Nothing says “summer” like a bundle of books, right?! Okay. A lot of things say “summer,” but today it is a bundle of books! Enter here and below for your chance to win a summer reading bundle that will make you swoon with literary love whether you are on a beach, climbing a mountain, or just sipping lemonade on the back porch.
Celebrate summer with us and enter for your chance to win one copy of each: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff Widow for One Year by John Irving
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What 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 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.
In an editor and a publisher’s life, there are certain authors and publications that stand out. For me there was my first acquisition (House of Heroes by Mary La Chapelle), first bestseller (Backlash by Susan Faludi), the first bestseller I didn’t originally acquire (Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman). It’s sort of embarrassing to realize how well I remember these events from almost two decades ago!
Here at Random House, Lisa See is an author who looms large for me in large part because Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was one of the first big paperbacks I published when I came here nearly seven years ago. We moved the paperback up from the traditional 12 months after hardcover publication to 9 months, completely redesigned the jacket, sent Lisa on a huge tour, and did major marketing outreach targeting book clubs and avid fiction readers. The success we shared with that campaign became a calling card for Random House Readers Circle and our trade paperback program. So February 7 was a special day for me: Dreams of Joy went on sale in paperback. I won’t try to describe it since the Los Angeles Times does it better than I ever could: “The scope of the novel is astonishing. . . .See aims her pen at the most vivid aspects of daily life but never loses the sweep of history. In the end, it’s a story with characters who enter a reader’s life, take up residence, and illuminate the myriad decisions and stories that make up human history.” And you may be able to catch Lisa while she is out on tour.
Being that it’s near Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think of some other firsts: first kiss, first love … though I’m not sharing them! Instead here are some of my favorite love stories: Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand combines British wit and charm, a small British village, and two wonderful characters – the Major and Mrs. Ali – who fall in love despite everyone’s disapproval; it’s an endearing, thoroughly grown up romance.
Some love stories take place in the midst of momentous events, so that the relationships at their heart take on almost epic proportions: I think of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Sydney Carton’s sacrifice that allows Charles Darney and his lovely Lucie to remain together despite the ravages of the French Revolution. Or how World War II interrupts the young love between Henry and Keiko in Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Perhaps it is stories of young love that resonate most with us as readers. I for one can’t forget the angst-ridden romantics that Scott Spencer created with his teenage protagonists in Endless Love. More recently, I adored the young characters at the heart of Haley Tanner’s Vaclav and Lena; theirs is a story not only of love, but also of magic. Need I say more?
As you think of your first Valentine or your favorite love stories, I hope you will share them with me and our Random House Readers Circle community.
With over half a million copies in print, Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is quickly becoming a modern classic. Jamie recently caught up with Reader’s Circle from Seattle, where the novel is set, and tells us about the many different kinds of people he’s met on the road who’ve fallen in love with the book.
Oh, the places you’ll go.
In the last year I’ve spent one hundred nights on the road: one hundred nights! I’ve had so many layovers at the Salt Lake City and Minneapolis airports that I can probably claim partial residency. And I’ve been on so many planes I’m sure I’ve developed a dangerous peanut allergy (or at least a worrisome addiction).
In my wildest authorly dreams I never imagined I would travel beyond my own mailbox. What a delightful, delirious journey it’s been, and still is. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in a comfy, cozy chair in the tearoom of Seattle’s Panama Hotel, where my novel began. The hotel itself is actually on the corner of 6th & Main, which I must admit is not nearly as sexy as Bitter and Sweet, but they still brew a great cup of lychee.
As I’m watching another wide-eyed book club wander in, I can’t help but marvel at the diversity of readers I’ve met: the kindly souls, the tender hearts, the unforgettable stories. Here are a few of my favorite moments from the road:
The Pilgrimage: When a gentleman from the Nisei Veteran’s Association invited me to the annual Minidoka Reunion, for former internees and their families, it was an honor I couldn’t pass up. Not only was the weekend a touching and memorable experience, but there was a karaoke night where former internees, many in their 80s, sang, Don’t Fence Me In. Kinda gets you right there, doesn’t it?
