The Sunday Salon: Handling the Truth

No one can or should tell you what to write about. But if you don’t know where the memoir impulse is coming from, if you can’t trace it, can’t defend it, can’t articulate an answer when somebody asks “Why’d you want to write a memoir anyway?” – stop. Hold those memoir horses. Either the mind has been teased for years upon years, or there’s that small thing that won’t be refused, or there’s something else genuine and worthy. But nobody wants to hear that you’re writing memoir because you need some quick cash, or because you think it will make you famous, or because your boyfriend said there’s a movie in this, or because you’re so mad and it’s about time you get to tell your version.  from Handling the Truth, on the writing of memoir, by Beth Kephart

handlingthetruthI love Beth Kephart’s writing. I love every lyrical, magical, evocative word of it.  I wallow in a Kephart book, marvel at the way she uses language like a paintbrush, eat up her daily blog posts like part of my healthy breakfast.

So how happy am I that she has finally written a book about writing?


Handling the Truth distills the wisdom from Kephart’s own experience as a writer of memoir, from her class at the University of Pennsylvania, and from the work of those writers  whom she most admires. It’s chock full of sound writing principles and  imaginative exercises, set out in a systematic way to prepare you for the actual writing of your memoir.  If you follow it, you will have a firm foundation for writing your personal story.

But what I love most about Handling the Truth is that it reveals a side of Beth Kephart I’ve not seen before. She is fierce in this book, like a mama bear protecting her cub. Kephart has written five memoirs of her own, each one astoundingly good, each one proving anew her passion for this genre. And throughout handling the truth she exhorts all of us – we fledgling, aspiring memoir writers – not to take this work she loves and mess it up. In the opening pages, she gives us a forthright and adamant list of what memoir is NOT – not “a lecture, a lesson, a stew of information and facts.” NOT “a self-administered therapy session.” NOT “an exercise in self-glorification.” NOT a “trumped-up, fantastical idea of what an interesting life might have been, if only.”

What must we do, then, in order to write the stuff of our lives that is good and strong and true? The stuff that speaks?  Real memoirists “open themselves to self-discovery,” she says, “and, in the process, make themselves vulnerable…They yearn, and they are yearned with. They declare a want to know. They seek out loud. They quest. They lessen the distance. They lean toward.”

Makers of memoir “shape what they have lived and what they have seen. They honor what they love and defend what they believe. They dwell with ideas and language and with themselves, countering complexity with clarity and manipulating time. They locate stories inside the contradictions of their lives…they write the stories once; they write them several times. (…) And when their voices are true, we hear them.”

If there is something in your mind that’s been “teasing you for years,” if there is “some small thing that won’t be refused,” if you are brave enough to take up the memoir standard, then Handling the Truth is the book you must read.

I have purchased a copy of Handling the Truth to give away to an interested reader. Simply leave a comment with the name of your favorite memoir.  Winner will be chosen at random on August 18.

Handling the Truth, by Beth Kephart

Copyright 2013, Gotham Books, published by the Penguin Group

ISBN: 978-1-592-40815-3

Purchase the book here:

Barnes and Noble
Books A Million

TLC Book Tours: Stargazey Point

stargazey pointEroded beaches, a non-existent tourist trade, and skyrocketing property taxes…this is what Abbie Sinclair stumbles into when she goes to Stargazey Point to recover from a traumatic event. Devastated by her own personal tragedy, Abbie thinks she has nothing left to give, but is slowly drawn into the lives of the people of Stargazey Point – the three elderly Crispin siblings and their struggle to stay in their historic beachfront home; the young, handsome architect, Cab Reynolds, who left behind a successful  career to refurbish his uncle’s antique carousel; and a motley crew of children who touch Abbie’s heart in a variety of ways.

Before she knows it, Abbie is helping the people of Stargazey Point revitalize their dreams. In doing so, she’s surprised to find her own dreams for life rekindled and even more surprised to find a place she might call home.

