For many writers, especially the authors of memoirs, it can be hard to predict where and how readers will make the strongest connection to their stories. For Richard Blanco, whose The Prince of los Cocuyos is one of our favorite memoirs of 2014, the part of his book that seems to be attracting the most attention is especially surprising: It involves a can of Easy Cheese.
Growing up in Miami in a family of Cuban immigrants, little Ricky Blanco accompanied his cantankerous abuela (grandmother) to Winn-Dixie, a rare incursion onto the turf of los americanos. Blanco yearned to fit in with his American schoolmates, so he asked his abuela to buy a can of that uniquely American food, Easy Cheese. ("What? Queso en una lata? she questioned, unable to fathom the idea of cheese in a can. But I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was intrigued.") We won't spoil the story by telling you what happened next, but it's clear that the anecdote is making an impression on readers.
Blanco, the inaugural poet at President Obama's second inauguration in 2012, recently began a tour to promote The Prince of los Cocuyos. During one of his first stops, at Brookline Brooksmith in Massachusetts, a reader presented him with a very special gift—you guessed it: a can of Easy Cheese.
Will the gifts become a trend? No Easy Cheese was evident during Blanco's weekend appearance at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, but we have a feeling that Blanco might end up with a lifetime supply of canned cheese before his book tour is over.
To learn more about Blanco and his tender and keenly observed coming-of-age memoir, check out our Q&A with the author.
Of all the many authors I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting at this year's Southern Festival of Books, it was especially thrilling to take a moment with award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson to talk about her new memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming.
This truly marvelous book reveals a childhood caught between worlds, and her poignant verse succeeds in stripping away extraneous details, allowing room for readers to make an instant emotional connection.
Throughout her session, Woodson quoted from several of her books, including a selection from Locomotion that instructed a young mind to "be quiet" and to allow memories to make themselves known. She read several of the poems from Brown Girl Dreaming, including her favorite, "Music," which begins:
Every morning the radio come on seven o'clock
Sometimes Michael Jackson is singing that A-B-C
is as easy as 1-2-3
or Sly and the Family Stone are thanking us for
Sometimes it's slower music, the Five Stairsteps
things are going to get easier, or the Hollies singing,
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
So on we go . . .
After her session, Woodson graciously agreed to chat with me about the book, her complex relationships with music and the South, and so much more. A preview:
Why did you think verse works so well for this book?
It’s how memory comes. Memories come in these small moments, with all of this white space around them, but the moments are very distinct. I feel like I have all this information, [but I'm] not sure what it’s connected to. And then the exploration of years and months and days brings the connection together. But it wouldn’t have been a straight narrative. A straight narrative would’ve been a lie. It’s not how you remember things—you remember them in small moments.
Author Kimberly McCreight had a hit on her hands with her suspenseful 2013 debut, Reconstructing Amelia, the story of a grieving mother trying to figure out what made her teenaged daughter leap from the roof of her exclusive private school.
McCreight's second novel, Where They Found Her, which Harper will publish on April 14, also starts with the discovery of a body. But this time, instead of a teenager, it's an unidentified infant. Freelance journalist Molly, a new local resident, is hired to cover the story, but her search for answers uncovers some dangerous small-town secrets.
The publisher describes the book as "another harrowing, gripping novel that marries psychological suspense with an emotionally powerful story about a community struggling with the consequences of a devastating discovery."
Sounds like an intriguing follow-up to an Edgar- and Anthony-award nominee to us! And that's not all: McCreight also has a YA trilogy in the works, set for a 2016 release, so fans have a lot to look forward to.
Fall, in my humble opinion, is the best time of the year. And it's also the best time of the year to pick up books with some sinister themes! From slightly spooky to absolutely terrifying, these books will put you in the mood for Halloween.
You know the phrase, "If walls could talk"? Well, the walls of this house want to tell the Walkers something. And it's not a pleasant story.
We're pretty pumped about the resurrection of Rice's Vampire Chronicles! The first installment in a decade finds the vampire world in shambles, but your undead favorites are just as creepily flamboyant and terrifyingly unpredictable as ever.
Calhoun creates a world in which almost no one can sleep, and civilization collectively loses its mind. There is nothing I love more than sleeping, so this novel is my worst fear realized.
Dark fairy tales and historical realities twist together in this novel set in Nazi Germany.
There's something horrifying about an evil you can't see. In Bird Box, a presence is out there that drives anyone who glimpses it to destruction. And that's all the reader, or anyone in this dark and suspenseful novel, knows.
More vampires! Owen takes a traditional, Victorian-inspired approach to blood-suckers in her debut novel. But Dracula, it is not. Bram Stoker had to rein in his blood and gore for his Victorian audience, while Owen revels in the gruesome details.
