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Reader's Guides

Reader’s Guide: TAPESTRY OF FORTUNES by Elizabeth Berg

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Berg_Tapestry of FortunesAs you and your book club prepare your discussions of Elizabeth Berg’s Tapestry of Fortunes, we’d like to share this special Random House Reader’s Circle material to get the conversation going. Enjoy!

QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

1. Cecelia is a motivational speaker who preaches that “getting lost is the only way to find what you didn’t know you were looking for” (8). Do you think Cecelia is able to take her own advice? How does moving in with Lise, Joni, and Renie help her explore this philosophy?

2. Throughout the novel, Cecelia and the other women often rely on her box of fortunes to help them search for answers to their big questions. How do these answers affect their decision-making? Do their fortunes make a difference, or is it something else that ultimately guides them to these answers?

3. “I, the motivational speaker, have not been able to motivate myself into making a new life without her,” Cecelia says, referring to Penny’s death (10). What eventually changes for Cecelia and enables her to start a new life? Does Penny play a part in this change, even after her death?

4. When Brice, Penny’s husband, tells Cece that he is getting re- married, she is initially surprised, but also happy that he is moving on. “People with people, good. People alone, bad,” Penny always used to say to Cece (35). Is it difficult for Cece to heed this advice? Why might it be easier for Brice?

5. Soon after Cece receives the postcard from Dennis, she decides to go visit him. What makes Cece so certain about seeing him again? Do you ever get over your first love? How might this relate to Lise’s situation?

6. When Cece moves into the house, Renie is initially defensive and skeptical. Her career as a columnist, too, highlights her skeptical and sarcastic tendencies. Why do you think Renie shows only this side of herself for much of the novel? How are the other women eventually able to uncover the more sensitive side of Renie?

7. When Cece volunteers at the Arms and meets Michael, she opens up to him about Penny’s death. She explains that it was “one of the most beautiful experiences” of her life (124). What does Cece mean about Penny’s death being beautiful? How does that beauty continue to influence Cece’s life?

8. Renie asks the women whether they believe in the truth of the saying “Be kind, for everyone is carrying a heavy burden” (174). Wanda, the waitress they meet during the road trip, asserts that although not everyone carries a heavy burden, everyone does carry the burden of fear (175). How is this “burden of fear” a theme throughout the novel?

9. Mother-daughter relationships are central to the story: Renie struggles with meeting her estranged daughter; Lise’s daughter urges her not to reunite with her ex-husband after their divorce; Cece grows annoyed with her mother for acting more like a girlfriend than a parent (110). What makes a mother-daughter relationship so special? What makes it so fraught, and sometimes difficult?

10. After Michael dies, Cece remembers a conversation that she and Penny once had: Cece asked, “What’s the point in loving anything when it will just change or be taken away?,” and Penny replied, “The point in loving is only that. And when you lose something, you have to remember that then there is room for the next thing. And there is always a next thing.” (213) How does this idea relate to the broader theme of the novel? What is the “next thing” that Cece, Phoebe, and the other characters manage to find?

11. Toward the end of the novel, Cece mentions something that Dennis said about photography, which she feels reverberates in her own life: “The greatest understanding of a thing is when you can’t reduce it any further.” (217) How does this statement relate to Cece’s views on love and friendship? How might it relate to your own?

12. Lise, Joni, Renie, and Cecelia are all very different. What do you think makes their relationships with one another thrive, in spite of their differences? Consider how this relates to the quote at the end of the novel: “We are a convergence of fates, a tapestry of fortunes in colors both somber and bright, each contributing equally to the Whole.” (218–19)

Stay up to date with Elizabeth on Facebook!

Reader’s Guide: NEVER SAY GOODBYE by Susan Lewis

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Lewis_Never Say Goodbye Susan Lewis delivers a deeply moving novel in Never Say Goodbye about finding friendship and love in the most unexpected of places. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult, Heather Gudenjauf, or Elizabeth Flock then this just may be the perfect read for your book club. Below are the questions and topics for discussion.

For more information, stay up to date with Susan on her Facebook and Twitter.

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. How would Josie’s life have been different if she had been able to tell her family about her condition immediately? Do you think her life would have been better or worse if she had?

2. Have you ever had a secret you felt you had to keep from those closest to you in order to protect them? How did you deal with it?

3. Did you relate to one of the two main characters, Josie and Bel, more than the other? Which one, and why?

4. Why did Josie take her husband, Jeff, back after he cheated on her? Did he deserve it? Would you have done the same? Do you think he redeemed himself in the end?

5. Bel is upset when Nick and Kristina get married so soon after the death of her sister, which puts her off to a rocky start with Kristina. What brings Bel and Kristina together in the end?

6. Do you think Josie’s son, Ryan, actually committed the crime he was accused of?

7. Why does Bel push Harry away?

8. In what ways do Bel and Josie complement each other? Do you think they would have discovered a friendship if horrible circumstances hadn’t thrust them together? Has their friendship changed them by the end of the book?

9. Which of the many themes of the novel (friendship, family ties, love, and loss, among others) struck you as most important?

10. Were you surprised by the ending? What did you think would happen?

11. Did you learn anything you didn’t know before about breast cancer because of reading the novel? Did the book change your thinking in any way?

12. How did Bel’s volunteer work affect her life? Have you ever volunteered with or would you ever consider volunteer- ing with an organization like Breast Cancer Care?

Reader’s Guide: THE BURGESS BOYS by Elizabeth Strout

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Strout_BurgessBoys Tomorrow is a big day! Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys hits bookshelves in paperback. We are so excited to continue sharing her writing with you and your book club. Happy discussing!

Questions for Discussion

1. How did the narrator’s introduction telegraph your expectations about the Burgess family?

2. Jim and Bob Burgess both left Shirley Falls for New York City. Why there, when they could have gone anywhere? And why did Susan stay behind?

3. The Burgess siblings have lived with a childhood trauma their whole lives. How has each one compensated for this in his or her personal and professional adult life?

4. Which Burgess brother, Jim or Bob, did you find more sympathetic? Did you find yourself changing your mind as the story unfolded?