Night at the Smithsonian: I was invited to speak at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute in conjunction with The Art of Gaman, an exhibit of fine art created entirely within Japanese internment camps. I’ll never forget speaking to a packed house, in an ornate gallery, surrounded by incredible artwork, while my teenagers toiled in the back thinking their dad was still terribly un-cool.
Boys Night Out: This may surprise you, but I’ve actually run into a handful of Men’s Book Clubs, a fascinating phenomenon and something I once imagined to exist but had never actually seen in the wild, like a unicorn. Single-malt scotch, chicken-wings, and literature–who knew?
Generation Y: I had the privilege of speaking to the freshman class of Gustavus Adolphus College, a roaring crowd of 700. Many of my readers are from “The Greatest Generation,” while this was a much younger crowd. And yet they loved the book, even with its lack of vampires and shirtless werewolves. Don’t underestimate the young readers of today (or tomorrow): they will do much good in this world.
Back to School: Speaking of students, on one ambitious New York afternoon I spoke with four different inner-city high school classes. We shared stories of family problems, racial tensions, and our collective dislike of The Scarlett Letter. But we also touched upon aspects of history often glossed over in textbooks.
The Melting Pot: When I was first asked to visit an ESL class (English as a Second Language) that was reading my novel, I expected undergrads from China and Japan. Instead, the students were from Bahrain, India, Kenya, Laos, and Brazil: evidently the themes and struggles of assimilation know no borders.
The Bitter and the Sweet: And lastly, every author fears that one book event where no one shows up: where it’s you and the janitor. Most of my book gigs are robustly attended affairs, but the location and timing of one particular event conspired against me. On that night, only one woman was there, with her husband. Her father had passed away two days earlier and she took time away from funeral preparations to attend. She was Sansei (3rd generation Japanese American) and her father had been interned at Minidoka for four years. She had read my book to her father during the last week of his life and the story had meant a great deal to both of them.
Despite a wide reading audience, I don’t try to be something to everyone. I try to be everything to someone. On that one night, I succeeded.
After a year in paperback, Jamie Ford’s bestselling debut novel enters the top 10 on the New York Times paperback fiction bestseller list. To celebrate (and to continue celebrating National Reading Group Month) we wanted to share the reading guide, video with readers who haven’t yet discovered this gem of a novel. And for those who have, check out Jamie’s never-ending book tour!
“Explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
-–Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
1. Father- son relationships are a crucial theme in the novel. Talk about some of these relationships and how they are shaped by culture and time. For example, how is the relationship between Henry and his father different from that between Henry and Marty? What accounts for the differences?
2. If you were Henry, would you be able to forgive your father? Does Henry’s father deserve forgiveness?
3. From the beginning of the novel, Henry wears the “I am Chinese” button given to him by his father. What is the significance of this button and its message, and how does Henry’s understanding of that message change by the end of the novel?
4. The United States has been called a nation of immigrants. In what ways do the families of Keiko and Henry illustrate different aspects of the American immigrant experience?
5. If a novel could have a soundtrack, this one would be jazz. What is it about this indigenous form of American music that makes it an especially appropriate choice?
6. Henry’s mother comes from a culture in which wives are subservient to their husbands. Given this background, do you think she could have done more to help Henry in his struggles against his father? Is her loyalty to her husband a betrayal of her son?
7. Compare Marty’s relationship with Samantha to Henry’s relationship with Keiko. What other examples can you find in the novel of love that is forbidden or that crosses boundaries of one kind or another?
8. What struggles did your own ancestors have as immigrants to America, and to what extent did they incorporate aspects of their cultural heritage into their new identities as Americans?
9. What sacrifices do the characters make in pursuit of their dreams for themselves and for others? Do you think any characters sacrifice too much, or for the wrong reasons? Consider the sacrifices Mr. Okabe makes, for example, and those of Mr. Lee. Both fathers are acting for the sake of their children, yet the results are quite different. Why?
10. Was the U.S. government right or wrong to “relocate” Japanese Americans and other citizens and residents who had emigrated from countries the U.S. was fighting in WWII? Was some kind of action necessary following Pearl Harbor? Could the government have done more to safeguard civil rights while protecting national security?
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.