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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Professor Martha Ackmann on the life and work of poet Emily Dickinson
Apr20

Professor Martha Ackmann on the life and work of poet Emily Dickinson

DATE: May 6thTIME: 7PMFree event via Zoom: RSVP required. To RSVP email: lynn@lynnrosen.com We are thrilled to have Professor Martha Ackmann join us virtually to talk about her brand new book, These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson.  The New York Times chose the book as one of their top picks of the week of April 16th, saying that Ackmann evokes Dickinson’s life with “a storyteller’s flair” and that she has deep knowledge of the poet’s life and work, giving us a book that is: “thoroughly researched, and yet, with Ackmann’s evergetic storytelling, alive.” This event will take place via Zoom. Lynn Rosen will interview the author and attendees can ask questions via chat. It’s a free event, but registration is required so we can send you the Zoom link. Please RSVP to lynn@lynnrosen.com Here is a rave from KIrkus Reviews: The subject of many biographies, critical studies, and a one-woman show, as well as the protagonist of several novels, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) has remained an enigmatic figure: a shy wraith, dressed in white, refusing to allow publication of her poems—nearly 2,000, discovered after her death. Guggenheim fellow Ackmann, who has taught a Dickinson seminar at Mount Holyoke College, persuasively counters that view with a fresh approach to Dickinson’s life and work. Focusing on 10 turning points, she creates in each chapter “a snapshot” of that moment “with the past in dissolve like a multiple exposure.” Drawing largely on Dickinson’s poems and letters, the author portrays the young Emily, surrounded by family, corresponding with friends, growing into self-awareness of her creativity. “She wanted to understand the particles of moments that others could not see or grasped with a faith she found too easy,” writes Ackmann. When she was pressed about her religious conviction, Dickinson admitted doubt: “I both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour.” Her poetry, though, probed the ineffable, aiming for “evanescence like the brilliance of lightning, the flash of truth, or a transport so swift it felt like flight.” By the time Dickinson boldly sent four poems to Atlantic editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson, she was composing nearly a verse a day: “My business is to sing,” she announced. . . .Radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet’s sensibility make this biography...

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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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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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