5. To many readers, Jim may seem more competent than Bob in dealing with Zach’s “prank.” Do you agree? If not, why not?

6. What did you learn about the Somali population in Shirley Falls? How do you see this as a particularly American story, if you do? And if not, why not? Initially, each of the Burgess siblings reacts uniquely to the Somali population. What do you think causes each individual response, and how do you see it change?

7. When Jim reveals his own childhood secret, what journey does Bob have to take to first separate from and then return to his brother, Jim? What about their relationship has changed? What, if anything, remains the same?

8. What do you think compelled Zach to throw the pig’s head into the mosque?

9. Both Burgess brothers are lawyers. How do their inner lives reflect their very different professional choices?

10. How do Helen and Susan’s roles as mothers define them?

11. How does the Burgess family’s multigenerational history in Shirley Falls add to the siblings’ emotional challenges?

Want more? Stay up to date with Elizabeth on her website and via Twitter!

Feature Essay: Elizabeth Berg, author of TAPESTRY OF FORTUNES, on Visiting a Psychic

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Berg_Tapestry of Fortunes Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels as well as two works of nonfiction. Tapestry of Fortunes is a New York Times bestseller and follows four women as they venture into their pasts in order to shape their futures, fates, and fortunes. Today, she shares a special story with us about a time when she went to visit a psychic!

THE “HOLD ON A SECOND” PSYCHIC BY ELIZABETH BERG

When I wrote Tapestry of Fortunes, I knew I wanted to include aspects of divination. It was for whimsical as well as more serious reasons. I wouldn’t say I believe entirely in the prognostic statements of Runes or Tarot cards or people who call themselves psychics, but there can be times when readings are eerily dead on. One of the first times I went to a psychic, I had a lot of fun with a pretty eccentric character. But there was something about the experience that let me know there was more to the business of inquiring of the oracle than I had thought. Here’s what happened.

Claire Brightwater is the proprietor of Earth Dancer Gallery. This is a shop situated over a shoe store and next to a weight loss clinic. You can buy all kinds of Native American things there: kachina dolls, beautiful stones, feathers, books and tapes, blankets and jewelry and medicine wheels. Also, you can take advantage of Claire’s psychic abilities. You know she has them because of the sign in her window. PSYCHIC, it says.

So I make an appointment for a reading. And when I arrive, I’m a little late and apologetic and out of breath. “Sorry,” I say. “Sorry.” She holds up her bracelet-laden arm. “No problem.” She pulls a chair up next to her desk. “Here,” she says. “Sit down. Center yourself.” She has long, flaming-red hair. She is wearing a purple shawl and a colorful, long skirt and many rings. She is a wonder to behold, one of those women who look so good overweight that you want to be overweight, too. I put my jacket and purse on the floor and she says, “No, you have to get centered,” and puts my purse under me and my jacket behind me. “There,” she says. “Now, I’ll just pay some bills here while you hold some crystals.” She puts a pink one in my right hand and a purple one in my left. While she makes out checks, I hold the crystals tight. I see another homemade sign against one of the counters. NO PLASTIC. CHECKS OKAY. BARTERING OKAY. In a little while, she looks up. “Okay?” I nod. She checks the pink crystal. “This is for love,” she says. “Your heart is full of love.” She nods, agreeing with herself. “Yes. Very beautiful.” Then she takes the purple crystal. “This is for stress,” she says. “This is cold. You got a lot of stress.” Now I nod, thinking, Well, I’m alive on the earth. Why wouldn’t I have stress? Claire’s advice to me about stress is this: “You need to go back to the earth. You need to lie down on it, first on your back, arms and legs spread out. Then lie on your front, and listen to the pulse of the earth.” This sounds like fine advice to me. I used to do it all the time when I was a kid. And I had much less stress then, come to think of it.

She tells me she sees a lot of oscillating around me. “You’re going back and forth, back and forth inside, aren’t you?” We stare intently at each other. The phone rings. “Excuse me,” she says. Then, into the phone, “Hello, Earth Dancer Gallery.” I’m thinking, wait a minute. What kind of reading is this? But she takes care of the call and is back to me. She tells me to pull an I Ching card, and I get “Retreat.” That sounds good, I tell her. Yes. I definitely need a vacation. Claire suddenly jerks her head up, stares into space. “No . . . note . . .NOTORIETY!” she says. She looks at me. “This word, it just came to me! Are you trying to be famous or something?”

“Well,” I say, “I guess we’d all like to be famous. But I don’t know if notoriety is the word I’d pick.”

The UPS man comes. Claire tells me to hold on, she’ll be right back. She goes over to the counter to pay the man, has a little chat with him. Sixty dollars I paid for this, I’m thinking. Jeez.

Next we do animal cards. Claire is an all-around kind of psychic. Turns out I’m an owl. “You need to go into the dark for the light,” Claire tells me. “That’s what this card is saying.” Well, I’m all for op- posites. You know, the blond beauty, held in the arms of the strong, handsome man, says, “Oh, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” just before she kisses him to death. There’s something to opposites.

The phone rings again. Claire tells the caller, “He’s not here. Can I take a message?” She writes something down, hangs up. “It’s time for you to wear a feather in your hair, yes?” she asks me. She picks one out for me. Two dollars.

Now, I know how this is sounding. But the notion of wearing a feather is actually quite appealing. As is lying on the earth. As is a retreat. I’m starting to feel kind of happy. I ask Claire what music is playing in the background. It’s very, very soothing. I want it. It’s “Lazaris Remembers Lemuria,” she tells me. Just so happens I can buy one from her.

“Have you been feeling tired?” Claire asks.

“Yes!” I say. And I really have. Not just I don’t want to do the dishes tired. I’ve been deep tired.

She nods. “All the women around here are tired,” she says. “It’s because of our connection to the earth. The earth is having a very hard time giving birth to spring this year, and we all feel it.”

A customer comes in, a woman just looking. “I’m doing a reading,” Claire says, “but just let me know if you need any help.” A few minutes later, there’s another phone call, someone wanting to know about the upcoming pipe ceremony. Claire tells them all about it.

“Your work, you need to pay attention to what comes from the heart.” She looks at me, shakes her head. “You will have great success.”

Another customer, a teenage boy wearing a T-shirt featuring crystals, looking for bumper stickers. No bumper stickers. But Claire sells him some little rocks.

