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Giveaway Opportunity: THE AVIATOR’S WIFE by Melanie Benjamin

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Benjamin_Aviator's Wife Don’t let 2013 slip away without reading Melanie Benjamin’s bestselling novel, The Aviator’s Wife. In the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, acclaimed novelist Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

“The history is exhilarating. . . . The Aviator’s Wife soars. . . . Anne Morrow Lindbergh narrates the story of the Lindberghs’ troubled marriage in all its triumph and tragedy.”—USA Today

“Fictional biography at its finest.”—Booklist (starred review)

Enter below for your chance to win! And join the conversation online with Melanie Benjamin via Facebook and Twitter.

An Essay from Melanie Benjamin, author of THE AVIATOR’S WIFE

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Benjamin_Aviator's Wife In Melanie Benjamin’s Random House Reader’s Circle essay, she discusses what makes a book a “book club” book, Anne Lindbergh, and what drew her to writing about this subject in The Aviator’s Wife. We have an excerpt below for you to enjoy!

THE LAST TO KNOW An Essay by Melanie Benjamin

What makes a book a “ book-club” book? Why are some books read and immediately passed around, so eager are readers to discuss them with someone? What kind of topic or writing style or time period provokes this kind of response more than others?

Those are million-dollar questions, of course. No one knows the real answer; there ’s no formula that can be passed along from author to author. We write what we have to, never imagining what the true response will be to the finished product. And occasionally, we get lucky.
“This is a great book-club book!” “I can’t wait to discuss it at our next meeting!” “I just had to tell all the women in my life to read it!”: These have been some of the heartfelt responses to The Aviator’s Wife, and I confess that every time I hear something like this, I giggle. And then scratch my head, trying to figure out just what I did in this book, what idea or emotion or overriding theme within the pages spoke to so many readers. And I think I’ve come up with a couple of answers.

First of all, Anne. Or Anne’s journey, I think it’s safe to call it. Tragic, brave, wry, sensitive, strong, passive, loyal (to a fault), duplicitous…all these adjectives have been used to describe her. And they all fit, at different times in her story; that ’s one reason why I was drawn to writing about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. There is such a duality to her! One minute she ’s a typical bride of her generation, docile, passive, allowing her husband to speak for her. The next, she’s flying through the air on her own, setting records, achieving firsts. One minute she’s frustratingly loyal to a man who doesn’t deserve it; the next she ’s embarking on a passionate affair. She ’s a tragic figure, suffering through her child ’s death; she ’s a controversial one, championing Hitler prior to World War II. We want to understand her, and we do, at times. Then we don’t. She’s not a one-size-fits-all heroine, not at all, and so we continue to examine her, parse her actions, better understand the time in which she lived, try to walk a mile in her shoes from a different era. Some of us can, others cannot. And so we continue to discuss her.

Then, of course, there is Charles. I’m honestly perplexed when readers tell me what a jerk he was in my book, how my bias against him is so obvious. Well, the truth is, I kind of liked him while I was writing him. Or perhaps the better way to put it is that I had a lot of sympathy for him—at times. I never stopped admiring what he had accomplished so young; I never stopped trying to understand how becoming the world ’s hero at the age of twenty-five—forever living your life pursued and hounded, always being asked to give more, do more, be more—might change a person. I never stopped remembering how his failure to bring his child home to Anne had to have haunted him the rest of his life.
I also never stopped being disappointed by him, however. Frustrated, as well. Just as Anne must have been. So Charles, too, provokes much discussion, particularly among younger women. Women born long after the feminist movement, who take it for granted that they’d never put up with a man like him, who would never stay loyal to him as Anne did. Women who don’t remember that they’ve come a long way, baby.

Then there is the history; there is simply so much of it! So much we didn’t read in our fourth-grade American history books. I came to this suspecting that while we all “knew” the Lindberghs, it was only in bits and pieces, never completely. And from the number of readers who have told me, “I had no idea!” about different parts of Anne and Charles’s story, I now know that I was right.

You can read the rest of the essay in addition to discussion questions for your book club in the back of the trade paperback. Stay connected with Melanie Benjamin on Facebook and Twitter!

