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Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin
Jun23

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Morningside Heights had several things that made me choose to read it. First of all, it’s about an English professor, and I love books that are set in academia, particularly about English professors (a profession I was partway to pursuing until I decided to stay in book publishing). Secondly, it takes place at Columbia University, which is where I did my graduate studies. I immediately liked the book’s tone and pace. It begins by introducing us to one of the main characters, Pru Steiner, and, since we will be most interested in Pru once she herself gets to Columbia, it does a rushed recap of the early years of her life, telling us only what we need to know, and I liked the way the author did this. The book opens: “Growing up in Bexley, in the suburbs of Columbus, Pru had been drawn…” so we’re already on the move in the opening sentence. Later I would come to dislike this approach, however. When we are introduced to the character of Arlo, we are given his backstory in one big rushed chapter, which felt more telling than showing to me. In fact, since Arlo is important (he is the English professor’s son by his first marriage), he has recurring chapters of his own, and they are all presented in this telling rather than showing way. The crux of the story, which you learn early on, is this: Pru meets and falls for Spence, a rising young star in Columbia’s English department. They marry and have a daughter and are very happy, until Spence is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in his late 50s. Pru has aspirations of her own, first to be an actor, then to be an academic, but she drops all this when she marries Spence and gets what was then commonly called her MRS degree. Is she happy about this choice? Maybe. Does she wish she had fulfilling work of her own? Yes. So when Spence quickly gets sick and Pru hires a caregiver, the story turns back toward her again, and we (at least I) are led to believe that it’s Pru’s turn now, that she is going to figure out who she is outside of her marriage. And what does the author immediately have her do? Meet another man and start dating on the sly (no judging here about whether or not she is entitled to date since her husband is mentally gone from her, just recounting the plot and the judgements of the characters). Ok, Joshua Henkin, I waded through the Arlo chapters hoping I would get back to what I felt was the...

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Kaiserman JCC Summer One Book
Jul21

Kaiserman JCC Summer One Book

DUE TO A SCHEDULING CONFLICT, THIS EVENT HAS BEEN INDEFINITELY POSTPONED. OUR APOLOGIES! We’re excited to be partnering with the Kaiserman JCC to feature the wonderful new novel The Book of V by Anna Solomon, with a virtual visit from the author planned for Wednesday, August 26th. Anna Solomon will talk about her book and her writing process and take questions from the audience. Details below! ABOUT THE EVENT DATE: Wednesday, August 26TIME: 7PM – 8PM ESTLOCATION: VIRTUALLY VIA ZOOM (You will be sent a password-protected Zoom link prior to the event.)COST:Event Ticket: $12Event Ticket + a copy of the book: $36(Books will be available for curbside pick-up or can be shipped for an extra shipping cost; the author will provide signed book plates.)Extra copies of the book: $25 per copy CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP ABOUT THE BOOK The Book of V is a bold, kaleidoscopic novel intertwining the lives of three women across three centuries as their stories of sex, power, and desire finally converge in the present day. Lily is a mother and a daughter. And a second wife. And a writer, maybe? Or she was going to be, before she had children. Now, in her rented Brooklyn apartment she’s grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires, while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife in 2016. Vivian Barr seems to be the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic and ambitious husband find success in Watergate-era Washington D.C. But one night he demands a humiliating favor, and her refusal to obey changes the course of her life—along with the lives of others. Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. When an innocent mistake results in devastating consequences for her people, she is offered up as a sacrifice to please the King, in the hopes that she will save them all. In Anna Solomon’s The Book of V., these three characters’ riveting stories overlap and ultimately collide, illuminating how women’s lives have and have not changed over thousands of years. Praise for The Book of V “The engrossing, highly readable, darkly sexy third novel by Anna Solomon…The Book of V. is a meditation on female power and powerlessness, the stories told about women and the ones we tell about and to ourselves.” —The New York Times Book Review“An absorbing story about desire, power imbalances and the quest for self-determination—a feminist rallying cry born in the private spaces of women’s lives.” —People Magazine, *Book of the Week*“The Book of V. is brainy and sexy and roots us so completely...

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Awakening to Kate Chopin
May29