We finish up and I realize I am feeling calmer and more centered than I have in a long time. Some of what Claire said felt silly. And some of it felt scary-true. Whatever has happened, I feel better than I ever have after any therapy session. Plus I got a feather and a tape and permission to lie down on the earth.

I guess what I believe is that there is much to the unconscious that we can learn from and be guided by. Is using some tool for fortune telling one of them? Maybe you should find out for yourself. If you’re not enlightened, you’ll at least be entertained. That’s my prediction.

Stay up to date with Elizabeth Berg on Facebook! Tapestry of Fortunes hits bookshelves in paperback on April 8th.

Reader’s Guide: A Q&A between Gail Caldwell, author of NEW LIFE, NO INSTRUCTIONS, and her Editor

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Caldwell_New Life No InstructionsBeloved and Pulitzer prize-winning author Gail Caldwell sits down to chat with her longtime editor, Kate Medina, about her latest New Life, No Instructions.

Kate Medina: Authors sometimes say that while writing their books, they learn something new about themselves or their characters; since you are a “character” in your book, did you learn new things about yourself, or others, or about the portion of your life discussed in New Life, No Instructions?


Gail Caldwell: Oh God yes. I think most writers write to find out what they think, or who they are. A friend was reading the book in its last draft, and said she was struck by how hopeful I seemed. I think of myself as determined, rather than hopeful, but writing the book made me realize those traits are often pretty good substitutes for one another. I also realized, for the hundredth time, how cool my mom was.

KM: You wrote, “Most of all I told this story because I wanted to say something about hope and the absence of it, and how we keep going anyway.” This reflects something people often feel, but don’t know how to express. Would you say a little more about this? Was this your goal of writing the book from the very beginning, or did this emerge as the book came into being? 


GC: I had a vague notion of this idea in my mind from the start—particularly because I was so struck, in hindsight, by that image of the child (me, trying to walk after polio) trying to get up again and again. One of the earliest lines I wrote was about that: “We are engineered to rise up, in every developmental sense.” And I suppose on a larger scale, I think that life is so hard—often so silently, humdrum hard for so many people. And yet they move through the day with tremendous courage. Hard not to laud that.

KM: People love the title, which came from a line in the book about what happens after what seems like a miracle. Would you say more about what the title means to you?

GC: I wrote that line in the context of the people supposedly “cured” at religious shrines—the pilgrims to Lourdes and Fatima, for instance: Miracle, new life, no instructions. It’s such an odd notion, to think that with a blink (or a visitation, or a surgery) life changes and you’re good to go. I suspect most miracles have a small-print addendum, or even caveat: PS. You have to learn how to make this work; you’re on your own now; good luck!

KM: One of the strongest themes, and discoveries in the book, is the strength of friends, and how your neighbors and friends became your family. You said that your travel for Thanksgiving was “to walk across the driveway.” Could you say more about this? 


GC: Ha! I was going to Nancy’s, a heroine in the book, who lives one house over. They’ve done studies recently showing that people with balconies and front porches are happier and more connected to the community. I don’t know that geography is destiny, but in my lucky case it’s been a deciding influence. I’m a single-woman-with-dog, and my neighborhood has parks and friends and grocery stores within shouting distance. If I fall on the ice, someone would pick me up pretty fast.

KM: You write in the book about relationships and what it means to create an alternative family, how there are many different ways to live your life without a traditional relationship path. Would you say something about your life as an independent woman?

GC: Each of these questions keeps feeding me back into the same waters! I always half-meant to get married but in retrospect I’m not sure I’d have been very good at it. I came of age during the women’s movement—I was 22 when I stumbled upon my first rally for Women’s Liberation, as it was called then—and I was wearing eyeliner and an anti-war armband. If life is a kaleidoscope of images, that’s one of mine—the young woman finding a different (and to me, thrilling) path. Consciously or unconsciously, I spent the next few decades finding communities where “traditional” was not an important word in the lexicon.

KM: Your mother is such a wonderful presence in the book, and in your life. What one thing—if one can ever say one thing about one’s mother—would you say about yours?

GC: My mother was strong as hell and did not suffer fools. Eight years after her death, I am still figuring out how smart she was. I also think (see above) she was sort of proud of me for going it alone.

For more from Gail Caldwell be sure to visit her website and connect with her on Facebook.

A Conversation between Joanna Hershon and Joshua Henkin

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Hershon_Dual Inheritance Joanna Hershon, author of A Dual Inheritance, sits down with Joshua Henkin to discuss her novel, the characters, her influences, and more!

A Conversation Between Joanna Hershon and Joshua Henkin

Joshua Henkin: A Dual Inheritance has been praised as a novel of ideas and as a book that explores big themes of class, privilege, and ethnicity. Yet one of the things that strike me most about the book is how deeply it is about character. Could you say something about the relationship between character and theme in this novel? Because it seems to me that a writer as good as you can’t think too much about theme without making her characters a whole lot more schematic than these characters are.

Joanna Hershon: While I certainly set out to address certain issues in this book, the themes evolved from the characters’ individual journeys, and how those journeys intersected or very often chafed against each other. I think I’m inherently a writer who pays close attention to characters’ interior worlds, and I’m fascinated by small gestures and a generally intimate scope. With that starting place, this book was particularly exciting because it did spiral out of the more familiar, domestic realm into the larger, global one. As I understood the characters on a deeper level with each successive draft, the themes you mention became more pronounced and articulated.

Henkin: Details magazine called A Dual Inheritance “the best book about male friendship written this young century.” Certainly many of the female characters (Rebecca and Vivi come to mind) are as vivid as the males, but the men do feel front and center in this book. On the other hand, you are a woman. This, of course, is the novelist’s task: to imagine characters who are different from herself. Is writing across gender any more of a challenge (or less of a challenge) than writing across race, class, temperament, or anything else?

Hershon: I like the way you put this—the novelist’s task is to imagine characters that are different—because it seems that readers (including me, sometimes) often expect a novel’s protagonist to be a version of the writer. And of course this expectation makes sense—all our characters come from us, they are some version (however subconscious) of ourselves—but it seems to me that we all contain multitudes of selves. For instance, the character of Ed Cantowitz: Who would have known that a short, aggressive, blue-collar-raised, financial wizard of a man (I am, as far as I know, none of these things) would be one of the most natural characters for me to inhabit? I loved writing his character, and it never felt like a stretch for me to create his point of view. I’ve always written from a male perspective as well as a female one, and this doesn’t seem particularly notable. I’ve always had close relationships with men—my father, several friends, former boyfriends, my husband, my young sons—with all of them offering up their thoughts and feelings over the years. I think writing across race and class can be trickier. I fear being presumptuous; I wish I didn’t fear this, but I do.

