Random House Readers Circle
Right Curve
Sidebar topper
Divider
Divider
Divider
Divider

Posts Tagged ‘book club’

Jane’s Bookshelf, Volume 1: New Year, New Books

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite new reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

The AffairEvery year, I use the holiday break as a time to try new authors, revisit favorites, explore genres I don’t often reach for, and catch up on that classic I’ve been meaning to get to. This year, my new author was Lee Child. So many people rave about this series’ hero, Jack Reacher, I had to meet this guy. THE AFFAIR is a perfect place to start since it’s the story of the events that result in his leaving the military and becoming the loner ex-military cop he’s so famous for. I loved being in Reacher’s mind as he investigates the death of a young woman in a small Mississippi town, uncovering a case that is more complex and nuanced than he’s been led to believe. And when he brilliantly outwits the bad guys who definitely don’t want to be found, I cheered, realizing that I too had become a “Reacher creature.”

lonewolfI haven’t read a Jodi Picoult novel in ages, so when an early copy of LONE WOLF (being published by Atria this spring) came my way, I knew I was in for a treat. After an accident leaves Luke in a vegetative state, his estranged son and overprotective daughter must decide his fate in a tale that is emotionally and morally riveting. Luke has spent his life working with wolves, and what you learn about wolf pack behavior resonates beautifully with the story of this family in crisis. Yes, I cried—and yes, there are some painful moments—but I couldn’t stop reading. And the ending has one of those incredible surprises that I didn’t see coming, but was so true and utterly satisfying.

Catherine_the_GreatI have always loved biography, but with so many (often shorter) books on my pile, I don’t read as many as I’d like. Robert Massie’s CATHERINE THE GREAT brings Catherine, who became Empress of Russia in 1762, completely alive in the pages of this masterful portrait, making you understand her as a woman, mother, politician, lover, and ruler. No less impressive is his account of the era’s history and the artistic, military, philosophical, and political events that she controlled for more than three decades.

MadameBovary_transLydiaDavisOnly part way through the classic, Lydia Davis’s translation of MADAME BOVARY, I’ve found myself reading it a bit differently since I’ll be discussing it with my Ladies of Lefferts book club in a couple of weeks. I cherish the conversations and camaraderie of our evenings together, which reminds me of the delightful, witty memoir by Rachel Bertsche, MWF SEEKING BFF we just published. Bertsche writes about how central the book club experience was to her while trying to forge the friendships she craved when she left behind her BFFs in New York and moved to Chicago. She’s right: the combination of delicious food and lively conversation brings people together in an intimate way. As I finish MADAME BOVARY and start 2012, I wish you many a great read, engrossing discussion, and deepened friendship.

Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

MWF Seeking BFFI couldn’t put it down.” – Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project

When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code, let alone an apartment, with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, Bertsche realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: She’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

In her thought-provoking, uproarious memoir, Bertsche blends the story of her girl-dates (whom she meets everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites) with the latest social research to examine how difficult—and hilariously awkward—it is to make new friends as an adult. In a time when women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF, Bertsche uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life is, you’ve gotta have friends.

Buy the paperback

Buy the eBook

Win a copy of Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Peach Keeper TP smallThis giveaway is now closed. Thanks to the many of you who entered!

Coming to paperback January 10th!

“[Sarah Addison Allen] juggles small-town history and mystical thriller, character development and eerie magical realism in a fine Southern gothic drama.”—Publishers Weekly

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather and once the finest home in Walls of Water, North Carolina—has stood for years as a monument to misfortune and scandal. Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite Paxton Osgood—has restored the house to its former glory, with plans to turn it into a top-flight inn. But when a skeleton is found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, long-kept secrets come to light, accompanied by a spate of strange occurrences throughout the town. Thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the passions and betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover the truths that have transcended time to touch the hearts of the living.

Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife: One of the Top 10 Books of the Year!

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The Tiger's Wife TPThe New York Times announced its top 10 books of the year yesterday, and we’re thrilled that The Tiger’s Wife is among them! Congrats, Téa.
For the complete list, click here.

Win a paperback of The Tiger’s Wife!

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

*This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to the over 2,000 people who entered!*The Tiger's Wife TPobreht_tea

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction

One of the year’s best novels is coming to paperback November 1st!

“[Obreht] has a talent for subtle plotting that eludes most writers twice her age, and her descriptive powers suggest a kind of channeled genius. . . . No novel [this year] has been more satisfying.”—The Wall Street Journal

“So rich with themes of love, legends and mortality that every novel that comes after it this year is in peril of falling short in comparison with its uncanny beauty.”—Time

Win a copy of The Descendants!