Awakening to Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin started writing her novel The Awakening in 1897, and it was published in 1899. Chopin had only begun her writing career about ten years prior to this, and she had built a good reputation for her short stories, publishing them in places like Vogue and The Atlantic Monthly and in several published collections.  She had also published one novel, called At Fault, but it did not attract much attention.  Chopin was born Catherine O’Flaherty in St. Louis in 1850, raised in a relatively well-to-do family, and well-educated. Her heritage on her father’s side was Irish, and through her mother, French Creole. In 1870, she married Oscar Chopin and moved with him to New Orleans. Between 1871 and 1879, she gave birth to six children. Meanwhile, Oscar ran his commodities business into the ground, and in 1879, they moved to the countryside and became the managers of a general store. Oscar died of malaria in 1882 and left behind considerable debt. For two more years, Kate tried to maintain their business. She also allegedly had some romantic flings, including one with a married farmer. (You will know that this is relevant once you read her work!) Finally, she succumbed to her mother’s urgings to move back home to St. Louis, although, shortly after she returned, her mother died. In the early 1890s, a family doctor friend suggested she take up writing as a career. He suspected she would be good at it and thought it might be a good way for her to earn some income. Imagine that: becoming a writer to earn money – ha! It’s also fascinating, to me at least, to note that this doctor encouraged Kate to write. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s well-known story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” published in 1892 and therefore overlapping with the time of Chopin’s work and available to Chopin to read, the female protagonist is strictly forbidden by her doctor to write, and this deprivation leads to her descent into madness. The doctor in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is based on the real-life doctor S. Weir Mitchell (a Philadelphian), whose famed “rest cure” for women prevented them from doing much of anything, lest it trouble their little heads. It’s a novelty to find that Chopin had a medical mentor who encouraged writing, and points to more of the novelty that appears in Chopin’s writing. The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a well-off young wife summering at Grand Isle, an island off the coast of Louisiana. Edna is originally from Kentucky, but has married into her husband’s wealthy Creole world. During the course of the novel, she has her awakening,...

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Women’s Words: Feminist Literary Highlights
May24

Women’s Words: Feminist Literary Highlights

In this lecture by Lynn Rosen, we will take a look at some literary highlights of literature by women. The talk will start with a look at the very first women authors, going back as far as the 11th century, and move through important works over the centuries. You’ll find familiar names as well as hopefully some news ones, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Virginia Woolf to Gloria Steinem to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Womens’ Words LectureFeminist Literary Highlights from Virginia Woolf to Gloria Steinem – and more!DATE: Tuesday, June 9thTIME: 7pm – 8:30pmWho are our feminist literary foremothers? You may be surprised to know that their work dates back as far as the 11th century, and that even in eras dominated by male writers, they were busily “scribbling” out important works of literature. This lecture is an overview of some significant feminist literature over the past centuries. COST: Per class: $30Sign up for the series: $110 (See HERE for the complete Women’s Word series.) Sign up...

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Hermione is their hero
May04

Hermione is their hero

Teaching a writing class for grades 3-5 recently, I asked the students to answer the following question: If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why? The most popular answer (from the mostly female class): Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books. And of course. Why wouldn’t they admire and wish to meet this smart, confident, unflappable girl? She’s proud of her intelligence, often using it to save them from dangerous situations, she’s comfortable with herself, she’s unafraid of the unknown and loves a good adventure… what could be better? She’s a great role model! Recently I was doing research for a talk on Louisa May Alcott, and I came across a similar sentiment among women of a different generation for the fictional Jo March of Little Women. She too is smart, fearless, bold, and unafraid of being judged by others. And she also had, and has, a huge influence on readers. A large number of writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Simone de Beauvoir, Ursula K. Le Guin, Cynthia Ozick, Anne Quindlen, and – look at that! – J.K. Rowling, have said they became writers because of Jo March. How about you? If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and...

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Actress by Anne Enright
May01

Actress by Anne Enright

Eavan Boland, the revered Irish poet who taught at Stanford University for decades, died recently. In a country where male authors often dominate the literary landscape, she was noted as one of the premier Irish women writers. Several years ago, when she appeared at the Free Library of Philadelphia, I covered the event for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and I had the opportunity to interview her (you can read my Inquirer article HERE). She was kind, thoughtful articulate, and insightful. And when I asked who her favorite contemporary Irish writers were, without hesitation she said Edna O’Brien and Anne Enright. I say all of this first of all, as a tribute to Boland’s life and work, and also as a lead-in to writing about Enright’s new novel, Actress. Anne Enright’s method of telling a story will never take you on an easy path from point A to point B. As Ron Charles says in his review in The Washington Post, “The chronology would appear no more ordered than the flow of anecdotes around a dinner table, but there’s always a design to Enright’s novels, a gradual coalescing of insight.” We gather information as we go along and, in some ways, the reader is left to figure it all out once they finish the book. Her writing gives us a slow accrual of brilliant insight. Norah’s mother was the famous Irish actress Katherine O’Dell, she of the glorious hazel eyes and red hair (and whose secret, that Norah guarded, was that she was actually born in England), a star of many years of stage and screen. But no, not a star… “We did not use the word star,” Norah tells us. Stars are made; actresses are born. Norah grew up in a household in Dublin with her mother and a longtime housekeeper. She did not know who her father was, and she had a loving, if tumultuous, relationship with her mother. And while Norah was able to have a somewhat ordinary upbringing, for her mother: “… she walked out the door and was famous all day.” We learn early on that Katherine is no longer alive. In fact, Norah is now the age that Katherine was when she died: 58. Norah, unlike her mother, is in a longterm loving marriage; Enright makes a point of exploring the ups and downs inherent in such a relationship, the emotional aspects as well as the physical intimacy of it. In part, Enright has said, this book is not just an exploration of a mother/daughter relationship but also a “conversation about marriage,” and she hopes to “reclaim ideas of agency in desire.” As the person...

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