Henkin: A number of people have compared A Dual Inheritance to the big social novels of the nineteenth century. Were there particular novels that influenced your writing of this book, whether nineteenth-century social novels or others?

Hershon: I really was not aware of any novels influencing this one, but of course I’ve been influenced by a lifetime of reading and I do love the big sprawl of a nineteenth-century story. Favorites include Anna Karenina, The Portrait of a Lady, The Age of Innocence, and The House of Mirth.

Henkin: Significant portions of A Dual Inheritance take place before you were born and in places that, I’m guessing, you may not have spent a lot of time. Cambridge, Ethiopia, New York City, Tanzania, Haiti, Fishers Island: Did you have to do research to write about these places or are you simply very well traveled? Can you talk about the role research played in your writing of this book?

Hershon: I did a tremendous amount of research, which mostly took the form of conversation. I sought out people, asked nosy questions, and listened to their (often remarkable) stories. I ended up conducting my own crackpot anthropology project, and it was both challenging and extremely enjoyable.

Henkin: Could you talk a little about the role of coincidence in fiction generally, and in this book particularly? I’m thinking, in this instance, of the fact that Ed and Hugh, who were close friends in college, have daughters who end up in the same prep school and become close friends themselves despite not knowing of their fathers’ friendship. In lesser hands, this coincidence would seem convenient and contrived, yet I was convinced. When people say “truth is stranger than fiction,” what they’re also pointing to, whether they realize it or not, is that fiction is held to a stricter standard of truth than reality. The only standard for reality is whether it actually happened, whereas fiction has to be both plausible and convincing. Did you struggle with the coincidences in this novel?

Hershon: I understand that it might seem contrived to some readers that the daughters meet in prep school, but I feel strongly that it isn’t contrived, because it’s rooted in very real motivations that are thematically tied to the larger story. Also, in an intuitive way—at the risk of being too simplistic—it just felt right. From Hugh’s point of view, he never imagined sending any child of his to the boarding school he attended with great misery, but he chose to raise his daughter in locations with limited educational resources and, at the end of the day, where would his daughter beg him to send her? Where would it be easiest for her to gain acceptance? I’ve seen that story play out more than enough times in one way or another and I’m fascinated by how—try as Hugh might—he can never quite outrun his background; there ’s a magnetic pull. And, across the globe, where would Ed think to send his own daughter to boarding school? What school would he deem the best? Even if it irked him to think it? Coincidence is a fact of life. Sometimes, at its best, a coincidence can feel magical, even if there are perfectly good reasons for it. My personal life has always been full of ridiculous coincidences, so maybe I’m more susceptible to a bit of magical thinking than most, but if that’s the case, so be it.

Henkin: I was particularly impressed by the dialogue in A Dual Inheritance, by how well and how deeply it characterizes. Can you talk about the writing of dialogue and its place in this novel and in your work in general?

Hershon: I imagine that my background in theater probably helps with writing dialogue. I loved doing improvisation in drama camp and acting school, and it’s probably my favorite part of writing, though, having tried my hand at playwriting and screenwriting, I realize it’s the shifting back and forth between a character’s words and his interior life, the ability to reveal and conceal by writing sensually alongside the dialogue— that’s what I love most, and it’s where I seem to thrive.

Henkin: A Dual Inheritance is a long and rich book, with many different strands. Did you map the novel out in advance and, if you didn’t, how much did you know before you started and how much did you discover as you went along? To the extent that the book was a discovery for you, what was the biggest surprise?

Hershon: I took all kinds of notes for months before writing, which did amount to an outline, but it took writing the first couple of chapters and getting a handle on the characters in order to really map out the book. It’s honestly difficult to remember when I knew what and when because now it all feels so inevitable, but I’d say the biggest surprise was the nuanced relationship between Rebecca and Hugh. When I mapped it out, their relationship seemed to invite a will they or won’t they kind of question, but as I wrote their scenes, and as the characters and their chemistry felt utterly real to me, I realized, happily, that it was a far more nuanced situation than a simple question of exploring a taboo. And not only was it nuanced, but the subtlety of their relationship felt more complicated and heated than I’d expected.

Henkin: Another process question. Which character or section of the book came most easily to you and which character or section posed the greatest difficulty, and why?

Hershon: As I mentioned previously, the character of Ed came naturally. The end of Part One—Ed goes to East Hampton and comes home to find Helen waiting for him—was thrilling to write. Another section that came without much difficulty and with some exhilaration was the chapter in which the Shipleys take Rebecca to Anguilla. I identify with that giddy sense of being young and entering another world—realizing that there are all kinds of plausible ways to live and that there are also dark sides to most glittery situations. Conversely, the chapter set in China was a beast in terms of research. Writing about Shenzen, China, in the late 1980s felt almost like writing my last book, which was set in the American Wild West during the mid-1800s. There were few reliable sources and much was based on hearsay and scraps of articles and a heavy dose of imagination.

Henkin: Could you speak about your revision process? Kurt Vonnegut once said that writers are either swoopers or bashers. “Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one.” Are you more of a basher or a swooper?

Hershon: I’m more of a basher, though sometimes—out of sheer drive and necessity—I become a swooper. For instance, I was heavily invested in figuring out what Hugh did career-wise. I was stuck on learning the minutiae of various professions in the developing world, convinced I couldn’t move on with the story until I really understood the details of several career paths so I could make informed choices for his character. Finally I realized I knew the emotional beats of what needed to happen in each relevant chapter, and so I forced myself to write “swooper style ” and then return to the chapters after I’d learned more. Working this way was difficult but it was also a revelation. The chapters were rough but they worked, and they helped me understand where I truly needed to focus my attention in terms of research.

Henkin: I often think of novels as being like relationships: One is a re-bound from the next. Is this true for you too? If so, how was A Dual Inheritance a response to the experience of having written your previous novel, The German Bride, and how is it leading to future projects? Which may just be another way of saying, What’s next for you?

