Category Archives: Books

Book Buzz: The Invention of Wings

Timing is everything, they say.

That’s what crossed my mind last week as I read the deeply absorbing new novel by Sue Monk Kidd, “The Invention of Wings.”

The Invention of Wings

As controversy swirled over LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments … and as the Jewish community observed Holocaust Remembrance Week … I was engrossed in a story about the daughter of a slave owner and her 35-year relationship with a slave.

This historical fiction was inspired by the real-life Sarah Grimké, a woman born into privilege in ante-bellum Charleston, who knew from an early age that slavery was wrong and grew up to become one of the first women and best-known abolitionists of her time.

It is not only a richly compelling story of relationships between complex people, but also a devastating reminder of what life was like before slaves were emancipated and this horrible time in our history came to an end.

We have evolved as a nation since then, but we still have work to do.

Racism Can Not Be Tolerated

Personally, I am elated that the NBA came out forcefully with severe sanctions against Sterling for his comments. But whether or not you agree with the NBA’s ruling, no one can deny that Sterling’s rant was racist and hate-based. There is no excuse for that. Ever.

Prejudice Has No Place in Society

Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. and to remind all of us what can happen to civilized people when bigotry, hatred and apathy are allowed to flourish.

We say “never again.” But what does that really mean?

Racism, prejudice, genocide, other atrocities happen when we fail to take action.

In “The Invention of Wings,” Sarah’s voice was stifled, both literally and figuratively. Forced to watch the violence inflicted against slaves, she lost the ability to speak without stuttering. When she grew older and escaped the confines of her home, she ventured north to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and became enamored of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, a peace-seeking religious group that openly denounced slavery. And from there, she became a spokesperson for abolition.

The Philadelphia Quaker connection had special meaning for me. My children all attended Quaker schools. In fact, my son’s Commencement took place in the Arch Street Meeting House, the very site that played a prominent role in “The Invention of Wings.”

The Invention of Wings

The Arch Street Meeting House, Philadelphia, Pa.

To Eradicate Bigotry, We Need to Confront It

If there is a silver lining to the cloud of Sterling’s diatribe, it is the conversation that has sprung from it, and hopefully will continue.

And that’s why “The Invention of Wings” should be read and discussed. Never again, we say. Let us understand, and let us take action.

Fans of Sue Monk Kidd (you may have read her best-selling “The Secret Life of Bees”) and of historical fiction will not want to miss this book. It is a superb choice for book groups, and this detailed readers guide is a terrific resource to facilitate a discussion.

The Invention of Wings Book Club Kit

One of my lucky readers will receive a free copy of “The Invention of Wings.” Please leave a comment below and I will select a random winner.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of “The Invention of Wings” from Viking/Penguin for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation.

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My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

My paternal grandmother lived to the age of 97 or so. We don’t know her exact birth date, because she didn’t know it. Born in Kiev in the late 1800s, she was one of six children whose parents were too busy scraping a living and avoiding pogroms to pay much attention.

Also, no official records were kept in their town. Much as I yearn to trace my ancestry, there is nowhere to search.

Grandma emigrated from Kiev when she was a teenager. She lived briefly on the lower east side of New York where she met her husband, also a Russian immigrant. Eventually they made their way to Pennsylvania to join other relatives.

I don’t know much more than that.

Grandma never wanted to talk about the past; it was too painful for her. Once, in a moment of largesse, she grudgingly answered a few of my questions but I had to keep it light. I asked if she ever went swimming and did she wear a bathing suit, and did she and her siblings fight like my brother and I did, that sort of thing.

My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

My mother, grandmother, son and I celebrating his 2nd birthday.

I was always so curious about her life in the shtetl and as an immigrant. With the limited information I got first-hand, I’ve had to rely on historical documents, books, “Fiddler on the Roof” and my imagination.

When “Fiddler” first opened on Broadway, my parents wanted to take Grandma, thinking she would enjoy the musical about life in the shtetl. But she refused to go, saying there was no music or comedy in her life back then.

I’ve always been fascinated by the immigrants’ experience.

I think about the shock of entering a strange world and having to adapt, about leaving loved ones behind, about the odds of eking out a living, about raising American children and confronting the clash of old world vs. new world values.