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The Descendants MTI*This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!*

With George Clooney in the leading role and Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) directing, The Descendants, scheduled for release on November 18th, is already being called one of the best films of the 2011. Here’s your chance to read the book before you watch it! We love this seriously wonderful novel here at Random House, and hope you will too.

Read an excerpt here.

“With beautiful and blunt prose, Hemmings explores the emotional terrain of grief, promising something far more fulfilling than paradise at its end.”San Francisco Chronicle

“A Pandora’s box–style tragicomedy . . . [Kaui Hart Hemmings’s] comic sense is finely honed in this refreshingly wry debut novel.”—The New York Times Book Review

An interview with Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Brigid Hughes is the founding editor of A Public Space, a Brooklyn-based independent magazine of literature and culture that debuted in 2006. Previously she worked at The Paris Review, where she succeeded George Plimpton as editor upon his death in 2003.

Brigid Hughes: To get things started, can I ask you about influences? You mention William Trevor in your acknowledgments, and you published an essay in Tin House about his influence on your work. What authors or books have mattered to you?

li_yiyunYiyun Li: I like to think that one writes stories so they could go out and talk to other stories. William Trevor’s stories have made space for my stories to venture out to the world, to be on their own, so my stories talk to Trevor’s stories constantly. For instance, the title story, “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl,” was written especially to talk to a Trevor story, “Three People.”

Of course stories, like people, can’t just stay sheltered by those to whom they feel close kinship. Stories also like to have ­discussions and sometimes arguments with other stories. A few writers who have been constantly on my mind when I write: Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, John McGahern, J. M. Coetzee. So they have been influencing me too in each of their own ways.

BH: Can I ask what specifically “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” and “Three People” were talking about with each other?

YL: “Three People” [from Trevor’s collection The Hill Bachelors] is, as the title suggests, a story about three people: an aging father; his unmarried, middle-aged daughter; and a man close to the family who the father hopes will propose to the daughter so she will not end up in solitude after her father’s death. Unknown to the father—I don’t want to give too much away of the story—the daughter and the man shared some dark secret between them. The final passage of the story goes like this: “The darkness of their secrets lit, the love that came for both of them through their pitying of each other: all that might fill the empty upstairs room, and every corner of the house. But Vera knows that, without her father, they would frighten one another.”

Gold Boy Emerald Girl TPWhen I started to work on Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, I imagined writing a story about three people too—an aging mother, a grown-up son, and a woman—and the mismatch between the latter two would not be any better than between the couple in “Three People.” The story is set to a tone similar to that of “Three People,” though I do remember writing toward the end and feeling overwhelmed by the bleakness and fatalism of “Three People,” working on the final line of my story to catch the same music but with some gentleness: “They were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness.”

BH: Do you think your characters in the new stories are lonelier, or rather more isolated, than in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, the first collection? I’m thinking of that opening line from “Immortality”—“His story, as the story of every one of us, started long before we were born”—and that sense of being part of something bigger than oneself, history, or community, which seems much less the case with the new stories. Do you notice differences between the two collections?

YL: I would like to think that the stories in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl were more mature than the stories in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers!

But I know exactly what you are asking about. “Immortality” was the first full-length story I wrote, about nine years ago, and I was very aware at the time of how China and its past (and pres­ent) cast a long shadow over at least two or three generations of characters. Many of the stories in the first collection were written out of meditations on the inescapable fate of many of the characters being trapped by political and ideological turmoil in the past century.

Are my characters lonelier or more isolated now? In a way, yes. In choosing solitude, my characters are also trying to regain some of the control of their own fates—rather than being members of a chorus, they allow themselves to become outcasts, sometimes illogically, sometimes stubbornly. But I don’t think they are passive characters. I like to imagine that some of the characters in the first collection (in “Persimmons,” for instance, or “Immortality,” or “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers”) allowed themselves to be carried away by history and politics as long as they did not drown—and one tended not to drown if one did not fight against that torrent. Many of the characters in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl made the decision of not letting themselves be swept away. They held on to anything—loneliness, isolation, and even death—to be themselves.

BH: Is that also what Professor Shan is saying when she tells Moyan, in “Kindness,” “The moment you admit someone into your heart you make yourself a fool. When you desire nothing, nothing will defeat you”?

YL: By forbidding Moyan to fall in love with anyone, in a way Professor Shan is acting as cruelly and inhumanely as the unfair and harsh world from which she is trying to shelter the girl, though the latter, in following the advice of the older woman, also defies her in her own way. Twice in the story—at the beginning and at the end—Moyan says, “I have never forgotten any person who has come into my life.” And indeed she is able to remain true both to her words and to her promise to Professor Shan: She is able to love without making herself a fool.