Hershon: After my first two novels, for which I did little to no research, I wanted to write a book that would require me to learn a tremendous amount of concrete information. The urge to research, in other words, came first. What happened through that process was that I found the research somehow freeing up my writing, or at least that was the way it felt. Entering into truly unknown worlds enabled me to be more daring, and my prose gained more confidence. A Dual Inheritance was born out of wanting to write a contemporary, multi-generational, sprawling story with a larger cast of characters to play with. I followed my interests and my anxieties and they all made their way into the story. Right now, I’m not sure what’s next but I have the initial spark and it’s decidedly contemporary. I’m not sure I’ll ever shake the research bug, but I’d like to pare down next time. We’ll see.

Joshua Henkin is the author of the novels Swimming Across the Hudson, a Los Angeles Times Notable Book; Matrimony, a New York Times Notable Book; and, most recently, The World Without You, which was named an Editors’ Choice Book by The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and is the winner of the 2012 Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish American Fiction and a finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award. His short stories have been published widely, cited for dis- tinction in Best American Short Stories, and broadcast on NPR’s “Selected Shorts.” He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and directs the MFA program in fiction writing at Brooklyn College.

Stay up to date with Joanna on Facebook, Twitter, and through her website.

A Q&A with Yiyun Li and Mona Simpson

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Li_Kinder Than Solitude Yiyun Li is the author of Kinder Than Solitude, a profound mystery about three people whose lives are changed by a murder one of them may have committed. She is joined in conversation by Mona Simpson, author of Casebook, a powerful new novel about a young boy’s quest to uncover the mysteries of his unraveling family.

Simpson_Casebook

A Conversation Between Mona Simpson and Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li: The central plot of your new novel, Casebook, is a love mystery and a detective story. I wonder if there’s mystery in the kernel of every love.

Mona Simpson: Love is an experience of yearning. I don’t know if it’s possible to feel completely in love at the same time you feel thoroughly comprehended. And yet, it’s everyone’s dream to be known. Yiyun, the organization of both your novels (The Vagrants and Kinder Than Solitude) emanates from a central dramatic event, a mystery of sorts. The structure is almost a wheel, with spokes coming out. It occurs to me that your novels are structured the way a classic short story is said to be, more than your stories are.

YL: You are right that novels and stories start differently for me: a novel starts with a situation, and a story starts with a character or a set of characters more than a situation. Indeed both novels open with a death that the characters have to deal with. Kinder Than Solitude, for instance, started with a woman who was poisoned, yet who lived in a prolonged state of unnecessary misery for twenty-three years. Who was this woman? Who were the people involved in the case? Why did the case remain unresolved? And what happened when the woman finally died? These questions from that central situation were all mysteries to me when I started the novel. Time in a novel works a little differently: the space provided by a novel allows a writer not only to collapse time—twenty or thirty years in a scene, a century or two in one sentence—but also to dissect a moment without letting anyone off the hook. Perhaps this is the rippling effect you talk about: time can be brief or expansive. I also like to imagine that a novel is like an accordion: when Ruyu in the novel plays the accordion, we see the motion of something being opened and closed, and we wait to hear what kind of tune is produced.

In Casebook, the grownups endeavor to treat the breaking-up of families as normal. That makes the disruption more poignant.

MS: When Henry James published What Maisy Knew (his novel about a contentious divorce) in 1897, the divorce rate in the United States was seven percent. Now, it’s closer to fifty percent. And “normal” is little more than common practice with a bit of moral sugar sprinkled on.

For the most part, legally, we declare divorce “no fault.” We’ve changed the way we live, we’ve changed our laws and so our art changes too. Marriage is no longer until death do us part, and fictionally, there’s no way to make that feel exactly right. What we’ve lost is permanence, the simple happy ending. The forever after of fairytales. If a man sleeps with a young woman in Shakespeare or Cervantes, you can bet by the end of the story, they will have been tricked into marrying each other. The complex reality of marriage enters the novel as early as Middlemarch, a book a friend once told me he loved because the two best people don’t end up together. They not only don’t end up together, they meet many times and aren’t even interested in each other. Dorothea makes a disastrous marriage and when her author lets her off the hook (by killing off her husband), we’re meant to believe that she eventually finds some kind of happiness with Will. And yet, there’s a deflation in the ending. Dorothea and Will are like a couple one grudgingly admits to be happy but doesn’t envy.

We all know that divorce is sometimes unavoidable. Yet for ourselves and our children, we don’t want divorce. We don’t want even that weird modern almost-oxymoron, a good divorce. We don’t hope to be Dorothea and Will. We want a Jane Austen love. We want permanence. We want rightness. But even no fault divorces leave victims. Somewhere in that disparity, between what we still wish for and what we can’t avoid, fiction grows.

YL: This is the first time you have a teenage boy as a first person narrator. His observations come from a place where the tenderness of a boy is not yet replaced by man’s half-heartedness. For instance: “We come into the world whole, all of us, but we don’t know that, don’t know that life will be taking large chunk out of us.” Or: “Love ruined people’s lives, the way our parents said drugs would.”

I would like to know how you’re able to come so close to a young man’s thoughts and feelings and how you’re able to reconstruct them in the exact words.

MS: I have a boy, I love a boy, and though in most of the central parts of this novel, he’s not represented, I’ve used his lingo, his friends’ diction and slang and some of the games they played. The boy I’ve created is, in some ways, a mother’s fantasy. Only a mother could dream up a boy who is obsessed with… his parents. This book started for me with the boy’s vantage. I thought of it as a door open only one small wedge. I wanted to limit the love story, to set it within a family, within a larger life and among people whose main concern was not the lovers’ happiness.

I’m curious about how you reconstructed Beijing in Kinder Than Solitude. The city is almost a character in the novel. It’s a palpable presence. I’ve visited China and spent a week in Beijing, and yet my own sensory impressions of it are far less vivid. Your Beijing has replaced mine. What is it like writing about Beijing in English for an English speaking audience?