This is why I adore the work of Amy Tan, who exquisitely spins the tales of immigrants and their children. Amy’s novels come from her Chinese heritage but her stories are universal. Her best-selling “The Joy Luck Club,” one of my favorites, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Can you believe that? Twenty-five years.

My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

It is a story about four Chinese mothers, recent immigrants to San Francisco, who get together each week to play mah jongg, eat dim sum and talk about their lives. They call themselves the Joy Luck Club.

Through their narratives, we get to know each of the mothers and learn about their pasts: the harrowing journey to America, the terrible conditions they endured in China, their resilience in the new world. And we get to know their daughters, smart, talented, impatient, headstrong – a lot like their mothers.

To commemorate this anniversary, Penguin Classics has created a reissue with a stunning new cover, on sale April 30. And I am delighted to be able to give away a copy, as well as a copy of the classic edition. Please leave a comment and I will select two random winners in the next few days.

My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

My grandmother, like the mothers in this book, was feisty and strong, no nonsense and devoted to her children. She didn’t play mah jongg but she did have a weekly poker game.

To say that I was inspired by this book in my own writing journey is an understatement. I can only dream of finding a voice, as Amy Tan did, to bring my stories to life.

Disclaimer: This review is 100% mine and I received no compensation.

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Book Buzz: The House at the End of Hope Street

Imagine a house at the end of an unobtrusive street, a house that is visible only to those who need it. A house that breathes and laughs, on whose walls hang shelves of thousands of books and portraits of famous women, paintings that come to life when conversation seems appropriate.

Picture a naive young woman who can’t seem to find her way through life’s bramble bushes, only to stumble upon this house of enchantment and healing.

Such is the setting for the whimsical “The House at the End of Hope Street,” by Menna Van Praag, a story that will surely win you over … as long as you leave reason behind.

House at the End of Hope Street

As is typical of novels of this genre – magical realism —  there is sensuality and sensory overload, dizzying aromas and flourishes of pageantry, an absence of real time, and ghosts that are a real part of the living world.

The protagonist, Alba Ashby, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University, is struggling with a crisis that she is ill equipped to handle, and finds herself wandering aimlessly on the streets of Cambridge. Unwittingly, she lands on the doorstep of 11 Hope Street, where an older woman, Peggy, invites her in.

So begins a tale of self-discovery for Alba and two other visitors, Greer and Carmen, who are welcomed to stay in this house of refuge for 99 nights but no longer, and are assured that the house would give them what they needed to move on.

The women, each one experiencing a difficulty of some sort, find solace in the quiet comfort the house offers. Best of all, this is a feminist’s dream house, where conversations are sparked among a bevy of star-studded personalities whose portraits adorn the walls. Florence Nightingale and George Eliot, for example, are there, as are Vivien Leigh and Vanessa Bell and Agatha Christie. Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker chatter on as they offer writing advice to an attentive Alba:

“Not bad,” Dorothy says. “You have potential.”

“She’s overly critical,” Sylvia says. “You have a natural flair, but you need to be bolder. Your writing is too tentative, you care too much for the reader –“

If you are a fan of the works of Alice Hoffman, Yann Martel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” remains my favorite book ever), Isabel Allende or any other writer of magical realism, or if you enjoy losing yourself in a great read, or if you are a romantic … you will fall in love with this inventive and charmingly written tale.

I am thrilled to be able to offer a copy of this book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below, and one of the commenters will be chosen randomly.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of The House at the End of Hope Street for review. There was no other compensation.

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I Want to Be Alone with These Women

Excuse me while I clean up the coffee I have spewed on my computer screen.

Let this be fair warning: put down the drinks while reading “I Just Want to Be Alone,” a collection of humorous essays written by some of the funniest writers around, and compiled by Jen of People I Just Want to Punch in the Throat (hilarious in its own right, by the way).

I just want to be alone

Had these humorists been around when I was deep in poop and drippy popsicles myself, when my kids were sucking the very life out of me in their persistent but adorable persistent way, I might have gotten through it with much less stress.

stress free and alone

If laughter is the best medicine, I would have been a very healthy mom.

I Just Wanted to Be Alone

I recalled some of my own funny-later-but-not-at-the-time stories, for example, When Daddy Burned the Brownies and When Daughter #2 Scribbled Magic Marker on the Back of My Mother’s Leather Chairs. Also, there is “DW,” a term my children and I still use, which stands for Dad’s World, an imaginary place where everything that Dad says makes sense.