A spirit haunts the halls of the Riddell mansion, and as teenager Trevor Riddell explores the massive and strange estate, it becomes clear that the ghost, and the house itself, are harboring secrets.
This Top Pick in Fiction from February is guaranteed to send chills down your spine, because honestly, I got chills just reading the review! The first sentence is enough to make you check under your bed: “The first time I saw a sleeper, I was nine years old.”
Children are great! But is there anything more terrifying than creepy children? (The twins from The Shining, anyone?) In this chilling novel, a troubled boy's disturbing drawings seem to take on a life of their own.
One creepy child is bad enough (see above). But three?! After inexplicable, simultaneous plane crashes around the world leave just three young survivors, things get weird. The survivors' behavior becomes increasingly erratic, and people begin to wonder: Is this the end?
When an isolated town is snowed in together, a collective sense of foreboding déjà vu has terrifying implications.
A Boy Scout troop's annual camping trip turns horrific when a deranged man stumbles upon their campsite. But this isn't your usual weirdo-in-the-woods tale—this man is carrying something deadly.
Mining the transitional stage of new motherhood for all its creepy possibilities, this novel follows two mothers separated by a century. However, they are both haunted by the same spectral visions.
The sequel to 2012's Breed, this novel follows two 12-year-olds as they make the always scary step into the teenage years. Except these two's transition is even more fraught with terror, because a strange genetic disorder promises that they will slowly become violent, monstrous humans.
Any creepy reads from the past year we missed? Let us know in the comments!
Lauren Oliver, known for her YA books, succesfully ventures into adult territory with Rooms, a novel focusing on a family haunted by their painful pasts, as well as the ghosts that live in their dead relative's home. Our reviewer writes, "Rooms doesn’t scare so much as haunt, and for a tale narrated in part by ghosts, it is remarkably full of life. Utterly captivating and electric, this richly atmospheric ghost story is excellent reading." (Read the review here.)
We were curious about the books Oliver has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three favorites.
People often ask me why I’ve chosen to write books for all age groups and in a variety of genres. I think my desire to do different things stems in part from the diversity of my reading. I’ve always been a kind of omnivorous reader, devouring fiction, nonfiction, narrative essays, short stories, books about science—you name it. The three books currently doing rotating duty on my bedside table are a great example.
Full disclosure: I picked up this book initially because I’ve been writing a book that takes place in part during the 1920s, and I am ashamed to admit it’s the first Bryson book I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I’m sad I’ve waited so long. Woven together seamlessly are narrative strands about the seminal political, social and cultural events of an astounding year: Charles Lindbergh’s first flight, the Yankees’ record-shattering season, the advent of the “talkie” pictures and the floods that rocked the Mississippi Delta. America in 1927 was a country on the brink, and Bryson’s book practically vibrates with the energy of growth and distension, fracture and change.
One of my deepest pleasures is a great locked-door mystery. I’ve read all of Agatha Christie’s canon multiple times, delighting in the fact that since I can never remember what happens in any particular book, I can enjoy her work ad infinitum. When I discovered that A.A. Milne, of the beloved Winnie the Pooh series, had written a single work of armchair detective fiction, I had to have it. It does not disappoint. Secret passageways, English manors, decorative ponds and ne’er do well brothers—this book has it all.
A middle grade book that can easily be enjoyed by older audiences (a fact of which I am proof), The Glass Sentence is an immensely imaginative book about a world in which different continents have slipped into different eras. Its protagonist, Sophia, niece of a famous mapmaker, must go on a rescue mission after her uncle disappears, accompanied by a boy from an entirely different time. It’s an epic, expansive and marvelous story that reconceives the relationship between time and place and even invents new and fantastical ways of getting from Point A to Point B.
Thank you, Lauren! See any books you would like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Charles Grantham)
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill looks at one of our favorite classic YA novels, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.
Teen Read Week kicks off this Sunday! As an annual celebration of reading for fun, this is the perfect time to look back on one of the most fun YA books of all time.
Fourteen years ago, 14-year-old Georgia Nicolson made her debut in the pages of Louise Rennison's laugh-out-loud funny Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Nine more books, an online short story and a movie would follow.
In hour by hour—and sometimes minute by minute—diary-style entries filled with British slang and her own neologisms, Georgia relates her adventures with her half-wild cat Angus ("I used to drag him around on a lead, but as I explained to Mrs. Next Door, he ate it"), her 3-year-old sister Libby, her best friends Jas, Ellen, Rosie and Jools, and most of all her attempt to snag—and snog—Robbie, the Sex God. In between, she and her classmates study geoggers and blodge (geography and biology), debate what boys really mean when they say "see you later" and handle various beauty mishaps, like shaved eyebrows and attempts at hair dying.