YL: When I was working on the first draft of Kinder Than Solitude, I wrote to a friend and said that this novel was also going to be my love letter to Beijing. I have given my fondest memories of Beijing to the three teenage characters, not only the tourist sites where Boyang and Moran took Ruyu (and where visitors go today), but also the fabric of everyday life: old men sitting under a tree and expecting a fresh and forgettable story from Ruyu; Boyang and Moran on bicycles, free as Mongolian children on horsebacks; puddles after the rain; watermelon rinds rotting by the roadside.

Several Westerners living in Beijing have commented to me that the city I write about is mostly gone, but its people haven’t changed much. Human nature evolves much more slower than a city, which is heartening, as that’s why I love to read Jane Austen and Dickens. So writing about Beijing in English is like writing about California in English: the landscapes are characters that interact with the people.

Casebook comments on many issues about contemporary life, yet it does not have the self-consciousness that some books do, striving to point out to readers how they are socially aware, for instance. Can you talk about the balance of writing about a society without feeling constrained by the society?

MS: I’ve always written perhaps a little from the inside out, and so I hope the reader will glean all kinds of context that I don’t always overtly provide. I’m extremely interested, though, in what it feels like to be in all the different places on America’s economic spectrum, and how that pinch is felt inside the body and the sensibility.

Yiyun, you’ve cited William Trevor as your primary teacher. Which seems most significant to you—your national history, or your literary legacy?

YL: I often think of one’s national history as one’s genes: something given, something predetermined. Literary legacy is, at least in my case, a choice. I only started writing in my late 20s, and by then I could decide whom to include in my literary genes. Writers I’ve been rereading in the past few years while working on the novel: Tolstoy, Turgenev, Elizabeth Bowen, and of course William Trevor who, as you mentioned, is a primary influence. So my literary legacy comes from Irish literature and Russian literature.

MS: You’ve recently become a US citizen. It’s hard to imagine either Ruyu or Moran becoming naturalized.

YL: I became a citizen in August, 2012. It’s interesting that you say it’s hard to imagine Ruyu or Moran becoming naturalized: I think I knew the immigration status of both characters, and yet I refrained from making it too obvious in the novel. They have both become American citizens (Ruyu needs an American passport and a Chinese visa to return to Beijing). For Moran, her American citizenship offers psychological shelter from the violence she does not understand; for Ruyu, the citizenship is, like everything else in her life, something she accepts and can discard without a second thought. In a deeper sense, however, both of them are so bound to the past that it is hard to imagine that being American citizens would change them in any fundamental way.

Stay connected with Yiyun Li on Twitter and with Mona Simpson on Facebook!

Reader’s Guide: EIGHTY DAYS by Matthew Goodman

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Goodman_Eighty Days “A fun, fast, page-turning action-adventure . . . the exhilarating journey of two pioneering women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, as they race around the globe.”—Karen Abbott, author of American Rose

Random House Readers Circle: How did the idea for Eighty Days originate?

Matthew Goodman: My previous book, The Sun and the Moon, had featured only male characters, so when I began looking around for a new book topic I knew that I wanted the next one to be about a woman. Then one day, during my book explorations, I stumbled across a reference to Nellie Bly; I recognized that name (in part because there used to be a Nellie Bly Amusement Park not far from where I live in Brooklyn), but I didn’t know much about her beyond the fact that she had been a journalist. I began to read more about her, and as I did, I discovered that she wasn’t just any journalist—she was this amazing journalist, who had feigned madness to expose the inner workings of an insane asylum, and so forth. I mean, in an era when the vast majority of female journalists were writing for the women’s pages of newspapers, she was an undercover investigative reporter for the most widely read newspaper of her time.

So I kept on reading, and when I read about how Nellie Bly had undertaken a race around the world in 1889, I knew right away that this was the story I wanted to tell. I thought it was absolutely remarkable that a young woman, unaccompanied and carrying only a single bag, would be daring enough to race around the world, through Europe and the Middle East and Far East, during the Victorian era—and do it faster than anyone ever had before her. (Frankly, I found it almost equally remarkable that no one had written a book about the race before.) I was thrilled to have found such a compelling main character, but as a writer, I was also thrilled by the prospect of being able to write about all those exotic locales. But then, as I continued my research, I discovered something even more astonishing: that in fact Nellie Bly was competing against another young female journalist, by the name of Elizabeth Bisland—a detail that is almost never included in the historical record. I was captivated by the notion of these two young women racing each other around the world, one traveling east, the other west.

RHRC: What was the most fun in writing the story of this incredible journey? What do you hope readers take away from the book?

MG: To be honest, I don’t often experience writing as “fun” (usually there’s too much worry, doubt, and plain old hard work wrapped up in it for me to think of it in quite that way!), but certain scenes in Eighty Days were in fact a great deal of fun to write. I loved writing the story of Elizabeth Bisland’s wild train ride across Utah with Cyclone Bill Downing, for instance; and the scene where Nellie Bly gets to meet Jules and Honorine Verne in their Amiens estate was really fun, because they were all having so much fun with each other. And I took a lot of satisfaction from the pages that described the stokers shoveling coal down in their sweltering fire room; that was a section that I knew I wanted to write from the very beginning, because it was material that I felt very strongly about and hadn’t ever seen described in quite that way before.

Much of the fun that I had with Eighty Days came from the research for the book, from discovering things that I hadn’t known before (who could have ever guessed that Wisconsin used to have thirty-eight time zones?) and which I felt confident would help to make a better story. As you would expect, a lot of this research involved the lives of the two main characters, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, both of which proved to be more complicated and surprising than I had originally anticipated. Lots had already been written about Nellie Bly, of course—much of it, as it turns out, not entirely accurate—but very little was known about Elizabeth Bisland (no one had ever written a book about her before), and I very much enjoyed the process of ferreting out old books and other documents that contained odd bits of information that could add a piece to the puzzle, and help me come to know her across the decades. After the book was published I got an e-mail from Elizabeth Bisland’s grandnephew that said, in part, “Thank you so much for sharing Elizabeth with the public, since she was indeed so reticent to do that herself.” I found that incredibly gratifying.

And I guess—and this is a long way around to answering your question—what I most hope that readers take away from this book is a deeper understanding of these two remarkable women. Though they were very different from each other in many ways, they were both independent and committed to their work, and they were able to support themselves as writers at a time when that was very unusual for women. If by writing Eighty Days I can introduce a new generation of readers to Elizabeth Bisland, and reintroduce them to Nellie Bly, then I’ll be very pleased.

