Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quotables with Diane Meier

When I'm reading, I love coming across "just-right" passages that have me reaching for my quote book. With Quotables, I present authors with a meaningful (to me) passage from their novels and ask them to speak to it in whatever way they wish.

I recently finished Diane Meier's debut novel, The Season of Second Chances, a compelling later-in-life coming-of-age story that follows a college professor as she trades in Manhattan for Massachusetts and discovers how little she had actually been "living."

The following quote in the book really appealed to me (and, it turns out that it's one of the author's favorite passages, as well):

"Change rarely happens in doses large enough to choke you. Every day you swallow a little more and expect a little less."

From Diane Meier:

First of all, thank you for choosing this particular quote. It’s one of the things I like to read to groups who attend signings, as it – so immediately – lets us into my main character’s sardonic and thorny personality, while setting up the idea of change. And “change” is, of course, one of the central themes of the book.

When we first meet Joy Harkness, we can see right off the bat, that she’s smart, successful, well-educated, capable, independent, witty and fundamentally very, very cranky. What we suspect, is that she’s more considerable than she lets on. And – I hope the reader is ahead of Joy in recognizing those achievements and finding her an unreliable narrator – which, naturally, casts some question on so much that she tells us.

The idea of change in this book is two-fold. First, a change of loss. While this happens before we meet her, we learn that Joy had aspirations to lead a sophisticated life of purpose and connection to what she saw as the center of literary culture and New York was a big part of that dream. The childhood death of her brother, Tim, and what we might, in small bits of discovery, decipher as her parents’ subsequent and chronic depression, may have conspired to keep a number of social skills and a level of confidence beyond her grasp. Add to this a Second-Wave Feminist confusion, if not rejection, of things domestic and previously sanctioned as ‘feminine’, and we have a character destined to miss the chances of self-discovery and self-expression that could make up a more fulfilled and healthy life.

The very “joy” in Joy’s life just leached away, through the decades. She allowed herself few pleasures, and most of them could be found within the covers of her beloved books, but her caustic wit was both a personally enjoyable distraction and a way to keep the world at bay. Most of all, the loss was in doses so incremental, it, literally, went unnoticed and unacknowledged.

The second change was of gain: From the moment Joy accepts the interview with Bernadette and looks forward to the job being offered, we might suppose that the woman who had never unpacked her china, or had a visitor to her apartment, or took a stand at her university, or made more than one friend on campus, might have made a secret, or at least, a subconscious, decision to embrace change. And I suspect, somewhere deep and unspoken, Joy knew it was likely to be one of her last chances for a major change in an unfulfilling life.

It is, I think, interesting and so much more like life, that we don’t see Joy change overnight. It’s all very incremental and she is exasperating in her missteps. But I think the change is more profound for the fact that each step is so hard won. With each gain, we see the toll of vulnerability and risk. And somewhere along the line, we spot Joy beginning to acknowledge and appreciate her own development.

If Bernadette had leveled the discussion about style and its importance in life, much earlier in the story, can you imagine Joy understanding a word of what she was talking about? I can’t. That’s how much growth has gone on in that one winter of change.

Only one real season, and yet the growth was still, evidently, so slow. But like the song that promises the rose in Spring, there is the confirmation of change and transformation in every part of Joy’s new idea of possibility.

Thank you, again for asking about this. It’s a part of the book I love and I’m just delighted it connected with you, too.

Click here to visit Diane Meier's website.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Stiltsville

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

By Susanna Daniel
Publication Date: August 3

From author's site:

Stiltsville is the family’s island oasis—until suddenly it’s gone, and Frances is forced to figure out how to make her family work on dry land. Against a backdrop of lush tropical beauty, Frances and Dennis struggle with the mutability of love and Florida’s weather, and with temptation and chaos and disappointment.

But just when Frances thinks she’s reached some semblance of higher ground, she must confront an obstacle so great that all she’s learned about navigating the uncharted waters of family life can’t keep them afloat.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Want to participate? Grab the logo, post your own WoW entry on your blog, and leave a link in the comments section!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Have I Been Reading?

I've been a reading fool the past few weeks, with some hits and misses.

Two of my long-time favorite authors have new novels this spring: Elizabeth Berg's The Last Time I Saw You and Sue Miller's The Lake Shore Limited. While both enjoyable books, these two weren't my favorites from these writers.

However, if you're a fan, I'd still give them a read...and if you've never read anything by these authors before, might I suggest The Year of Pleasures (Berg) and While I Was Gone (Miller).

On the other hand, two other seasoned novelists knocked my socks off with their new releases.

Anna Quindlen's Every Last One was a powerful read, exploring the journey of a mother rebuilding her life and finding her way after a devastating family tragedy. When mid-way through the novel, the meaning of the title revealed itself, I had to put the book down and walk away for a little bit, so chilled was I by it.