If these seem like silly concerns, they're supposed to be. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, her path to writing about Georgia started when a newspaper column of hers caught a publisher's attention in an unusual way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
The glossary at the end of the book might be even more fun the main story. Georgia spells out the exact meanings of deely-boppers (an amusing piece of headwear), nuddy-pants ("literally nude-colored pants, and you know what nude-colored pants are? They are no pants"), "double cool with knobs" (which means "very" but is "altogether snappier") and other terms, to hilarious effect.
Recently the Guardian featured a guest piece by author Louise Rennison reflecting on how well the British humor of Angus, Thongs and its sequels has translated to "Hamburger-a-go-go land"—that is, the United States. Among other points, Rennison relates a confusion as to whether or not Americans wear knickers and an oddly impossible interpretation of the British title of the fifth book, . . . And That's When It Fell Off in My Hand.
Rennison's article was perfect timing, because I had recently been reminiscing on the bizarre incidents, urban folklore and noteworthy reputations that've accumulated around this cult classic over time.
First, there's Rennison's unusual path to writing about Georgia's "fabbity fab fab" life. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, a newspaper column of hers had caught a publisher's attention in an unexpected way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
Then there's the climate of YA lit into which Rennison was writing. Angus, Thongs, a 2001 Printz Honor book, entered the American YA lit scene in April 2000, at a time when the Printz Award had just recognized its first crop of winners, John Green was about to graduate from college, and Harry Potter fans were eagerly awaiting the upcoming fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Technology was different, too: Georgia and her friends pass notes in class rather than texting, call each other from "phone boxes" and listen to music on audiotapes. But their desire to evade school rules, their interest in kissing lessons and their frustrations with their parents are universal teen themes.
And don't forget about the longstanding appeal of the diary format itself. Georgia's entries are immediate and highly emotionally charged, with the quick ups and downs characteristic of teens' feelings ("6:00pm: Is my life over? Is this all there is? . . . 8:05pm: Jas has just phoned to say we've been invited to a party at Katie Steadman's and . . . Katie has asked Tom and Robbie. YESSSSS!!!!")
Although Angus, Thongs didn't invent diary format or even bring it to YA lit for the first time (it's a defining feature of 1971's anonymous Go Ask Alice, for example), Rennison's book might very well have popularized and encouraged this way of telling stories. Diary format has gone on to be used in dozens of other YA novels, ranging from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (also published in 2000) to Girls Like Us, longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
And finally, there's the book challenges, the complaints and the apologies. In 2005, the second book, On The Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, was challenged in a Bozeman, Montana, middle school on the grounds that "an unstable person seeing a girl reading the book might think from the title that the girl was promiscuous and stalk her." (Louise Rennison had appeared on the American Library Association's most frequently challenged authors list two years before, in 2003.)
In another incident posted on a children's lit listserv at the time, a bookseller found herself awkwardly explaining to a horrified parent what "snogging" meant (it means kissing, not to be confused with the significantly more R-rated "shagging").
Lastly, one of my own YA lit students shared an incident of her own with our class. Echoing Seventeen magazine's review—"You might want to refrain from reading this one in public"—my student found that Angus, Thongs and public transportation didn't quite mix. "I was reading it on the bus and laughing hysterically, and everyone was looking at me funny," she mock-complained.
Fans of Rennison's latest work might want to check out last year's The Taming of the Tights, her third book featuring Georgia's theater-loving cousin Tallulah Casey. But to some readers, nothing quite compares to their very first encounter with one of YA lit's funniest teens.
What retro YA book have you been meaning to read . . . or re-read? Let us know in the comments!
So you're a fan of Jojo Moyes' best-selling, tear-jerking 2012 release, Me Before You. (Who isn't?) This story of the relationship between down-and-out Louisa Clark and the wealthy, quadriplegic she becomes a caregiver for is as touching and warm as it is thought-provoking, making it a perfect fit for book clubs.
Other than tearing through Moyes' backlist (she's published 10+ other books, including a new one out this summer) what's a Me Before You fan to do next? Not to worry: BookPage has some ideas.
(Warning: minor plot spoilers; after all, this is for those who have already read Me Before You!)
OK, so this one might not be much of a surprise, but no one does the ethical dilemma novel™ better than Picoult, and My Sister's Keeper is one of her most controversial. If debating right to life/quality of life issues was what turned you on about Me Before You, give this one a whirl. Read it already? Go for the not-yet-adapted-for-film Second Glance.
Speaking of medical ethics . . . best-selling author Gawande may not write novels, but his essays on the challenges of medicine, especially when it comes to drawing the line between treatment and quality of life, certainly make for compelling reading. Anyone who came out of Me Before You with questions about the medical issues involved should pick up this sensitive and smart new colllection that will leave you wiser.