RHRC: As you unraveled their story, did you find yourself relating to (or rooting for!) either woman in particular?

MG: This is actually a question I hear a lot from readers—who was I rooting for to win the race? The thing is, unlike readers (or most of them, anyway), I knew right from the beginning who had won! So for me, it wasn’t really a question of rooting for either Nellie Bly or Elizabeth Bisland to win the race; rather, when I began work on the book I was rooting for them to turn out to be characters as complex and as compelling as possible. And in that respect, both women ably fulfilled my wishes for them.

As I’ve met readers, at book events and so forth, it’s been enjoyable for me to hear about how some of them were rooting for Nellie Bly while others were rooting for Elizabeth Bisland. That’s very much what I wanted for Eighty Days; I certainly didn’t want to be writing a book about a race between a hero and a villain—then you’re verging on melodrama—or even a book in which one of the characters is clearly more sympathetic or more interesting than the other. So I’ve been pleased to discover that the audience’s sympathies have been pretty well divided. I think that’s because each woman had certain admirable qualities that the other tended not to have. Nellie Bly was physically courageous (her stint inside the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum made that very clear), independent, ambitious, socially concerned, and fully determined that as a female journalist she could do anything her male colleagues did; Elizabeth Bisland was erudite (the number of subjects about which she could write intelligently was truly astonishing), artistically inclined, sensitive, deeply curious about the world and its inhabitants. And they each had a number of flaws as well—among those flaws, certainly, a kind of reflexive, unconscious racism that was pretty endemic in the society of the time. So I think that a reader will tend to like one or the other woman depending on the particular set of qualities he or she tends to prefer generally.

RHRC: What was your research process like in preparing to write Eighty Days?

MG: I spent eighteen months basically living in libraries before I wrote a single sentence of Eighty Days. In writing this book I wanted readers not just to know what had happened during the race, but to experience it as well—to feel like they were right there with Nellie Bly or Elizabeth Bisland on the back of a rickshaw, or in the stateroom of a steamship during a storm, or walking along the Tanks in Aden in the moonlight. I needed the world in which they were living to be as vivid as possible in my mind, so that I could make it as vivid as possible on the page.

Not surprisingly, the first thing I did was to read the books that the two women wrote about the race: Nellie Bly’s Around the World in Seventy-two Days and Elizabeth Bisland’s A Flying Trip Around the World. It was a great boon to me that each wrote a book about the race, not only because it allowed me to hear their respective voices, but also because it gave me access to their internal worlds as well as the external world through which they were racing. From there I read everything else that they had ever written, or at least everything that I could get my hands on—books, essays, articles, reviews; this helped me to gain a clearer sense of what they cared about, how they thought, how they changed over the course of their lives. I immersed myself in the newspapers of the time. (Interestingly, I found that the most useful parts of the newspapers were not the news sections, but rather the advertisements.

Advertisements, after all, give a sense of the daily life of a society—they tell what people ate and wore, and what they read and how they furnished their house; they tell how much commodities cost; they tell the kinds of things people liked to do in their spare time.) I read biographies of the other significant characters in the book, such as Jules Verne and Joseph Pulitzer; I read everything I could about all the places that the two women visited during the race, including other travelers’ accounts, histories, guidebooks. Guidebooks are especially helpful, because they’re designed to acquaint the traveler with an unfamiliar destination—and a historian is very much like a traveler, except that you’re journeying through time as well as space.

For more of this Q&A plus questions and topics for your book club discussion, check out the paperback of EIGHTY DAYS by Matthew Goodman.

Stay connected with Matthew on Facebook.

Reader’s Guide: WITH OR WITHOUT YOU by Domenica Ruta

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Ruta_With or Without You “A luminous, layered accomplishment.”—The New York Times Book Review

With or Without You is the story of Domenica Ruta’s unconventional coming of age—a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth and the necessary and painful act of breaking away, and of overcoming her own addictions and demons in the process. In a brilliant stylistic feat, Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving. We have discussion questions for you and your book club to enjoy.

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Ruta begins her book with a scene from her childhood, when Kathi takes her along with her when she goes to destroy someone’s car. Why do you think Ruta chose to begin her book with that scene? What does it tell you about Kathi? How are the themes that it sets out subsequently explored throughout the rest of the book?

2. The dedication of With or Without You is “For Her.” Why do you think that is her dedication?

3. In her late twenties, Domenica worked for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “If only all battered wives could be so conveniently sympathetic,” Ruta writes. “The real picture is something more complicated, a prism that captures the full spectrum of good and evil and shatters it into fractured pieces of color and light” (p. 43). How does With or Without You explore this theme?

4. In a quietly momentous scene in the book, Domenica sees her sister lying on Carla’s stomach and whispers a single word. “It wasn’t until much later that I understood what had happened that day,” Ruta writes. “Inside me was someone new waiting to be born . . . someone who would devote her life to describing such moments in time” (p. 53). What does Ruta mean? Why is that moment so significant?

5. What do you consider Kathi’s biggest betrayal?

6. What would you consider Kathi’s best attribute?

7. What do Kathi and Domenica have in common?

8. The extended Ruta family is almost continuously burdened with debt. Explore the theme of debt, both literal and metaphoric, in the book. How do debts affect their relationships and hold them back?

9. Why does Domenica enjoy working in the dementia ward?

10. When Domenica is recovering, how does she find solace?

11. While in Austin, Domenica falls in love with another writer. “It was just as awful as my mother had said it would be,” Ruta writes. “It was even worse that she was right” (p. 145). What is Ruta referring to? What is the larger significance of Domenica’s realization?

12. Near the end of the book, Ruta wonders why she can’t have compassion for Kathi. Do you think that Kathi is deserving of Domenica’s compassion? Do you believe that Domenica does not have compassion for Kathi?

Reader’s Guide: BLOOD & BEAUTY by Sarah Dunant

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Dunant_BloodBeauty “A brilliant portrait of a family whose blood runs ‘thick with ambition and determination’ . . . The Machiavellian atmosphere—hedonism, lust, political intrigue—is magnetic. With so much drama, readers won’t want the era of Borgia rule to end.” —People (four stars)

A Q&A with Sarah Dunant
Utterly Seduced by the Past

(Originally ran on Shelf Awareness)

Q: Blood and Beauty is so well written that it appears effortless, but many readers may be unaware of just how much research and inspiration goes into crafting quality historical fiction. Can you share a little of your process?