Author Shelly Noble’s novel is an insightful, hopeful look at the way we can recover from what seems insurmountable tragedy.  I’m always impressed by the human spirit at work, and the way an ordinary group of people can achieve extraordinary things when they come together for a common goal, whatever it may be. Stargazey Point is a novel about just this kind of effort, and I was immediately drawn into the story and interested to see what would become of each character.

Stargazey Point is another perfect summer read…so grab a copy and enjoy it while there’s still some summer left.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

TLC Book Tours: City of Hope

City-of-Hope-198x300The decade of the 1930’s was difficult for everyone, but especially for young Ellie Hogan, whose beloved husband dies suddenly. She decides to leave Ireland and return to New York City, a place that holds happy memories for her. But although the Depression has changed the city she once loved, Ellie is determined to create a new life for herself. She plunges all her energy into creating a home and refuge for some of the cities many homeless people. In return, she receives more love and friendship than she ever thought possible, and begins to feel the first faint stirrings of hope and happiness once more.

And then someone from the past appears, someone she thought she would never see again – and pieces of Ellie’s past that she thought were long gone suddenly resurface, threatening her newfound hope for the future.

Ellie Hogan is a female character I refer to as the “teabag type” – she doesn’t realize her own strength until she gets into hot water. I love stories about women who reach into their deepest selves and find their true mettle, and City of Hope is just such a story. Author Kate Kerrigan has created a admirable, inspiring character in her Ellie Hogan, a woman ahead of her time in terms of ambition and ideas – added to that is her beautiful rendering of the historical period and a likable cast of characters.

City of Hope was a fabulous addition to my historical novel library, and I’m eager to read Kerrigan’s first novel Ellis Island. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this novel.

The Sunday Salon: Summer Time

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

MTB070685027  01It is, isn’t it? Anyone who has ever been a slave to the school year (student, parent, teacher) has a special affinity for those precious three months of freedom. Days are loooonnng, creating a seemingly infinite number of possibilities. When I was a child, it meant staying outside until 9:00 at night, it meant hours riding my bicycle side by side with a girlfriend, not going anywhere particular,  just riding around talking and gossiping companionably. It meant queuing up for the Good Humor truck, slurping rainbow popsicles or Nutty Buddies. It meant slathering on Coppertone suntan lotion and jumping into the neighbor’s pool or running through the backyard sprinkler.

But even as a child, reading was an important part of my summer fun. I always joined the library summer reading program, and usually cajoled several of my friends into joining me. We made weekly trips to the library, our carefully completed summer reading logs in hand, and picked out even more books which we’d bring home and pile up next to our chaise loungers under a shade tree. I would carry my reading on far into the night (or as far as my sleepy eyes would let me), my book propped surreptitiously under my pillow with only a tiny flashlight to guide me along its pages.

I noticed our local library has started a summer reading program for adults, in addition to their programs for children and teens. Reading is usually a solitary activity, but it’s human nature to be drawn toward a group so there’s something enticing about the idea of sharing this pastime with other readers. Probably why we like book clubs and readalongs, why I can so easily start conversations with strangers if they’ve got a book in hand. We recognize our compatriots and gravitate toward them.

Sometimes I make plans for my summer reading, but this year I’m winging it – whatever takes my fancy on trips to the library or bookstore. Right now I’m engrossed in Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s breathtaking memoir about finding herself on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s an inspiring allegory for  life in general, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t yet read it.

How about you? Do you read more in the summer? What’s on your reading list?The Sunday

TLC Book Tours: A Dual Inheritance

Dual_Inheritance_SMMy favorite novels explore the legacy of families across generations, and how a family history is played out from one generation to the next. Joanna Herson’s new novel, A Dual Inheritance, does all this and more. Beginning in 1963, when two young men first become acquainted during their senior year at Harvard, and throughout the intervening decades until the present, their paths and lives cross in interesting and sometimes heartbreaking ways.