I laughed at every one of these well-written stories, and several have me smiling still.

My Obnoxiously Skinny Husband, written by Lynn Morrison of The Nomad Mom Dairy.I would not have realized that I left the book open to this page if not for a question from my husband later that day.

“Are you reading about someone with a skinny husband?” he asked, smiling knowingly.

Hello! This is my life, Lynn Morrison. I’ve got a husband who can eat anything — including a piece of chocolate cake every day — and has weighed the same SINCE HIGH SCHOOL.

And me? As a lifelong eater of carbs and struggler of weight, I can simply read a recipe and feel my pants get tighter. If I leave a comment on a food blog I’ll gain a pound. My husband can eat whatever he wants and not gain an ounce. Sigh.

I think the actual spewing of the above-referenced coffee occurred  when I read That’s Beans, Bitch! by Lisa Newlin of Lisa Newlin … Seriously? One of my children was so picky that she ate a total of five unrelated food items for the first 18 years of her life. I’m one of those mothers who went to great lengths to hide vegetables in other foods, but it was kind of hard to mask pureed spinach in macaroni and cheese.

The True Love Story by A.K. Turner, about meeting a guy on vacation and falling in lust love and moving cross country to live with him and buying a mattress with your mother along … I was rooting for this couple to make it but you’ll have to read the story to find out.

Raquel D’Apice from The Ugly Volvo wrote Project Run Away and described her date’s questionable wardrobe choices with amazingly familiar precision. My husband, once my date, was clueless about clothes until, lucky for him, we became a couple and I was able to show him the way around a department store.

Funny memories of dating came back to me when reading Stacey Hatton’s The Perfect Man.com. Stacey, of Nurse Mommy Laughs, tried Internet dating for a while  and may not have walked away with a husband, but sure got some great material for a story.

Because I finished this anthology hungry for more, I was relieved to find out that there is a Volume I of this series that I haven’t read.,”I Just Want to Pee Alone.” and I can’t wait to dive into it for more giggles.

Fingers crossed that the dynasty continues and there will be a Volume III.

“I Just Want to be Alone” is available in paperback or for your Kindle

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For the Love of Basketball

Basketball is on my mind this week, due to a confluence of three things:

  • March Madness starts tomorrow and my house is abuzz. We are a basketball-crazy family and we can’t wait for the first tipoff. Note to self: fill out the bracket today.

love of basketball dunk shot

  • My daughter was home for a visit and took advantage of the above-freezing weather to shoot some hoops. I watched her, overcome with nostalgia for the days when I cheered her on from the bleachers. I still miss those days.

A Story of Courage

Enacted in 1972, Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding — including in their athletics programs. By the time this law became mandated, Pat had endured years of frustration and isolation as a girl who just wanted to compete on the same level as boys, and was told she couldn’t.

But with the passage of Title IX, Pat was the first female to be awarded an athletic scholarship in Illinois, and went on to become the  first female player to score 1,000 points at Illinois State University. She is one of the first Women’s Professional Basketball League draftees and female inductees in the Hall of Fame at Illinois State.

Although Pat and I have not yet met face-to-face, I have come to know her well through her blog and the blogging group we both belong to. The story of her career has captivated me from the very start, but I have also admired Pat for her character, her devotion to family and friends, and her kindness.

As the granddaughter of Eureka College’s legendary Coach Mac, Ralph McKinzie, Pat grew up with basketball in her DNA. But it was through sheer will and advances in women’s rights that her dreams of competing were realized.

Her success on the collegiate level led to a spot in the fledgling Professional Women’s Basketball League where her desire to play was thwarted by both injury and injustice.

After a car accident ended her playing career in Europe at the age of 25, Pat turned to coaching and teaching and has inspired countless young women and men to never give up pursuing their dreams.

Pat’s story is one of persistence and courage, a story that transcends athletics and can be applied to any life challenge. Who should read this book? To quote her, “Anyone coaching an athlete. Anyone playing ball. Anyone loving a game. Anyone raising a daughter. Anyone chasing a dream.”