Reader’s Guide: THE AVIATOR’S WIFE by Melanie Benjamin

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Benjamin_Aviator's WifeIn the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, acclaimed novelist Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

“The history is exhilarating. . . . The Aviator’s Wife soars. . . . Anne Morrow Lindbergh narrates the story of the Lindberghs’ troubled marriage in all its triumph and tragedy.”—USA Today

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The epigraph for this novel is from Antoine de Saint- Exupéry who, like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was both a celebrated
author and a noted aviator. Do you agree with his statement, “One must look with the heart”? What do you think that means? And do you think it means something different to an artist (author) as opposed to a scientist (aviator)?

2. One of the recurring themes is how Anne will choose to remember Charles. How do you think she concludes she’ll
remember him by the end? How does it change?

3. Anne’s father says, “And there’s Anne. Reliable Anne. You never change, my daughter.” (page 11) How does Anne change over the course of this novel? Or does she?

4. How does Anne’s nomadic lifestyle as the daughter of an ambassador later infl uence her concept of “home” with Charles? What do you think defines home?

5. Anne seems to think of herself as an outsider—someone too shy and insular to make a big impression. Do you agree, or do you think Anne misevaluates herself? Do you think this insularity made Anne appealing to Charles, or do you think he was drawn to her because he saw past it? Is Charles an insular character himself, whether by nature or because he was forced into a “celebrity bubble”?

6. “Had there ever been a hero like him, in all of history?” (page 16) Anne starts her description of Charles with hero worship, comparing him to Columbus and Marco Polo. How does her opinion evolve as she comes to know him better? How did your opinion of Charles Lindbergh evolve throughout Anne’s story?

7. The title of this book is, of course, The Aviator’s Wife. Do you think that’s how Anne views herself upon marrying Charles? Do you think she sees that as a role she’s playing, or as a defi ning characteristic of who she is? Does it change over the course of the book?

8. Have you ever been up in a biplane? Do you think you would ever go, even with an expert aviator at the controls?

9. Compare the relationships Anne has with the men in her life: her brother, Dwight; her father; and Charles.

10. What right to privacy do you think a public figure should have? Can a public fi gure decide what parts of his or her life stay private?

11. Have you ever met someone famous? Did he/she live up to your expectations?

12. Do you think Charles and Anne were in love? Why or why not? Did that change over time?

13. Do you think you could keep the secrets that Anne keeps from her children? Why or why not?

14. What do you think fl ying represents to Anne? How does it compare with writing? Which do you think is more important to Anne?

15. Do you think Charles Lindbergh was a good husband in any ways? What do you think makes for a good partner?

16. Is Anne a hero? Why or why not?

17. If you could ask Anne one question, what would it be?

18. How does Anne’s relationship with her family change after she marries Charles?

19. How would you react to the scrutiny by the press that Anne and Charles endured? Would you want to be famous if it
meant being constantly under the microscope? Would you answer differently if there weren’t social media outlets but
the same type of newspapers and newsreels from Anne and Charles’s lifetime?

Stay connected with Melanie on Facebook and Twitter.

Author Spotlight: Thanksgiving Memory from Melanie Benjamin, author of THE AVIATOR’S WIFE

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Benjamin_Aviator's WifeThanksgiving is officially two weeks away and, boy, we are really looking forward to the turkey, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie! While anxiously awaiting the delicious feast in our near future, we’ve teamed up with some Random House Reader’s Circle authors so they can share their favorite Thanksgiving recipes and memories with you.

Today, Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife, jumps right to our sweet tooth and shares her grandmother’s Cherry Delight recipe:

Come Thanksgiving, there is only one item that my family really cares about. We could have pizza instead of turkey; French fries instead of mashed potatoes. But we must have my grandmother’s “Cherry Delight” dessert in order for the world to feel right and happy and jolly; in order for us to feel like a family, and not just a collection of individuals brought together to eat too much.

Aviator's-Wife---GrandmaBGrandma B – that’s what we called her, but she was really Grandma Blickenstaff. My parents always say that I remind them of her, and I’m not sure how; I don’t scrub my garage floor, like she did; I don’t iron my sheets, either. She was the quintessential German hausfrau. But I suppose I do see myself in her fierce tenacity; the way she had of marching through life with quick, determined strides, always in a rush, never willing to suffer fools gladly. In fact, it’s literally the walk that we share; that’s what my parents always comment about. I simply don’t linger; I have places to go, people to see.

Grandma B died in 2001; it was an autumn I’ll never forget. In quick succession, The Twin Towers fell, my son broke his arm playing Pee Wee football, and Grandma B died after a short illness at the age of 90.