A: Ah—this is a very interesting question. Because, of course, if people were aware of the effort that a book takes, then the final experience—reading it—wouldn’t be working for them.

But you’re right. The easier the read, the more work has been done. And I think that is particularly true of writing within history. Because the more truthful and accurate you are to the actual experience of the Borgia history—and by that I don’t just mean what happened, but the larger, deeper world and culture that explains why those things happened—the more authentic and rich you can make the journey—the time travel—for your reader. But of course getting it “right” takes a huge amount of research and time.

Having said that, the work is also wonderful. Because it is the time when I get happily lost in history. I find it so exciting as the picture of the past starts to deepen, as the more I read, the more I start making connections, feeling the characters move and grow like animated sculpture coming out of a block of marble.

My process is decidedly pre-technological. I sit for months in libraries with notebooks and work my way through stacks of research books covering everything, from politics to herbs, literature to music, weapons of war to theology, education and medicine—anything from the period that I can lay my hands on. Gradually I fill up six or seven notebooks with facts, quotes, images, thoughts and ideas. Then as the story (for the story is always in there) starts to blossom, I can adorn it with all manner of truths and accuracies that you, the reader, don’t notice, but I do. It gives me not just all the colors and shades of paint I need for the canvas I am painting, but also the confidence to apply them. Then when I can sit no longer at a desk, I go traveling. I visit the places to get a feel of them. In the case of Blood and Beauty, there is a huge amount still to be seen, albeit some of it ruined or changed by history: Cesare’s campaigns can be followed, town to town, fortress to fortress, across northeastern Italy.

But the final pleasure is when the book is out and people say, “Oh, that bit when . . .” whatever it is that has caught their imagination—“how did you think of that?” And it is always something that was there in history. But it has gone through the alchemy of fiction so that it feels juicy with atmosphere and color, rather than dry fact. That is my job. And how I love it. However much effort it takes.

Q: What was the most surprising fact or aspect of the Borgias that you discovered in the course of your research for this novel?

A: If I am truthful it was about a disease. I’d had an inkling during the writing of The Birth of Venus that the arrival of sexual plague, which would later be known as syphilis, was a powerful moment in Italian history. But it was only when I got my teeth into the Borgias, when I watched an invading army take over Naples and loiter there, having sex with the local prostitutes, and realized that some of those soldiers were back from the New World with Columbus and had contracted and carried this new disease home with them, that I understood just what an extraordinary history this was. And then Cesare gets infected. . . . And oh, what a horror! The agony, the shame and the public disfigurement. It was perfect: a literal metaphor for the world of Renaissance corruption. I think that was the moment when I knew the book was going to be richer and deeper than just a story of fantastic events.

Q: There seems to be renewed interest of late in all things Borgia. To what do you attribute this fascination?

A: In an era when we are obsessed by celebrity, it was inevitable that history would start to provide us with new ones. And once we had squeezed the Tudors dry, the Borgias stand out as perfect fodder. They have all the ingredients: glamour, beauty, tribal loyalty, sexual misdemeanor, power, corruption, and high-octane emotional drama. The trick is to sort out what is fact and what has grown up from layers of gossip and slander (just as it is with today’s celebrity); to strip it away to get to the truth. Which, as ever, is actually stranger than any fiction you could make up.

Q: On a related note, what, if any, are the parallels you see between the social and political machinations of the Borgias and today’s sociopolitical arena?

A: Oh, so many. Italy and all of its city-states (which I liken in the novel to a bag of spitting cats) are a perfect illustration of how warring political factions operate, the likes of which we have everywhere today. They tell such a modern story—of the lengths people will go to take and keep power; of the way alliances are made, kept, and broken based on pragmatism rather than idealism. The truth is that modern politics were born in this era. That is why Machiavelli writes The Prince about Cesare Borgia. It is a consummate study of how power works and how it corrupts. And how the end defines the means.

And then there is modern Italy: full of corruption still, with north and south in opposition to each other and a mafia presence based on family loyalties with a fat old charismatic politician, Berlusconi, still managing to control the show by ducking and weaving, and even having “bunga bunga” parties with prostitutes. I see images of Berlusconi and I think of Rodrigo Borgia. Except I rather like Rodrigo better! And then there is the Catholic Church, with its hidden sexual scandals and male-dominated power structure. I mean it is Blood and Beauty! The parallels are so powerful they make your eyes water.

But the other thing that is amazingly modern is the subversive power of gossip and the media. There was no direct media at the time of the Borgias, but there was a network of diplomacy by which gossip flourished and flowed through the pens of ambassadors and chroniclers. So you can trace slander against the Borgias emerging from one conversation and then sliding like slime into the public domain. Think of all the celebrity gossip you have ever read and how the more shocking it is, the more you remember it. Think about the fact that later you may find out it wasn’t true—just selling newspapers or fodder for celebrity TV channels—but that once said, it cannot be unsaid. Well, the Borgias’ history was like that. Mud sticks. I am not saying they weren’t at times brutal and corrupt. They were. But then so were the times in which they lived. My job is to allow you to put them in context. To enjoy the drama, yes, but also see through the propaganda.

Q: As an author who has written both contemporary and historical fiction, do you find one genre more challenging (and, conversely, rewarding) than the other?

A: There is no contest here. I have been utterly seduced by the past: the imaginative challenge of sinking deep into history and re-creating an essentially alien wild world that the reader can see, touch, smell, hear, sink into, and experience. It is a bit like writing good science fiction backwards: everything in the world you create has to make sense. With the added wonder—if you do your research—that it was actually happened.

And then, of course, you can say so many things about the present (I hope my answers above have shown that). But you can say it subtly, so that it enters the imagination of the reader on a different level. While I suppose one should never say “never,” I cannot imagine ever wanting to write a novel set in the present again. Everything I want to say about human behavior, sexuality, power, politics, and the endless emotional complexity of being alive—all of it can be said through the past. And while I am saying it, my head is busting with facts, places, ideas, and an ever-growing cast of outrageous characters. Even when I am in despair that I cannot do them justice, I am in awe of their presence.

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