Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during World War I, when approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923. YA author Dana Walrath is the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide—which, as she writes in a guest blog post below, is "a genocide that continues through denial." Her powerful novel-in-verse, Like Water on Stone (2014), uses alternating voices to tell of three siblings’ flight from these atrocities. To commemorate this anniversary, Walrath draws us into her research and heritage, and offers more reading suggestions for those who wish to bring this bit of history to the surface.
Place is always a character in a novel: It has a look, a history, a fragrance, distinct sounds. Places carry the memories and beliefs of their inhabitants. In Like Water on Stone, my verse novel about genocide and survival, the reader gets to know one of the world’s oldest places: Armenia.
I am the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide, a genocide that continues through denial, and so turns 100 this year. Growing up in New York, I never knew my Armenian mother’s parents, their language or the land that they called home. As a kid I once asked my mother about the childhood of her mother, Oghidar Troshagirian. I got the bare bones: Oghidar’s parents ran a mill in Palu; after her parents were killed she and Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice hid during the day and ran at night to an orphanage in Aleppo. Like Water on Stone put flesh on those bones, adding in a guardian spirit—an eagle—who protects the young ones on their journey. I wrote this story to find my grandmother, to find the Armenia in me.
In 1977, I traveled to Soviet Armenia with my parents and younger sister. There we met our cousins, descendants of Oghidar’s older brother, living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Though by look and manner I seemed the average American, this trip woke up the Armenia in me.
In 1984, I traveled to the land where my grandparents were born, where 2 million other Armenians lived before the genocide—Eastern Turkey. Finding Palu, along the eastern branch of the Euphrates River, I traced my way to a mill. I did not know that this mill would eventually become the setting for Like Water on Stone. It took a dissertation’s worth of words in anthropology, complete with a social theory of genocide and its consequences, for me to start discovering the storyteller in me.
I returned to Armenia in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar working on the anthropology of aging. My fieldwork gave me a score of grandparents who cheered for me when Random House acquired Like Water on Stone. Their stories, the meals we shared, the songs we sang and danced all found their place in the book.
This spring I’ve returned again to Armenia for the premiere of an animation of Like Water on Stone, created by a team of young people at Yerevan’s Tumo Center under the direction of my cousin Shushanik Droshakiryan, Oghidar’s great-grand-niece. I’m grateful to know my story will reach so many young people via this film.
I am also deeply grateful for my writer “cousins,” fellow Armenian Americans who also strive to reckon Armenia’s place in history, to tally the complexity and resilience of genocide survivors:
Dana Walrath in eastern Turkey, 1984
Eastern Turkey, 1984
Images from raw drawings that will be included in the animated film based on Like Water on Stone, created by two teen students at the Tumo center in Armenia.
Dana Walrath, writer, poet, artist, Fulbright Scholar and second generation Armenian, is committed to the movement for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. She believes an honest reckoning of history, apology and forgiveness is essential for healing and will help bring about peace in the future. Like Water on Stone is her first book for young readers. She lives in Vermont. For more information, visit her website: danawalrath.com
Temperatures are rising and summer peaches will be here soon! This light Italian dessert from Nonna's House has the perfect ratio of very little work with immense flavor payoff—now that's a recipe I can get behind!
Stuffed Baked Peaches (pesche al forno ripiene): During peach season, the height of summer, this dessert is light and refreshing. Be sure to look for balsamic glaze, which is different from balsamic vinegar, in the supermarket.
Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
Arrange the peaches cut side up on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Bake until tender but not soft, and the sugar has melted and is bubbling, about 25 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
Place the mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process until smooth. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl and stir in the almonds.
Fill the centers of the peaches evenly with the mascarpone mixture, about 2 tablespoons per peach. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Drizzle each peach with 1 teaspoon balsamic glaze to serve.
The April showers are almost over, and May brings with it both flowers and excellent books! LibraryReads has put together a list featuring the 10 books coming out next month that librarians across the country are the most excited about putting on their shelves.
Catch up with the Todd family as Kate Atkinson continues the saga that began with the stunning Life After Life in a companion novel, A God in Ruins. Speaking of family sagas, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley continues her own in Early Warning, the sequel to Some Luck. Our Souls at Night, the final novel by beloved author of small-town life Kent Haruf, who died in November 2014, is also one to look out for.
You can see the full May LibraryReads list here. Which book are you most looking forward to picking up at your local library or bookstore?
We've all heard this piece of wisdom: "Food is the way to a man's heart." But Audrey Shulman took that advice to heart and set out on a year-long quest to find the man of her dreams by bringing home-made cakes to bars. Her book, Sitting in Bars with Cake, details her bar-and-cake crawl of love. In this guest post, Shulman tells us about her journey and the end result of all that cake.
Two years ago, I was 26, and I had been single for about 26 years. I had tried online dating, blind dating, and yes, I'll admit it, hosting large scale southern potlucks in hopes of enticing well-mannered male dinner guests who would offer to bring a side dish and stay after to help clean up.