But in time, we moved on. They’re building on the site of the World Trade Center. My son’s arm healed, and he gave up football and took up the drums. And I now possess Grandma B’s index file of recipes, as well as the responsibility of bringing the Cherry Delight to every holiday gathering. The index card I use is faded; the ink pale blue, the handwriting spidery. Grandma’s list of ingredients calls for something called “Oleo,” which I had to look up. It’s an old-fashioned term for margarine.

I use butter instead. But that’s the only change I’ve made to Grandma B’s recipe. Because some things shouldn’t change. Especially if they allow your family to recognize itself, despite the inevitable changes over the years.

Melanie-BenjaminGrandma B’s Cherry Delight

Mix Together:
18 Graham crackers, crushed (or 1 ¼ cup Graham cracker crumbs)
1 stick butter, melted
¼ cup sugar
Spread in 9X9 baking pan, well-greased

8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

Spread on crust and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, let cool. Spread 1 can of cherry pie filling on top. Top with Cool Whip and refrigerate until chilled.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving recipe or memory? Share it with us on our Facebook page.

Be sure to check in with us between now and Thanksgiving for more recipes!
Next up: Laura Andersen.

Jane’s Bookshelf: Historical Fiction as a Window to the Past

Thursday, May 24th, 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 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.

I’ve been thinking about historical fiction lately. It seems to me that when I was growing up, there were three kinds of historical novels. First were the classics that might have been written contemporaneously to the time they depicted but were historical to a late 20th century reader, whether it was Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE or Sir Walter Scott’s IVANHOE. Then there were the books that explored life in ancient cultures like Mary Renault’s THE KING MUST DIE or Irving Stone’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY. And of course, there were portraits of kings and queens of yore in the novels of Jean Plaidy and Margaret George, among others. Today, the classics remain and writers still write these kinds of novels: just this past year saw the publications of THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller, BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel, and LIONHEART by Sharon Kay Penman, for example.

ParisWife_hc We’ve also seen the flowering of a different kind of historical fiction. Books like LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan, THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain, and THE 19TH WIFE by David Ebershoff start with the story of real women who have extraordinary men in their lives, whether it be Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, or Brigham Young. And yet in the hands of these storytellers, you don’t feel you are reading lives recreated in fiction, but rather that you are meeting women whose stories enlighten our understanding of these men and their lives. That these stories are based on real people’s lives makes the reading experience that much more vivid, and gives us a deep understanding of the human condition, of love and betrayal.

It’s not just women romantically involved with famous men whose lives have made for great historical novels. Melanie Benjamin created an indelible, fresh portrait of Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s novels, in ALICE I HAVE BEEN. Her latest novel THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB brings to life AutobiographyMrsTomThumbLavinia Warren Bump, who became a worldwide celebrity after marrying General Tom Thumb. Benjamin portrays 19th century America so vividly I often felt I was reading a painting. Sometimes I think that this new era of historical fiction began with two novels that married imaginary characters and real people: GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland and GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier. Both have Vermeer as the historical figure at their centers; one created the lives touched by an invented painting while the other imagined the life of his servant. I love both—I tried and failed to acquire Tracy Chevalier, but was lucky enough to become first Susan Vreeland’s paperback editor and now work with her from the start of every book.

I’ve found the way novelists intertwine what actually happened with their own fictional worlds adds nuance to a book club discussion. I’ve always loved history and fiction—so historical fiction is perfect for me. I’d love to hear about some of your favorites, I know I’ll want to add them to my T.B.R. pile! Let me know what they are in the comments section below or on Twitter at @JaneatRandom.

A new book club gem: Melanie Benjamin’s Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

978-0-385-34415-9IN HER NATIONAL BESTSELLER ALICE I HAVE BEEN, Melanie Benjamin imagined the life of the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Now, in this jubilant new novel, Benjamin shines a spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a nineteenth century icon and inspiration—and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength. Full of history and intriguing relationships, this book is perfect for book clubs, so here is a handy Reading Group Guide to help move along the discussion.

Also, be sure to check out Kathy Patrick’s Beauty and the Book chat with author Melanie Benjamin for more about the novel:

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin: Reading Group Guide Questions

1. What are the parallels between Vinnie’s celebrity and the definition of celebrity today?

2. Why did Vinnie determine to only communicate her optimism – what was she trying to hide behind, or hide from herself, by choosing not to dwell on the many obstacles in her way?