Lionel Shriver's So Much for That focuses on our best-laid plans...and how we have to adjust when life throws a curve our way. After saving up money for years for "The Afterlife," a retirement plan in which he escapes to a yet undecided remote island, a husband must rethink the future when his wife becomes ill...and the funds are diverted to paying for her healthcare bills.

Finally, if you're looking for new writers to fall in love with, I'd recommend these impressive new debut novels: The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw and The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier.

Today, I'm starting Dianne Dixon's The Language of Secrets...Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Sea Escape

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Sea Escape
By Lynne Griffin
Publication Date: July 6

From the author's site:

Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place, grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to Henry and Claire, when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke. In a desperate attempt to lure her mother into choosing life, Laura goes to Sea Escape, the pristine beach home that Helen took refuge in when her carefully crafted life unraveled years ago, after the death of her beloved husband, Joseph. There, Laura hunts for legendary love letters her father wrote to her mother when he served as a reporter for the Associated Press during wartime Vietnam. Believing the beauty and sway of her father’s words have the power to heal, Laura reads the letters bedside to her mother. As Laura delves deeper into her tangled family history, each letter revealing patchwork details of her parents’ marriage, she finds a common thread: a secret, mother and daughter unknowingly share.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Want to participate? Grab the logo, post your own WoW entry on your blog, and leave a link in the comments section!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Weekend Cooking: A Southern Favorite

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

A few weeks ago, I posted about my five favorite Junior League cookbooks, which make up the majority of my fairly large collection. One commenter noted that all of the cookbooks featured were from the South...and I realized that this held true for most of my cookbooks overall.

So, I wanted to spotlight my favorite Southern cookbook, Land of Cotton. The binding is falling apart, and the pages are stained and is well-loved.

It contains nearly every recipe I remember eating growing up. There's nothing fancy here...just the ultimate collection of food that's been cooked below the Mason-Dixon line for generations. It's not new's decades-old South.

The book includes classic Southern recipes like Cheese Wafers, Marinated Oyster Crackers, Brunswick Stew, Garlic Cheese Grits, Barbecue Meatloaf, Hot Chicken Salad, Monkey Bread, and Buttermilk Pie.

One of my favorite dishes is Hot Pineapple Casserole, which makes a fantastic accompaniment to ham.

2 (15.25 ounce) cans chunk pineapple and juice
5 tablespoons flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 sleeve round butter crackers (Ritz), crumbled
1/2 cup margarine, melted

Lightly greased a 9x13 casserole dish. Pour in pineapple and juice. Add flour and sugar. Blend 1/2 cup cheese, crackers and melted margarine. Mix together. Add remaining cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Summer We Read Gatsby

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Summer We Read Gatsby
By Danielle Ganek
Publication Date: May 27

From Amazon:

Half-sisters Cassie and Peck could not be more different. Cassie is a newly divorced journalist with her feet firmly planted on the ground; Peck is a vintage-obsessed actress with her head in the clouds. In fact, the only thing they seem to have in common is their inheritance of Fool's House, a rundown cottage left to them by their beloved Aunt Lydia. But Cassie and Peck can't afford the house, and they can't agree on anything, much less what to do with the place. As these two sisters try to understand their aunt's puzzling instructions to "seek a thing of utmost value" from within the house, they're both distracted by entanglements with men from their pasts.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Want to participate? Grab the logo, post your own WoW entry on your blog, and leave a link in the comments section!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Library Loot: 4/8

Library Loot is hosted by The Striped Armchair this week.

What a great time for hardcover fiction! I had eight (!!) new releases come up on my library list this week, and I honestly can't wait to get to each one of these. I love that it's a mix of debut novelists and favorite authors!

The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller

Something Red by Jennifer Gilmore

The Heights by Peter Hedges

This Is Just Exactly Like You by Drew Perry

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Cookbook Collector

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Cookbook Collector
By Allegra Goodman
Publication Date: July 6

From Random House:

Two sisters, opposites in every way. Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the pragmatic CEO of a Silicon Valley startup. Twenty-three-year-old Jessamine is a grad student in philosophy, an environmental activist, and a part-timer at Yorick's Used and Rare Books in Berkeley. Emily's boyfriend runs a wildly successful data security company in Cambridge. Jess's boyfriends--not so much. Emily thinks a commuter relationship can work, while for Jess, love was not patient. But life tests the sisters and their theories. Emily's success in the dot com bubble has its costs, while Jess's work on a cache of rare cookbooks pulls her closer to her charming, arrogant employer.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Want to participate? Grab the logo, post your own WoW entry on your blog, and leave a link in the comments section!