Despite my best efforts, none of these dating strategies worked, so I decided to bake cakes and take them to bars until I found a boyfriend.
What's wrong with you? You might be asking. You must be, like, seriously deranged.
I just really thought it could work.
I had stumbled upon the idea after bringing homemade cake to a bar for my best friend's birthday resulted in some unexpected success. I had been serving pieces to all of our friends, when I looked up to see a group of guys ogling the cake from across the courtyard; offering them each a piece gave way to loud, hyperbolic feedback. "You MADE this?" they asked, inhaling the cake. "Are you an ANGEL?"
It seemed that cake was not only a boy magnet, but also the icebreaker of the century. I never would have had the gumption to go up to a guy in a bar, but with a cake in my hands, I could talk to anyone. So I decided to try it. For an entire year. Sure, I would have to start baking a lot, and I guess I would probably have to learn to drink, but sitting in bars with cake sounded like a fun experiment.
When I started this project, I had about as much male experience as a fairly progressive nun. Now I was meeting actors and surfers and cardiologists at 2:00 in the morning, forging BFF friendships because I was giving them cake for free. I was chatting up toy designers and comics and rocket scientists, dating Hollywood assistants and writers and a guy who claimed he stole other people's information for work but in a legal way. The guys I was meeting were from Los Angeles and Texas and England and India, occasionally married, engaged or very recently dumped. I was learning valuable lessons from our interactions, such as: You can bond with frat boys over more than beer pong and Cancun. Male follow-up skills are slower than dial-up. Sometimes your best self is just your real one.
The mission to find a boyfriend slowly turned into more of a mission to find myself. By committing to this sugar-fueled dating strategy, I was getting more confident as a baker and more confident as a single person in the murky relationship waters of LA. By opening myself up in ways I never had before, I was winning, regardless—boyfriend or no boyfriend.
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British noir author Ted Lewis (1940-1982) is best known for his 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home, later renamed Carter and then adapted to film by Mike Hodges as Get Carter, starring Michael Caine. Lewis' nine crime novels were brutal, unflinching in their depiction of the British underworld and set a new standard for hardboiled British thrillers. His final novel, GBH, is now available in North America for the first time. It tells the story of George Fowler from two periods of time: the first in George's past, when he reigned over a hardcore porn empire; the second in the present, when George is in hiding in a small English seaside town for some mysterious reason.
At the time of GBH's original publication in 1980, Lewis' literary career was plummeting, so it's not surprising that his final novel would go overlooked by many readers. But GBH is often considered to be Lewis' masterpiece, even better than his famous Jack's Return Home.
Consider a man like me and love. A butcher loves. He slits an animal's throat and dismembers it and washes the blood from his skin and goes home and goes to bed with his wife and makes her cry out in passion. The man who made it necessary to rebuild Hiroshima loved and was loved back, and I don't necessarily mean the pilot or the man who activated the bomb doors. Whoever left the bomb at the Abercorn rooms would comfort his child if it came into the house with a grazed knee. Everyone loves. Everyone considers things, considers themselves. And I considered why it came to be that Jean should be the one, as opposed to anyone else. And like everyone else, I could compile a list of things that added up to my obsession, and as with everyone else, it just remained a list; the final total defied the simple process of addition.
Her husband couldn't have timed his return from California any better. A couple of days after we'd made love for the first time. For a week I didn't see her; I waited for her to get in touch with me. When she did, she suggested we have lunch together; it was going to be one of those meetings.
What are you reading?
Former comedian Eric Jerome Dickey has made a name for himself as the New York Times best-selling author of steamy romances, and his latest novel, One Night, is out today. Of course, you may have noticed that Dickey is male, which is quite the anomaly in a genre dominated by female authors. In this guest post, Dickey tells us how he got started in romance writing.
“Your book sucks.”
I was at a convention in St. Louis, with an anticipated crowd of tens of thousands. I was seated at table alone, a few of my books in front of me, watching hundreds of people pass by, when a 30-something lady stopped and stood over me, scowling like I had slapped her momma with a cold pork chop on Vegetarian Day.
I paused, took a breath, and asked myself WWJPD?
What would James Patterson do?
She stepped closer, one hand on her hip, in my space like she owned St. Louis, and repeated, “Your book sucks.”
“Did you read it?”
“I don’t have to,” she snapped.
“You didn’t read Sister, Sister, so how do you know anything about it?”
She motioned toward the carefree professional women on the cover, tsked and looked me up and down. “You’re a man writing about women. I don’t have to read it to know it sucks. Men know nothing about women.”
Then she walked off, her hips showing me how happy she was to have delivered her message.
So it goes. So it went for a long while. I received hate mail based entirely on the fact that I was a guy who had written female characters.
I read all genres, from Stephen King to Angelou, from Mosley to Judy Blume. I assumed the rest of the reading world was like me, that they read across the board, more amazed by stories than by the gender of the writer. A good story makes you forget about the writer and cling to the characters.
