challenges – chasing grizzlies and wolves away from cattle, the struggles of raising crops and making a profit, battling weather elements to keep livestock safe and alive.
It’s gotten so that I have a hard time fighting off the wolves and grizzlies whenever I take the dogs out anymore.
Family and staff of the ranch must be involved in the country lifestyle: hunting, fishing, trapping, building cabins and structures, herding cattle, sheering sheep, farming, etc.
Of course, while doing these things you’ll be fighting off the wolves and grizzlies…
Members of the family and staff should have fun hobbies and skills like singing, play the guitar or harmonica, write and recite poetry, cook the best BBQ in the county, make their own clothes, raise bees or have wild animals as pets, raise bulls, or be an aspiring bull rider or rodeo participant.
You know, in all that free time you have while ranching.
All members of the family need to have big, strong personalities with great and unique looks.
I’m always wondering what Hollywood’s ideas are of “great and unique looks”. Judy says my dilapidated Carhartt jacket, Stormy Kromer hat, and Shipton’s Big-R jeans probably aren’t going to fit the bill.
See you on the trail,
Craig
PS: The tour for Any Other Name is just about finalized and will be attached to the next Post-it. In the meantime, it is available for pre-order SIGNED at Barnes and Noble and a few of your favorite independents. Here are the links:

The Book Rack

Mystery Mikes

Prairie Pages Bookseller

Leather Stalking Books

Old Firehouse Books

Sheridan Stationery Co

PPS: Don’t forget to shop the store (Steamboat Totems are in stock as are hats and shirts and mugs, oh my) and keep an eye out for a new item coming in time for the DVD release of LONGMIRE Season 2 and Mother’s Day.

StoreStore

TOUR OF DUTY

Catch Craig Johnson on his book tour.