In The Three-Year Swim Club, Julie Checkoway explores the little-known story of Soichi Sakamoto, a Maui man who taught children to swim in sugar plantation irrigation ditches and turned them into champions. Our reviewer writes, "Checkoway’s compelling narrative reveals the incredible odds Sakamoto and his team faced: meager budgets, exhausting travel via ship, discrimination in mainland pools [. . .] Through it all, he adhered to his vision to use “swimming as a means of teaching . . . children life values." (Read the review.)
We asked Checkoway to tell us about three books she's been reading lately.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Immediately after I finished what I thought was the last draft of The Three-Year Swim Club, I sustained a pretty nasty concussion. In the first days after the accident, I could do little; but within a week or so, I was longing to read. Reading was impossible, though, so I began listening to the audiobook of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Processing sound turned out to be just as tiring as reading however, so each day of my recovery, I had to restrict how long I listened, attending to the audio one section at a time.
But I came to so crave hearing the book that I began to listen for a full hour at a time, then a full chapter, stopping to nap in between and waking again to listen to the story. After having written a book of nonfiction, it was freeing to listen to Tartt’s in-depth constructions of the human mind, something that, at least in writing history, is hard to recreate. What was exquisite to me was Tartt’s writing—so much has already been said of her fine, fine voice. I was particularly struck—pun intended—by her depiction of the main character’s shaken consciousness in the wake of the literal and figurative blast that changes his life forever.
The explosion in the museum and the force of the concussion literally reverberated in my head. As he lay still in the blast’s aftermath and then, ears ringing, began to make his way through his altered world through smoke and damage both physical and psychic, I couldn’t help but think how his head injury—untreated throughout the book—affected everything he experienced thereafter. My own world had been altered by my concussion: I lost for a time the ability to walk in a straight line and easily retrieve language. Following the boy on his odyssey, the ruined painting a remnant of the formerly whole and seamless world in his possession, I felt hopeful and less alone: I’d have to wait for language and balance to come back to me, but in the meantime, I had Tartt to guide me through that murky time. I haven’t seen anything written about this aspect of the book—how the concussion is a lens—but it certainly altered my own complex hearing of it.
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Where Tartt’s book is an internalized exploration of the concussed, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire brilliantly explores the collision of historical and cultural forces in New York City during one of its most explosive decades. I remember the City on fire from my own point of view—my uncle owned a hardware store in Fort Apache, the Bronx, that was torched to the ground and looted in the great conflagration and violence that followed New York’s infamous blackout—but Hallberg’s book made me understand that personal moment in the larger moment of an apocalypse. Hallberg wasn’t in New York at the time in question, but his book bears the imprimatur of exhaustive research that he’s managed to metabolize into something more than history—and gorgeously. Of course, Tom Wolfe came to mind as I began to read, but it was Dickens who stayed with me as I reveled in Hallberg’s encyclopedic and brilliant study of a world on the brink of chaos. I loved the book. Never mind the fact that I myself was so geeky and uncool back then (my musical tastes ran from the pedestrian and pop of Tony Orlando and Dawn to agitprop folk from the 60’s), and Hallberg let me into a world I’d been too dorky to have the courage to enter: punk rock! Hallberg lit the city on fire in his novel, but he also lit a fire under me and sent me out to buy a turntable and some vintage vinyl.
Joppa Dreams (tentative title) by Joan Atchinson
At the moment, I’m finally turning my attention to fulfilling promises I made before I started writing the The Three-Year Swim Club. I believe it’s important for writers to give back to other writers, especially to those who are in the beginnings of their careers. It can be terribly lonely out there when one is just starting—all too well do I remember the gnawing feelings of self-doubt and isolation that accompanied my early writing years. My dearest and most long-standing friend, Joan (nee Koski) Atchinson is at work on a first novel of great ambition and beauty. It’s set in the small New England town in which we grew up together, a run-down port town in our time and before, a factory and mill town peopled by hard-working immigrants. Joan’s book does not remind me of home, but instead transports me into another world: her re-imagining of our home. The noir-ish novel is set largely in the first half of the 20th century, and it is salted with the kinds of characters one finds in an Edith Wharton novel, primarily those in Ethan Frome—those kinds of people who are burdened with some lingering illness or deformity and have a story to tell, a compelling story, one from which it is impossible to turn away. I have great hopes for Joan’s novel, and I hope that I can be of help in getting it out into the world.