The book centers on the somewhat surprising friendship between Ed, a Jewish kid on scholarship who is unapologetically ambitious and girl-crazy, and Hugh, a Boston Brahmin who seems ambivalent about everything except Helen, his first and only love. Their friendship burns brightly and intensely, until one night when something happens which causes it to end just as abruptly. The two men diverge into different paths, but remain connected through and current of relationships unbeknowst to them.

Hershon’s engaging story deftly examines the contrasting worlds of a rich Boston WASP, and a scrabbling Jewish boy eager to make a name for himself. Her characters are complex and interesting, and provide some rich insight into human relationships and class differences.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this very engrossing novel.

Buy A Dual Inheritance from Amazon.



The Sunday Salon: Patchwork

My reading over the past few days has been something of a crazy quilt -a bit of this, another bit of that. After reading a book with the scope and style of The Orchardist, it’s difficult for me to settle into something else.

dakotaOne of the things I’m really enjoying about my new local library are the daily bins of used books. Their trade paperbacks are only 50 cents, and I’ve already picked up several things to add to my library. Earlier this week I found a copy of Dakota, A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris. This was one of the first creative nonfiction books I ever read, (back in the mid-1990’s) and it helped me fall in love with the genre. So I was happy to grab it up, especially at that price.

So I’ve been poking around in it this week, and today I opened to these words:

If there’s anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people’s stories, listening to them and cherishing them.

This quote, from Mary Pellauer, a feminist author and scholar, heads a chapter entitled The Holy Use of Gossip, in which Norris writes about the role of  gossip which seems pervasive in small town life. “Gossip done well,” she contends, “strengthens communal bonds.”

Norris’ definition of gossip is different than the way most of us have come to think of it – the whispered rumors of a marriage on the rocks or a husband’s out-of-control drinking, even the titillating headlines on celebrity magazines we peek at while on line at the checkout counter. The word “gossip” actually derives from the words that mean God and sibling, and originally meant “akin to God.” In fact, a “gossip” was used to describe someone who acted as a sponsor at a person’s baptism, someone who “helped give a name” to another. Antecedents of the word are “gospel,” “godspell,” and “sabha” (a village community). Gossip then (if used correctly) can be a way of sharing our human story, of giving a name to the things that define us. And these stories, by Pellauer’s definition, can be called part of the wisdom and study of God’s precepts in the real world.

Notice also that Pellauer talks about not only listening to people’s stories, but cherishing them. I talk a lot about the importance of story – our individual stories, and our collective story as a nation, a gender, a vocational group. I read memoir upon memoir as a way of hearing all kinds of stories, and cherish each one for the impression it leaves in my mind and heart.

But I think cherishing one another’s stories has a real life application as well, beyond the effect of words on a page. Norris talks about this so well in Dakota, how the folks in her small town of Lemmon, South Dakota, express their solidarity through gossip or shared story. The plight of a young family with a seriously ill child spreads quickly – but so does the response of people bringing food, sitting with the other children in the family, gathering in prayer circles. The stories of the town drunk who either undergoes a miraculous conversion OR loses everything are equally morally instructive. “Gossip – or Story – is theology translated into experience.”

In the patchwork of stories that make up the crazy quilt of our lives, there is something almost sacred about the tales we share with one another and take into our hearts.

The Sunday

TLC Book Tour: The Orchardist

The OrchardistThe Orchardist is such a rare and beautiful specimen of a book, I barely know where to begin in my praise of it.

Should I write about the sweeping breadth of the Washington landscape that becomes as important as another character?

Should I tell you of the achingly beautiful prose that describes every event in the most perfectly chosen details?

Should I warn you that there are moments so painful your breath will catch, so haunting your eyes will not close in sleep?

Perhaps I should write of Talmadge, the quiet and introspective Orchardist for whom the book is named, and the way he cares with such deep intensity for his land, his product, and the people he loves. The way he sees so clearly into the soul of everything and everyone – except perhaps himself.

Or maybe you’d like to know about Jane and Della, two frightened young girls, heavy with child, who appear at the outskirts of Talmdige’s orchard, fleeing an unspeakable evil,  and work their way bit by bit into his heart, stirring within him every ounce of protectiveness he can muster.