One of the most compelling storylines in Me Before You was Lou's journey of self-discovery—the way she realizes there's more to who she can be. Shortridge's fifth novel offers a more extreme version of that theme. It's the story of Lucie Walker, who awakens in the San Francisco Bay with no idea who she is or how she got there. She doesn't recognize the handsome man who shows up claiming to be her fiancé.
If the "odd-couple" dynamic between Louisa and Will was your favorite part of Me Before You, don't miss The Rosie Project, last year's word-of-mouth hit that chronicled the romance between a professor who is logical to a fault and a whimsical, fun-loving bartender who comes to him for help finding her biological father.
So you liked Me Before You because it was a tear-jerker? Try Maria de los Santos, especially the poignant Belong to Me, which follows a 30-something who is dying of cancer.
One of the themes of Me Before You is appreciating the joy to be found in life, no matter what your situation might be. In Jackson's compassionate sixth novel, Someone Else's Love Story, her heroine Shandi has to do just that, even as she uncovers some uncomfortable truths about her life and meets the equally wounded, but less resiliant, William.
Readers, what do you think of these picks? What did you read after Me Before You? Tell us in the comments!
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
The BookPage offices are located in Nashville, so the Southern Festival of Books is our favorite event of the year! Will you be attending? Check out a list of the events we're most looking forward to this weekend, and say hi if you see us!
Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Laird Hunt, author of Neverhome
Kevin Powers, author of Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting
Destruction and Creation: Poetry and Prose Inspired by War
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
Lauren Oliver, author of Rooms
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
James McPherson, author of Embattled Rebel
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Room 16, Legislative Plaza
Frances Mayes, author of Under Magnolia
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Third Floor Program Room
Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
Richard Blanco, author of The Prince of Los Cocuyos
10:00am - 11:00am | Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird, authors of Wild Things!
10:00am - 11:00am | Room 29, Legislative Plaza
Charles M. Blow, author of Fire Shut Up in My Bones
11:00am - 12:00pm | Room 16, Legislative Plaza
Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Next Door
11:00am - 12:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Tony Earley, author of Mr. Tall
11:00am - 12:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
Karen Abbott, author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
James Ellroy, author of Perfidia
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Rick Bragg, author of Jerry Lee Lewis
12:30pm - 1:30pm | War Memorial Auditorium
Ishmael Beah, author of Radiance of Tomorrow
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Brock Clarke, author of The Happiest People in the World
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
Rebecca Makkai, author of The Hundred-Year House
Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me
Backward Through Time: Fiction and Reckoning
2:00pm - 3:30pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Maureen Corrigan, author of And So We Read On
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Third Floor Program Room
Kendra DeColo, author of Thieves in the Afterlife
Patricia Lockwood, author of Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexual
Profundities, Profanities, and Wry Poetics
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
Patricia Lockwood, author of Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexual
Adrian Matejka, author of The Big Smoke
Abraham Smith, author of Only Jesus Could Icefish in Summer
Literary Death Match
8:00 pm | Third Man Records, 623 Seventh Ave. S., Nashville
$15 | 21+ | Tickets
Joshilyn Jackson, author of Someone Else's Love Story
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Lily King, author of Euphoria
Allegra Jordan, author of The End of Innocence
Danger, Desire, and Discovery: Captivating Historical Novels
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room III
Drink coffee and wear good shoes, because the fun kicks off tomorrow. Plus there are so many other great sessions—how do we choose?!
Where will you be this weekend at SoFB?
Yotam Ottolenghi's sublime second collection of vegetarian recipes, Plenty More, is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for October! The Middle Eastern magic abounds in his 120 recipes, which are organized by cooking method over 12 chapters.
Apricot, Walnut and Lavender Cake
The combination of walnuts, apricots and lavender is as French as a good baguette with butter and ripe Brie, and it is every bit as invincible. I seriously urge you to try this cake, and not just as a French classic. It has a moist and soft crumb and a delicate fruity topping, and it will keep well, covered, for a few days
Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC.
Place the butter, oil, superfine sugar and almonds in a stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs in small additions and continue to beat until well incorporated. Fold in the walnuts, flour, vanilla, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of the lavender and ⅛ teaspoon salt.
Line the base and sides of a 9-inch/23-cm cake pan with parchment paper. Pour in cake batter and level the top. Arrange the apricot halves, skin side down and slightly overlapping, over the top, right to the edge. Bake in the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, covering with aluminum foil if the top starts to brown too much.
While the cake is baking, make the icing. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice to get a light, pourable icing, adjusting the amount of sugar or juice if needed. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush the icing on top. Sprinkle the remaining ½ teaspoon lavender over the top and leave the cake to cool before serving.