3. Why did Vinnie go along with Barnum’s humbug concerning the infant?

4. Which is the true love story of the book – the story of Vinnie and Barnum, Vinnie and Charles, Vinnie and Minnie, or Vinnie and the public?

5. Why do you think the notion of the Tom Thumb wedding so swept the nation that, even today, there are reenactments with children?

6. What was the most interesting historical fact in the book for you?  Which was the most startling?

7. Sylvia points out a photograph in the window of a store.  It’s of PT Barnum.  “Really?”  I was surprised and, I confess, a little disappointed; the man in the photograph looked so very…ordinary.  Curly hair parted on the side, a wide forehead, a somewhat bulbous nose, an unremarkable smile.  He resembled any man I might have passed in the street; he certainly did not resemble a world-famous impresario.  Colonel Wood, I had to admit, looked much more the part than did this man (p. 88). Vinnie is used to people making immediate assumptions about her based on her appearance.  What assumptions, though, does Vinnie make about people for the same reasons?  Are pre-conceived notions about people something that is ingrained in us?

8. What do you think it means to live one’s life in the public eye, as Vinnie and Charles did?  How would you react to being scrutinized by the press for your every action?  Compare how you may have felt in Vinnie’s day compared to today’s twenty-four hour news and gossip cycle.

9. For Vinnie, what do you think was the best part of being famous?  What was the worst?

10. Toward the end of her stage career, Vinnie asks herself, “had I ever been simply Lavinia Warren Stratton?  To anyone—even myself?” (p. 385) Do you think Vinnie chose this life for herself, or did she essentially hop on a ride and couldn’t get off?  Was the price she had to pay for her fame and fortune her own chosen identity?

Win a paperback copy of ALICE I HAVE BEEN

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Alice I Have Been TP

This giveaway is now closed; winners will be notified by e-mail. Thanks to all who entered!

“This is book club gold.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benjamin’s spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend. Her name is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but to the world she’ll always be known simply as “Alice,” the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a wonderland of Mad Hatters, Queens of Hearts, and Cheshire Cats….

Melanie Benjamin on how she came to write her novel ALICE I HAVE BEEN

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

benjamin_melanieDear Reader,

Inspiration comes when you least expect it, as I found when I was in a bit of a writing slump a few years ago.

Dissatisfied with my career, unsure what to write next, I did what turned out to be the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life; I hopped on a train and went to the Art Institute of Chicago.  Intending simply to breathe some fresh air and look at some wonderful paintings, instead I found my muse.

Or rather, I found someone else’s muse.  Lewis Carroll’s, to be exact.  For at the Art Institute that day, there happened to be a traveling exhibition titled “Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll.”  I had no idea Lewis Carroll had ever taken a photograph in his life; I only knew him as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I walked into this tiny basement room, where I was instantly confronted by sepia-toned images of young girls.  Startled, I read a brochure informing me that Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of a man named Charles Dodgson, who had taught mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and was one of the earliest enthusiasts of the art of photography long before he penned his classic book.

Alice I Have Been TPWell—curiouser and curiouser!  I continued my way around the room, gazing at all these photographs, until one image stopped me full in my tracks.  It, too, was a photograph of a young girl, but even among all the others, she stood out.  It was her face, her eyes; bold, worldly and, I couldn’t help but think, oddly womanly.  She looked so modern compared to the very Victorian attitude of the others.   The caption informed me that she was seven-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.  She was also the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.

I was stunned.  I had no idea there was ever a real little girl named Alice.  I wondered what happened to her, after she grew up.  I wondered what happened between the two of them—artist and muse—to result not only in Wonderland, but also this very startling photograph.  I thought there might be a story there.

I went home, and eventually, I decided to write it.

In the process, I learned so much.  I learned that the relationship between a man and a child could remain the subject of speculation and rumor 150 years after its mysterious demise.  I learned that Victorian clothing was almost as stifling as Victorian etiquette.  I learned that immortality as a child does not spare one tragedy as an adult.

I learned about a remarkable woman of great strength and character.

And I learned that inspiration can be anywhere, even in the basement room of an art museum.  We only have to keep ourselves open to every possibility, every topsy-turvy notion.

Just like a certain little girl in Wonderland.

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