And I must not forget Angelene, Jane’s daughter, whom Talmadge raises and instills with a feminine version of his unique quiet intelligence and intensity.

The Orchardist is stunning, almost Biblical in the epic span of its story about determination and loneliness and loyalty and hope. It takes the reader into a far-away place – the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century – a time when a man’s land governed his life and his choices, when people worked hard from dawn until dark because their very living depended on it. A time when distractions were less, and simple pleasures enjoyed more.

But still there was darkness…there was evil and loss and destruction. Talmadge is no stranger to it, even before Jane and Della with their heavy baby-laden bellies, arrive. His father has died in a mining accident, his mother has died a few years later, leaving he and his younger sister- neither of them barely more than children -alone to run the orchard. And then his sister Elspeth disappeared one Amanda Coplinday, goes out to gather herbs and never returns. Talmadge is nearly crushed by this loss. Forty years later, it fuels his obsession with Jane and Della, and his desire to protect them from the evil they have fled.

Readers and writers alike will savor The Orchardist, for its story, its characters, its maturity of style and prose. A novel eight years in the writing, begun when its young author was only 24 years old, The Orchardist is an amazing tour de force and should become part of the canon of modern American literature.

Link to the author’s website and Facebook page.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the privilege of reading this book.

Reading Revisited

A few weeks ago when I finished arranging all the book on my new bookshelves, my husband asked me how many of them I had read.

“Well, all of them, of course!” I answered, somewhat surprised that he even had to ask. I do have a separate shelf for library books and review books, and I’ve been doing a great job of keeping that under control (yes, that’s me patting myself on the back). I might have a huge TBR list in my mind, but  everything placed on my shelves right now has been read – at least once, and often more than once.

I’m a big re-reader. In fact, as I was unpacking books and organizing them, I started getting all kinds of urges to re-read this one, and then that one, and then this other one…

It all started me thinking about re-reading, and thinking led to writing, and   – well, here’s the result, in an essay at All Things Girl today. Here’s a snippet to get you started. Read it, and maybe you’ll be inspired to revisit an old friend from your bookshelves too.

Why shouldn’t we return to those wonderful stories we loved the first time we read them? Would we consign a Monet painting to a dark closet after seeing it once? Would we leave the concert hall after hearing a Beethoven Symphony and say “I know how that sounds so I need never listen to it again”? Of course we return to the music and works of art that move our spirits, bringing fresh eyes and ears to the familiar melodies and images. Why shouldn’t we do the same with literature?








TLC Book Tours: The Comfort Of Lies

Three women, three mothers, all connected  in various ways to one five year old girl.

Sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

The Comfort of LiesIt is trouble, with a capital T, and Randy Susan Myers  deftly handles all the emotional ramifications of this interesting situation in her new novel The Comfort of Lies.

Told in alternating points of view, The Comfort of Lies reveals the darkest and most private thoughts of Tia, the child’s birth mother; Caroline, her adopted mother; and Juliette, wife of the birth father. In one year their lives collide, and they all must confront the choices they’ve made, the truths about themselves and their relationships, and how they feel about the responsibility of motherhood.

Tia was too young when she got pregnant, the result of an affair with her professor, a “happily” married man with two sons of his own. Nathan gave Tia the kind of love and affection she needed so desperately, but when he found out she was pregnant he urged her only to “take care of it,” before ending their relationship and returning to his wife, Juliette. To his credit, he came clean about the affair and the couple spent the next five years working out their relationship. Things seem to be on an even keel until Juliette accidentally uncovers a piece of information Nathan neglected to tell her – that a child resulted from his union with Tia. Juliette, stunned, finds herself unexpectedly sympathetic toward the little girl, and feels that they must somehow acknowledge her existence and make her part of their family.

Meanwhile, the child’s adoptive parents have issues of their own. Caroline is a dedicated workaholic pathologist, and she’s always harbored some ambivalence about motherhood. Her husband, however, adores family life and being a father – she agreed to adopt baby Savannah mostly to please him, and now five years later, she finds herself wondering whether she was really cut out for motherhood and domestic life after all.