BH: When you emigrated from China, The Letters of Shen Congwen was one of the few books you brought with you to the United States. He wrote about, and was criticized for, his disinterest in politics and lack of commitment to the class struggles of his time. You recently translated some of those letters, and in an introduction wrote that “relevance is always a useful tool for lesser minds to attack true artists.” What is the connection between the politics of the present day and fiction—does one inform the other in any way? What does it mean to be a political writer?

YL: I have always resisted being called a political writer. Take Shen Congwen as an example—his commitment to his arts was not influenced by the ideology of his time, which, in one sense, made him apolitical, but in another sense his resistance was also highly political. Once I was asked by an editor to write something relevant to our time—in his letter he framed relevance with examples of a Mumbai slum, or a Chinese sweatshop, or a war-torn zone in Africa. Certainly we need stories from these countries, these places, but his letter reminded me of the criticisms Shen Congwen received in his time.

BH: How would you like your books to influence the reader?

YL: If books are like people, mine are not the prettiest ones, or the loudest ones, or the quirkiest ones one meets at a party, nor are they, I hope, too frivolous or too scared of truths to matter to the readers. I would like to imagine that the readers can have a conversation with my books—they can agree or disagree with the characters fairly and honestly.

*****

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl is now available in paperback.

Buy the eBook

Win a paperback of Elizabeth Berg’s novel ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS YOU

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

berg_elizabethOnce Upon a Time There was You TPEven on their wedding day, John and Irene sensed that they were about to make a mistake. Years later, divorced, dating other people, and living in different parts of the country, they seem to have nothing in common—nothing except the most important person in each of their lives: Sadie, their spirited eighteen-year-old daughter. Feeling smothered by Irene and distanced from John, Sadie is growing more and more attached to her new boyfriend, Ron. When tragedy strikes, Irene and John come together to support the daughter they love so dearly. What takes longer is to remember how they really feel about each other. Elizabeth Berg’s immense talent shines in this unforgettable novel about the power of love, the unshakeable bonds of family, and the beauty of second chances.

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to the overwhelming number of you who entered!

Lisa Genova interviews Second Nature author Jacquelyn Mitchard

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Lisa Genova, who conducted this interview, is the New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Left Neglected. She graduated valedictorian from Bates College with a degree in biopsychology and earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband and three children.

LG: I love reading about characters who are forced to face huge, unusual, life-and-death obstacles. I think I love this because it’s a chance to see the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit, to witness powerful and meaningful change. You gave your main character, Sicily Coyne, one doozy of an obstacle. How did you come to imagine this woman who loses her face in a horrific fire?

Second NatureJM: When I was little, there was a fire on the west side of Chicago at a school called Our Lady of Angels. Everyone had a neighbor, a cousin, a sibling, a good friend who knew, and knew well, one of the 92 children and three teaching sisters who died there. People kept copies of the Life magazine cover photo of firefighter Richard Scheidt, carrying out the unmarked body of ten-year-old John Jakowski from the building. The picture is excruciating. Scheidt’s face is the personification of agony and mercy, almost like the mother of Christ. The child looks as though he has peacefully fallen asleep. That was the central image with which the book started, the firefighter giving his life so that a child might not die alone—in part, perhaps, because his own child survived, although terribly disfigured. The face transplant was a pretty natural idea because I was pre-med in college (unlike you, Lisa, I was undone by mathematics). I’m bewitched by science. Once I learned that this procedure could become simpler with practice (because everyone has a trigeminal nerve and an orbital floor in more or less the same place) I asked myself, what will be the next complication? And then the idea bloomed. What might naturally happen if someone’s beauty is restored, after a dozen years, in the bloom of her young womanhood? And that was the ethical mystery, the hinge of the story.

LG: Sicily, Marie, Beth, and Eliza are all strong, smart, stubborn Italian women. Where did the inspiration for these dynamic women come from?

JM: I grew up in an Italian neighborhood. All my boyfriends were handsome hoodlums, much prettier than I was. My godmother and godfather were first generation Italians, and so were my best friend’s parents, and much of the way I learned to make sense of the world (and to make great gravy) were as a result of days spent in my godmother’s kitchen. My own mother was star-crossed in many ways, but was a strong, smart, stubborn woman, much like Marie, Sicily’s aunt. In fact, physically and in her speech, my mother could be Marie, if my mother had not died very young. I didn’t realize this until you asked the question.

