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The Yellow Wallpaper
Apr06

The Yellow Wallpaper

It was during my feminist awakening/introduction in college that I first read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and I have been rereading it ever since. The wallpaper may be faded and torn, bu the impact of this story never dims. Charlotte Perkins Gilman lived from 1860, born just on the cusp of the Civil War, through 1935. During her time, she became a well-known writer and speaker, and she is an influential feminist foremother. Her book Women and Economics makes points about the worth of women’s work in the home that were echoed decades later by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique (the famous “problem that has no name”) and which still resonate today. Gilman swore never to marry, seeing marriage as an institution that in those days did not offer women the chance to also pursue work. Despite this pledge, she did, however, marry, at a young age, bore a daughter, suffered from postpartum depression, and later, scandalously, divorced her first husband. She then moved with her daughter to California, began her career in ernest, managed to fix up her ex-husband with a friend of hers, and later, deciding they would be the more stable parents and, also radically, that a father deserved to be with his child as well as a mother, sent her then nine-year-old daughter to live with her father. “The Yellow Wallpaper,” was inspired by Gilman’s own postpartum experience, as well as the time she spent being treated by S. Weir Mitchell, a noted doctor based in Philadelphia famous for creating what he called “the rest cure” for women: no activity, no work–nothing to trouble their little heads… We met virtually last week for the Open Book Lunch ‘n’ Learn short story class to discuss this story and, as I said above, found its power undiminished 130 years after it was first published. We plan to offer a repeat of this class as well as classes about other famous feminist literature: Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and more. Email me (lynn@lynnrosen.com) for more...

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Writers & Lovers by Lily King
Apr05

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

A woman in my writers group had a line in her submission last week that we all enjoyed. In her book, a group of young men are going somewhere where they will be seeing a woman that one of them has met recently and is really interested in. The one friend says “He likes her,” and the other says “Yeah,” and the first one, to emphasize what he means, says “No, he likes her likes her.” I was amused to see this line come up again In Lily King’s new novel Writers & Lovers. “You two really hit it off.”“She likes you.”“We’ve known each other a long time.”“She likes you likes you.”p.236 I read a lot of books. Sometimes I don’t like them and sometimes I do like them. And sometimes I read a book that I am just so happy to be reading, and the time that I am engaged with this book is a period of such great pleasure, that I’m sad when the book comes to an end. I’m sure you’ve had that experience. That’s how I feel about Lily King’s new book. And that made me realize that the best way to describe how I feel about this book is this: I don’t just like it.  I like it like it. Ok, now, about the book… This is a story about a 31 year old woman who is struggling to write a book. I do tend to be a fan of books about writers trying to write books. This book now definitely goes on my short list of favorite novels about the writing process, along with The Friend by Sigrid Nunez and Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday. Casey, the protagonist of Lovers & Writers, is reeling from the recent and unexpected death of her mother, and she is very lonely. She’s working as a waitress and struggling to pay off student loans and trying to recover from the heartbreak of several failed relationships. And for the past six years, through graduate school and even a prestigious writers residency, she has been struggling to finish her novel. We follow Casey through the trials of her work life, her love life, and her writing life, and it’s just a great, well-told story, in addition to being full of insight about the lives of writers and the writing process. Brava, Lily...

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Our first virtual Short Story Lunch ‘n’ Learn
Apr01

Our first virtual Short Story Lunch ‘n’ Learn

Today a group of us convened virtually for our first Open Book Productions short story discussion group. Thanks to Stephanie Feldman for leading a great discussion! The subject for discussion was the short story “The Third and Final Continent” by Jhumpa Lahiri, from her collection Interpreter of Maladies. The story is told by an Indian man who comes to the United States in 1969 to work at MIT and who will soon be joined by his wife from his arranged marriage. Prior to her arrival, he rents a room in the home of Mrs. Croft, an elderly woman in Cambridge. One thing that struck me from this discussion is how much depth a talented writer like Lahiri can embed in a short story. We were able to unravel so many themes: the immigrant leaving his homeland and becoming a stranger in a strange place (learning to eat cornflakes instead of rice for breakfast), relationships — with mothers, with new brides — culture, community, family, hope. We were really able to step into the narrator’s life and gain an understanding of what was meant by the title of the story, what the “third and final continent” really was. Was it America? Was it death? Read the story and see! And join us for the next short story Lunch ‘n’ Learn! Details...