The book asks the reader to ponder some big questions about adoption and the importance of family, about the true nature of motherhood and the sometimes ambivalent feelings it can engender in even the most loving of women. It also asks us to look at the lies we tell in an misguided attempt to “protect” the ones we love from a more hurtful truth.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, although I can’t say I liked ANY of these women. Tia is whiny and immature, Juliette bossy and controlling, and Caroline just plain aggravating with her self-centered musings about the boredom of childcare. I found myself wanting to slap all of them at one time or another.

Still, the great writing and fast pace of the book kept me enthralled.  I always enjoy a well written book that explores the dynamics of Randy Susan Meyersfamily life and relationships gone awry, especially when it comes to a satisfying conclusion. The Comfort of Lies delivered that in a big way, and has me eager to read anything else Randy Susan Myers dishes out.

Get Social with author Randy Susan Myers: Randy’s websiteFacebook pageTwitter accounther articles on The Huffington Post, and her Pinterest pinboards.

Thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read this novel.

The Sunday Salon: Some Tame Gazelle

Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:

Something to love, oh, something to love.

~Thomas Haynes Bayly

Ah, something to love. That is indeed a major focus in Barbara Pym’s delightful novel, Some Tame Gazelle, in which we find a small clutch of English matrons looking for someone on whom to bestow their ardor. For Harriet Bede, it’s the village curate of the day, the hapless young man who has been assigned to their parish and by default becomes the objet du jour of Harriet’s affection. In today’s parlance, she would be called a cougar for the merciless way she flirts with the young men. But in the confines of the 1950’s when this novel is set, there’s something rather sweet about it- even though Harriet keeps refusing the marriage proposals of the ever so proper Count Bianco, who would be a perfect match.

And then there is Harriet’s sister, Belinda, who reminds me of a tame gazelle, all gentleness and shyness, trying so hard to please. Alas, Belinda was not fleet enough to snare the love of her life, the imperious Archdeacon, whom she has loved since the days of her youth but whose affections were given elsewhere. And now she follows him around the parish like a sad puppy, hoping for a crumb of attention here and there.

Barbara Pym (1913-1980) was a very young woman when she wrote this (it was the first of her novels to be published , in 1950  but was written years before), and I’m amazed at how well she captures the poignancy of middle age spinsterhood at her young age. She later said the novel “proved therapeutic, and helped her release some feelings she had been having difficulty with at the time.” One can only imagine what those might have been.

Pym’s novels all extol the virtues of life in the English countryside, and she has been compared to a modern day Jane Austen with her keen eye to manners and relationships. If you love Austen, you will enjoy Pym. She examined relationships -especially unrequited love – with an amusing and loving eye. Her work is laced with a deliciously ironic sense of humor, and I alternately laugh and cry about her characters the quietly absurd situations in which they find themselves.

2013 is Pym’s centenary, and apparently LibraryThing is hosting a year long reading event to coincide. I first read about it at Ali’s blog so decided to join in. I’ve had several of Pym’s books on my shelves since the early 1990’s when a friend introduced me to her. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to re-read my favorites and introduce myself to the rest. I also hope to read a bit more about Pym herself.

Here is the reading list if you’re interested in joining in this event:

• January 2013 Some Tame Gazelle (1950)

• February 2013 Excellent Women (1952)
• March 2013 Jane and Prudence (1953)
• April 2013Less than Angels (1955)
• May 2013 A Glass of Blessings (1958)
• June 2013 No Fond Return of Love (1961)
• June 2013Quartet in Autumn (1977)
• July 2013The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
• August 2013 A Few Green Leaves (1980)
• September 2013Crampton Hodnet (completed circa 1940, published 1985)
• October 2013 An Unsuitable Attachment (written 1963; published posthumously, 1982)
• November 2013 An Academic Question (written 1970-72; published 1986)
• December 2013 Civil to Strangers (written 1936; published posthumously, 1989)