My daughter likes to to shoot hoops now and then. But had she aspired to more,  and had she possessed the talent, gender inequity in the sport would not have held her back.

love of basketball

Thank you, Pat, and your trailblazing team mates, for helping to set the course for generations of female athletes.

shoot a basket

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Book Buzz: Lydia’s Party and The Office of Mercy

I don’t love airplane travel — who does, anymore? — but I do enjoy having forced downtime that allows me to read for hours uninterrupted. Last week I had two absorbing books with me, “Lydia’s Party” and “The Office of Mercy,” that made the time go by very fast. Before I knew it, I turned the last page and was at my destination.

Lydia’s Party Lydia's Party

As a woman in midlife, I’m still learning, still growing, and making new friends, especially through social media. I have gotten to know people who share my interests and add a new dimension to my life.

At the same time, I cherish the friendships that began at a much earlier time in my life and remain strong. When we moved to our community many years go, I met other women who were navigating marriage and motherhood like I was. Our children are now grown, but our friendship remains.

And even further back on the timeline are my high school friends, with whom I get together a few times a year, despite the miles that separate us. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed. We just continue from where we left off the last time.

Being with friends who knew you back in the day is just plain fabulous. And often therapeutic.

I think that is why the bittersweet “Lydia’s Room,” a story of friends in midlife who reunite every year, resonated with me so strongly. Lydia invites six longtime friends to her home for an annual dinner party. Purposely scheduled for the dead of winter when, goodness knows, we all need to come out of hibernation, this dinner is a much anticipated binge of eating, drinking, laughing and reminiscing.

Author Margaret Hawkins gives us a glimpse into the lives of each of the women as they get ready for the dinner. We learn about their marriages and relationships, job successes and failures, doubts and dreams. These are women whose trajectories may have changed, their ambitions sidelined or altered, and their transition to middle age fraught with a few bumps and bruises. Like my circle of friends, they talk about aging, regrouping, celebrating the happy times, acknowledging regret, and trying to maintain a sense of humor about it all.

This particular evening takes place in a snowstorm, which adds to the intimacy and sets the stage for a startling confession from Lydia. Beautifully and touchingly written, this is a book that all women of any age can relate to. If at all possible, read it when the snow is falling and the logs are crackling in the fireplace.

The Office of Mercythe office of mercy

I rarely read science fiction, but the industry buzz about “The Office of Mercy” was so enticing that I decided to take a chance on this book. And I’m glad I did.

Author Ariel Djankian paints a Utopian society known as America-Five in which citizens live forever, never experience pain or suffering, and are programmed to not feel empathy. This futuristic society came about suddenly after a global catastrophe that wiped out nearly every human on the planet.

But not quite everyone.

The America-Five citizens live and work in a high-tech universe called the Dome that is protected from the Outside. The protagonist, Natasha Wiley, works in the Office of Mercy, a government unit responsible for routine annihilation of the survivors, or Tribes, on the Outside. Taught to believe that murder is an act of compassion, Natasha nonetheless feels a twinge of discomfort that grows into fervent rebellion when she ventures Outside and comes to learn about the history of the Tribes.

This is a graphic and sometimes brutal thriller about what might happen when world over-population, food and water shortages and economic collapse spawn an apocalypse. It is a fast-paced page turner with some dramatic twists and turns that I did not expect. If you liked “The Hunger Games,” this book is for you. Like “The Hunger Games” and Orwell’s “1984,” this book portrays a chilling vision of the future that seems simultaneously remote but not far-fetched.

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of each book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and two recipients will be chosen at random.

Viking/Penguin provided me with a copy of each of these books for review. I was not compensated. These opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: The Longest Date

I’ve discovered my new best friend.

Not that she is aware of my affection. But I’ll state it right here and now: Cindy Chupack, I want to be your BFF.

It took just a few pages into her new book,  “The Longest Date: Life as a Wife,” to become enchanted with this immensely likeable woman and her story. Totally absorbed by the time I finished the Introduction, I settled in for what would be an afternoon of reading pleasure.

I didn’t get up until I finished reading it.

The Longest Date

In this memoir of her midlife dating escapades and two marriages, Cindy (since we’re on a first name basis, or so I’d like to think) opens the door to her world with a virtual hug and a cup of coffee.

I was immediately drawn to her because of her humor and warmth. Let me tell you, Cindy is funny. Not just funny ha ha, but funny clever and funny self-deprecating. Funny in a natural, unforced kind of way. Like she’s not trying to convince you. It’s just the way she is.