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Amnesty by Aravind Adiga
Apr01

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

A selection for my Spring 2020 “Hot Off the Press” book discussion class. The class enjoyed reading this book by a writer whose debut novel, The White Tiger, won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Here’s a quick plot summary: Danny—formerly Dhananjaya Rajaratnam—is an illegal immigrant in Sydney, Australia, denied refugee status after he fled from Sri Lanka. Working as a cleaner, living out of a grocery storeroom, for three years he’s been trying to create a new identity for himself. And now, with his beloved vegan girlfriend, Sonja, with his hidden accent and highlights in his hair, he is as close as he has ever come to living a normal life. But then one morning, Danny learns a female client of his has been murdered. He thinks he knows who the murderer is, but turning him in means exposing his own illegal status. Click HERE for my video...

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The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess
Apr01

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess

I’m always attracted to books about writing and books about publishing, since I inhabit those worlds, and this book promised both. It’s one of several I plan to read about women who wish to write, since I am one of those as well, and I am also writing a novel about a woman who is struggling to write. This book is set mostly in 1987, at which time I actually was working as an editorial assistant in a New York publishing house, so there was that to compel me to read the book as well. In the end, it wasn’t really a book about a woman who wanted to write. Well, she did express plenty of desire to write, and told of writerly insecurity and many thwarted attempts at composing short stories, but really it was more a book about literary hobnobbing. The protagonist finds herself becoming part of the world of a New Yorker writer and his poet wife at their Cape Cod summer house, and becomes enmeshed in their lives in a salacious (and dare I say predictable?) way. One thing leads to another leads to a great big sloppy drunken exposé leads to consquences, corrective action (where possible), and then finishes with strong hints that the protagonist will wind up with the boy you thought she was going to wind up with in the first place, despite detours. And does she wind up writing? Sure. But that didn’t seem to be what the book was really all hot and bothered...

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Writers work hard!
Mar14

Writers work hard!

It’s hard work being an author. You probably think I’m referring to the work of writing books, don’t you? It’s true that writing a book is hard — it’s time-consuming, solitary work. I know many writers whose first novels took years, or even a decade or more to write (especially since most of them were holding down demanding full-time jobs and writing in any pocket of time they could find – instead of sleeping!). But I’m actually talking about what happens once a writer finishes a book, and is lucky enough to have it published. You’d think the hard work would be finished then, and it would be smooth sailing and merely a matter of collecting accolades. But post-publication life is far from that. Post-pub is when another phase of really hard work begins for a writer. And it’s difficult to tell sometimes which is more challenging: writing the book or marketing it! On March 13th, Open Book partnered with Philadelphia Stories magazine to hold The 2nd Annual Writers at Work Conference. The purpose of this conference is to offer writers ways to manage their career (what we call the write/life balance), along with really useful and practical information about marketing, publicity, events, building an author platform, and more. Yesterday’s event was a great success. My fabulous event partner Christine Weiser and I are so grateful to all of our speakers (listed HERE) and to the many writers who joined us at the lovely Manor House in Blue Bell, PA. Thank  you for being there! Here’s just a taste of what I learned yesterday: *If you want to prepare to be a good speaker, have a friend or someone else interview you. That way you’ll get a sense of what the most interesting things are that you have to talk to an audience about. (That tip from Andy Kahan, director of events at the Free Library of Philadelphia.) *Pitch yourself as a guest blogger for book sites. Make fun videos (I’m going to do that one!). (These tips from Jennifer Kasius of Running Press and literary agents Clare Pelino and Eric Smith.) *What do booksellers have that Amazon doesn’t? Booksellers do community outreach, and bookstores offer the possiblity of serendipity. (From Kat Meyer of the Book Industry Study Group.) *The term “read-a-likes.” This refers to books an author might compare their book to, one with similar style, subject matter, and/or readers. (Learned this from author Donna Galanti.) *I met a new local bookseller, Ashley Montague, co-owner of Penn Book Center, and had a great time bonding and sharing ideas with her and with Cathy Feibach, owner of Main Point Books in...

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