More than one book club told me I should be happy they selected my novel because they usually only selected novels by female writers. That’s what it was like for me at the start.
So how did I end up being the man writing female characters? Glad you asked. I was in a writing class at Cal Poly Pomona, only two guys and about 15 women. Our assignment was to write 500 words from the opposite gender’s POV. The idea terrified me. But over two days, I wrote what eventually turned into Sister, Sister—close to 10,000 words. The lead character was a woman, nothing to indicate race, vague on description; the women in the classroom were ecstatic. They were so sure that another woman had written my piece that when I raised my hand to claim the story, they shrugged it off as a joke.
Back in the 90s I was on the incoming wave of male writers who weren’t writing political thrillers or angry fiction—but that was the genre suggested to me in the 300 rejection letters I received. Men wrote certain things and women wrote certain things; that was just how it went.
That first book tour, I left St. Louis having sold only three novels in eight hours. I’ve now written more than 100 characters, won many awards and had a novel banned. But sometimes I think about that insulted-and-enraged-for-no-reason-lady I met in St. Louis.
I chuckle and hope she’s well, healthy and blessed.
I am. That has never changed.
I have to admit, as my latest offering, One Night, prepares to hit the stands, my grin is a bit broader these days. Even on dark days, I feel the sun on my face.
I hope that woman has found what brings her joy.
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The 2015 Pulitzer Prizes, which are some of the most esteemed awards in literature and journalism, have been announced, along with the finalists in each category. The winner of the Fiction Pulitzer Prize also happens to be the BookPage Reader's Choice Top Pick of 2014! Looks like BookPage readers have great taste—No surprise there.
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Winner: Encounters at the Heart of the World by Elizabeth A. Fenn
Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert
An Empire on the Edge by Nick Bunker
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Winner: The Pope and Mussolini by David I. Kertzer
Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism by Thomas Brothers
Stalin: Volume I by Stephen Kotkin
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Winner: Digest by Gregory Pardlo
Reel to Reel by Alan Shapiro
Compass Rose by Arthur Sze
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No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal
Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos
What do you think of the Pulitzer Prize Board's choices?
As a copy editor at The New Yorker, a bastion of grammar perfection, Mary Norris knows a thing or two about the oddities of the English language. In her memoir, Between You & Me, Norris mixes grammar tales with personal stories, and the result is fascinating. Our reviewer writes, "While Norris may have a job as a “comma queen,” readers of Between You & Me will find that “prose goddess” is perhaps a more apt description of this delightful writer." (Read the full review.)
We asked Norris to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
When I had finished my book about grammar and usage and copy editing at The New Yorker, and was free to read about other things, I poked around on my shelves for books that I had been saving as a reward for good behavior. Here are three that I especially enjoyed.
Frank Delaney, an Irishman transplanted to Connecticut, uses his boyhood fascination with ships and the sea to extol Kurt Carlsen, the real-life captain of the Flying Enterprise. Soon after leaving Germany, in December of 1951, the ship gets hit by a rogue wave and cracks, then gets hit by a second rogue wave and lists precariously. Carlsen does everything in his power to bring passengers and cargo to safety. I read this while commuting to work on a ferry and soaked up all things nautical: the etymology of the word knot, the strategy of the ship’s owners, and sailors’ superstitions about renaming a ship (don’t do it!) and leaving port on a Friday.
One might think that after revisiting The Elements of Style while writing a book about writing, I would want to take a break from E. B. White, but this book made me fall in love with him all over. Elwyn (En) White had an old-fashioned patrician upbringing in Mount Vernon, New York, and spent summers at a lake in Maine. (His parents gave him his own canoe.) His early interest in nature informed Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. In addition to all the influences and arachnid research that went into Charlotte’s Web, Sims includes gossip about White’s editors and publishers and about children’s librarians.
One of the things I have always loved about journalist John McPhee’s writing is the way he keeps himself out of it. This study of his work and life made me feel like a stalker. McPhee is from Princeton, New Jersey (where he still lives). His upbringing and education and the summer camp he spent time at all inform his work. He once wrote a novel! Pearson organizes his critical remarks around McPhee’s own topics, from Bill Bradley to physics and geology, and analyzes the techniques through which he raised journalism to an art. I was heartened to see that after Oranges and The Pine Barrens I still have plenty of McPhee to read, and beguiled by the realization that some of my favorite writers—White, McPhee, Thoreau—started out in canoes. Did paddling canoes make them better writers? If I tried it, would I capsize?
Thank you, Mary! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
Best-selling author Jennifer Weiner will return this summer with a new novel. Who Do You Love will be published by Atria on August 11.
Weiner's 2014 release, All Fall Down, was a darker book that focused on a suburban mother's struggle with addiction. Who Do You Love is a romance that sounds reminiscent of Weiner's earlier works: When 8 year olds Rachel and Andy meet one night in the ER, they can't imagine how important they will eventually become to each other. Per the catalog description,
Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they’ve been running toward each other all along.
Sounds intriguing! Will you read it?