She writes conversationally about her first marriage that ended when her husband announced he was gay, her romance with and marriage to bad boy Ian, about gaining and losing weight and their St. Bernard dog and cooking four-ingredient meals and going to extremes to make a housekeeper happy.

I giggled reading the chapters “The First No No Noel” (about Jewish people celebrating Christmas) and “I Find My Husband Rappelling” (Ian’s adventure with a garden hose) and “Eggspecting” which you’re just going to have to read to learn more.

But it was her emotional recounting of their quest for parenthood that was spiked with such frankness and pain that I was moved to tears.

So who is Cindy Chupak and where has she been all my life? Turns out she won three Golden Globes and an Emmy for her work as a writer/executive producer on HBO’s Sex and the City. AND she has written for Modern Family, Everybody Loves Raymond AND she has had her own column in “O” Magazine.

I loved this book (can you tell?).  And so did 20th Century Fox TV, which has already signed on to create a comedy based on “The Longest Date,” with Cindy writing and executive producing along with executive producer and director Jake Kasdan.

I think you will love this book, too. I am delighted to give away a free copy to one of you. Leave a comment and I will make a random selection.

But forget about being BFFs with Cindy. She’s already taken.

 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Longest Date for review from Viking,  plus a book for one of my readers. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

When it comes to aging gracefully, the French have it all figured out.

I marvel at the way their innate sense of style carries them through the decades, the way they can throw together a pair of boots, a silk scarf and oversize sunglasses at any age, and voilà, they’re perfect.

I love their joie de vivre, the way they seem to seize all that life has to offer. I picture them running to the  Métro, meeting up with friends for a glass of wine, shopping with aplomb on les boulevards, rushing home with a baguette stuffed in their oversize bag.

The best? Their attitude toward aging.

A woman of a certain age is like a fine wine, becoming more delicious as the years go by. By midlife, French women get it. They are satisfied with who they are, comfortable in their own skin. The end.

Right?

That was always my impression.

Then I read “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles.”

And that myth was busted tout de suite. So with a soupçon of Schadenfreude, I am happy to report, having read this novel, that midlife angst is as alive and well in France as it is here.

Mon Dieu, midlife crisis is only the beginning. Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

There’s also infidelity. Adult sibling rivalry. Teens with raging hormones. Best-selling author Katherine Pancol introduces us to a lively cast of characters in a delightful romp through family dysfunction à la français.

And Pancol does not spare the men. They are muddling their way through legal entanglements, failed business ventures, first-time fatherhood at age 60, and unrequited love.

Set in Paris and its suburbs, as well as Kenya, the story revolves around middle-aged Joséphine Cortès, a 12th century scholar, whose life is crumbling due to a series of misfortunes. Her husband, Antoine, runs off with his mistress, financial problems mount, and her bitter mothers stops talking to her … and that’s just for starters.

Poor Joséphine is not your typical French woman. She is a bit frumpy, insecure, overwhelmed at times. In other words, totally believable.

As her anxiety about her dwindling finances grows, a solution presents itself through her wealthy socialite sister, Iris, who convinces Joséphine to write a novel using her expertise in 12th century history. With Iris’ connections in the publishing industry, she is certain she can get the book into the right hands. The proceeds will go to Joséphine and the credit to Iris. Reluctantly, Joséphine agrees.

Pancol’s sense of fun and affection for her characters leads us through the ups and downs of a family struggling to find its way. The book’s themes of love and loss, reinvention and redemption are universal.

A mega-best seller in France and around the world, “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” has been translated into English for the first time and is available now. The book was a fun read with such finely drawn characters that I kept thinking of them afterwards. I was happy to learn that this book is the first part of a trilogy and I look forward to finding out what happens next with this family.

I am delighted to be able to give a free copy of this book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and I will make a random selection.

Happy New Year! Bonne année!

Disclosure: I was given a complimentary copy of “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” from Penguin Books for review as well as a copy for one of my readers. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: Imagining Helen Keller in Love

 

My empathy for the physically impaired has grown by leaps and bounds, no pun intended, due to a fractured bone in my foot that has put me on the DL for six weeks.

Just one unfortunate misstep was the cause of this tsuris. One small step for me, one giant leap for six weeks in a boot. As such, I am getting a sense of what it is like to live with restrictions. With dependence.