LG: Readers who fell in love with the Cappadora family in The Deep End of the Ocean and No Time to Wave Goodbye will be thrilled to see them again in SECOND NATURE. Had you always imagined that Vincent’s journey would lead him to someone like Sicily?

JM: Vincent Cappadora is just me, in so many difficult and also good ways—someone who wants badly to do the right thing and manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory half the time, and the other half of the time breaks the tape at the last moment. He may get what he wants, or even what he needs, but not without going through a significant patch of hell first. How Vincent turns out depends on the thing that is most difficult for most people, and that’s the willingness to crack open and be hurt.

***

Buy a hardcover or eBook of Second Nature,  available September 6th!

Henry House, the “practice” baby: Reader’s Circle interviews Lisa Grunwald

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Irresistible Henry HouseLisa Grunwald’s novel, The Irresistible Henry House, is now available in paperback.

Random House Reader’s Circle: When you talk to people who’ve read The Irresistible Henry House, what’s the first question they usually ask?

Lisa Grunwald: It’s almost always whether the story was actually based on a real practice, whether people actually used real babies to teach college classes on mothering. The answer is yes, but I’ve sent a lot of incredulous people to the Cornell University website where I first found the photograph that helped inspire the novel.

RHRC: How did that discovery come about?

LG: In 2005, I was doing research for an anthology of American women’s letters. Specifically I was hoping to find a letter from a home economics student. There was an online exhibit at the Cornell website called “What Was Home Economics?” Among other photographs was this captivating image of a baby called “Bobby Domecon”—the last name a combination of “Domestic” and “Economics.” (Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg at Cornell told me that it’s pronounced “Dough-me-con.”) I quickly learned that at Cornell, from the 1920s through the 1960s, babies supplied by local orphanages were used to teach mothering skills to students, who would take turns bathing and feeding and dressing their charges. Last time I checked, the site was still up at www.cornell.edu, and it’s well worth a look.

Irresistible Henry House baby

RHRC: Did you ever think about tracking down some of the real children?

LG: I certainly thought about it. Before I was a novelist, I was a journalist, and the reporter grunwald_lisain me was really drawn to the idea of writing a nonfiction book. But two things changed my mind. First, I just loved the idea of the practice house as the premise for a novel and as the starting point for a fictional character. How would he ever learn to trust someone? How would he feel about women? How would he ever be able to draw a distinction between being loved and being used? And where might all that lead him—romantically, professionally? It was just—yes, irresistible to me to ponder these questions. And the second thing? Well, I suspected that it would be virtually impossible to find enough of those now-grownup children to make a nonfiction book complete. After their time in the practice houses, the babies were returned to their orphanages and adopted like any other children, or put into foster care. Very few records were kept.

RHRC: Since the novel’s publication, have you heard anything more about the practice?

LG: I did find a series of articles about a case at Eastern Illinois State College, where the superintendent of the Child Welfare Division had objected to the practice. This didn’t

deter a home ec teacher named Ruth Schmalhausen, who passionately defended the practice. At the time—this was the mid-fifties—it was really very common. The program was available at some fifty colleges around the country. In relating the Schmalhausen controversy, Time magazine took what I thought was a somewhat snarky position about the superintendent’s objections, writing “Heaven only knows how many neuroses little David might develop.” It was one of those moments during the research when I really felt the distance we’d come in the way we think about childhood.

RHRC: Some critics have compared Henry to Forest Gump and T. S. Garp. How accurate do you find those comparisons?

LG: Those are extraordinarily memorable characters in fiction, and to think that Henry has been mentioned alongside them just thrills me. But certainly some of the comparison

comes from the fact that all three novels are centered around young men whose stories coincide with, and in certain ways reflect, the changes that occurred in this country’s social and cultural history.

RHRC: Did you have to do research on those changes, too, or are you and Henry of the same generation?

LG: I’m a half-generation younger than Henry. He was born in 1946, and I was born in 1959, so many of the cultural milestones he encounters are things I encountered, but from a much younger perspective. And I loved doing the research. As Henry grows up, we see the new childcare book by Benjamin Spock and the new magazine Playboy from Hugh Hefner. We hear music from Bing Crosby and the Beatles. We witness the March on Washington, the riots at Berkeley, the opening of Hair and the release of Yellow Submarine.

RHRC: And ultimately what does all that have to do with Henry?

LG: It’s the chaotic but passionate backdrop against which he tries to find a place and a person with whom he feels authentic, trusting, and trustworthy. It’s a journey.

RHRC: And do you know how it ends? What happens after the last page?

LG: If I know, I’m not telling.

Shoe
Bertelsmann Media Worldwide