In this (luckily) temporary state of immobility, the timing was perfect to read “Helen in Love,” by Rosie Sultan, a book of historical fiction based on the true occurrence of a love affair Helen Keller had when she was a young woman.

Helen Keller in love

Helen Keller’s Remarkable Life

Now, of course Helen was not hampered physically. But because she was blind and deaf, she lived with a disability that cruelly shuttered her world for the first few years of her life, until Annie Sullivan entered the scene and brought light into Helen’s darkened world.

Helen, as you most likely know, not only learned to read and write, but excelled in her studies and graduated from Radcliffe College. Later, she wrote her autobiography and became one of the most admired women in the world and a symbol of hope for the disabled.

Helen did not let her disabilities get in the way of leading a full and rich life. She traveled widely, met heads of state, and became an outspoken social crusader.

Her personal life, however, was little known.

Did she ever fall in love? If so, she never wrote about it.

In fact, for a short time there was a man in her life. His name was Peter Fagan, and he was an unsuccessful newspaper reporter who was hired to be Helen’s secretary during a time when Annie Sullivan was ill with what was thought to be tuberculosis.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Author Sultan is able to build a credible story of Helen’s sexual awakening based on this factual event.

A troubled love story.

Despite her family’s disapproval, Helen lets herself fall completely in love, blissfully in the throes of love and passion but racked with guilt about being deceitful. The story is told in the first person, and Sultan skillfully portrays Helen’s strong personality through her interactions with others. Sultan helped me imagine what it was liked being trapped in Helen’s closed world, feeling her joy, her disappointment, her frustrations. Being physically dependent on others.

It is a poignant story that presents a very human and vulnerable side of a remarkable woman.

I am delighted to be able to give a copy of “Helen in Love” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and I will select the winner randomly.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of “Helen in Love” for review by Penguin Books. I was not compensated for the review. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: Rediscovering Jack Kerouac

This is a sponsored post written by me. I was given this book by the Penguin Group for review.

In my formative years I spent a lot of time daydreaming when I should have been paying attention.

This exasperated more than one teacher. I just couldn’t focus when the material was boring. Perhaps I had ADD before it was invented. Whatever it was, at the first mention of a quadrilateral I became as obtuse as the angle chalked on the blackboard. It was as if my mental machinery ground to a sudden halt, everything shut down and the voice in my head boomed, “Quittin’ time!”

Sometimes I tried to sneak a peak at the book I was hiding on my lap. Or I would doodle intently while pretending to listen. Or I would gaze out the window, finding the cloud formations or rustling leaves so much more appealing.

School was boring and a waste of time, I thought as I inspected my split ends. What if …. what if … I decided to ditch this place and, just like my damaged hair ends, split?  I fantasized that I would just walk out of class,  jump in my car and zoom down the highway, destined for the open road. I would drive across the country and meet cool people and write about it. Just like Jack Kerouac did.

Jack Kerouac, as you probably know, was a novelist and poet and author, whose “On the Road” is arguably his best known work, his recounting of life spent on the road across America.  The brooding, restless romantic in me was enamored of this cross-country adventure.

But my knowledge of Kerouac himself began and ended with “On the Road.” Until now.

The Penguin Group provided me with a complimentary copy of “The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac.” Written by Joyce Johnson, this is a detail-rich and absorbing examination of Kerouac’s life from early childhood to just before he began to write “On the Road.”  Johnson knows of what she speaks. Not only did she do her research; she had a two-year affair with Kerouac and remained Kerouac book coverfriends throughout the rest of his life.

What made this man a legend? Also, what made this boy a man? Johnson traces his trajectory from a difficult childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts to an abbreviated stay at Columbia where he met Allen Ginsberg and others who became the core of the Beat Generation to his stint in the Merchant Marines that led to his travels that became the essence of “On the Road.”

Because I am always intrigued about how writers find their voice, I was hugely interested to learn about Kerouac’s voracious reading as a child, his dogged devotion to process and craft, the writers who influenced him, his struggles with self-doubt and the many rejections that predated “On the Road.”

This book was just released in paperback and I am pleased to offer a copy to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and I will randomly choose a winner next week.

I confess that I did not abandon high school for an alternative lifestyle. Somehow I gutted it through Geometry and not once ever since have needed a quadrilateral.

One more thing. Kerouac failed Chemistry at Columbia. He thought it was boring.

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