(Author photo courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune)
Attention, lovers of fantastical fiction: These two recent announcements just might make your day. Deborah Harkness, author of the best-selling All Souls trilogy, has just sold another book set in the same world to Viking. The Serpent's Mirror, the first in a new series, will explore historical riddles surrounding the ascent of Elizabeth I to the throne and feature characters from the original trilogy, including vampire Matthew Clairmont and historian Diana Bishop.
And Helene Wecker, whose mythology-steeped debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni, made the bestseller and "best" lists back in 2013, has just made a two-book deal with her editor at HarperCollins. The Iron Season, tentatively scheduled for 2018, is a sequel, and will follow the titular characters through World War I. On her Facebook page, Wecker says that she "had two massive false starts before I arrived at something that felt sequel-worthy," but has completed a detailed outline and expects to spend the next two years writing the book, which finds Chava and Aham encountering "beings of their own kind, only to realize that their close ties to human beings have forever altered them."
RELATED CONTENT: More news about 2016 releases.
Photo of Harkness by Scarlett Freund.
Masterful chef Madhur Jaffrey is an authority on Indian cusine, and her newest cookbook, Vegetarian India, provides more than 200 meatless, vibrant and satisfying recipes that are easily recreated with the addition of a few new spices and Jaffrey's instructions. This Flattened Rice with Cauliflower and Peas makes a perfect entree or a delicious part of a larger meal.
Flattened Rice with Cauliflower and Peas
phool gobi aur matar wa la paha
A grand dish that looks splendid and tastes as good as it looks. Sometimes I eat this all by itself. Other dishes, such as Mixed Dal, Marwari Style (see page 154), could be added to the meal, as well as a raita, popadams and chutneys. It is also perfect for brunch.
In India most people like their poha upmas to be fairly spicy, but you can use as many or as few green chilies as you like.
1. Put the poha into a sieve and wash gently but thoroughly in running water. Place in a bowl, cover generously with water and soak for 2 minutes. Drain and leave in a sieve set over a bowl.
2. Put the oil into a large nonstick frying pan and set it over medium-high heat. When hot, add the asafetida and the urad dal. As soon as the dal starts to pick up a little color, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds start to pop, a matter of seconds, add the curry leaves (take care, as they will splutter), then the onions, ginger, cauliflower and turmeric. Stir gently for about 3–4 minutes, still over medium-high heat, until the onions and cauliflower are lightly browned.
3. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the peas, green chilies, ½ teaspoon of salt and the lime juice. Stir gently for 1–2 minutes, always lifting the ingredients from the bottom, so the peas heat/cook through.
Add all the poha, gently breaking up any lumps. Sprinkle another ½ teaspoon of salt over it and mix gently over a very low heat for 3–4 minutes, using a flat spatula and lifting the mixture from the bottom and folding it over the rest. When the ingredients are well blended and the poha has heated through, cover and set aside until you are ready to eat.
Excerpted from VEGETARIAN INDIA by Madhur Jaffrey. Copyright © 2015 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Read our review of this book.
Tara Sue Me continues her Submissive series with The Exhibitionist, in which a husband and wife recommit to their explicitly adventurous marriage.
In this blog post, Tara Sue Me tells us about how she went from writing kisses-only romances to erotica. (And yes, her pen name was inspired by the Italian dessert!)
I often get strange looks when I tell people that The Submissive wasn’t my first published novel. Those looks grow even stranger when I tell them my first novel didn’t contain anything more graphic than a kiss. This is usually followed by, “What’s the title?” And after I explain that I have the rights back and it’s no longer available, the next question is, “How?”
How did I go from closing the bedroom door to flinging it wide open?
How did I go from writing kissing to describing a full-fledged BDSM scene?
While parts of the transition were difficult (I had to talk myself through the first sex scene, “You can do it. Type one word and then another.”), other parts weren’t difficult at all. I think this is because at their core, romances are very similar. They’re the telling of a couple’s story: their coming together, falling apart and making it all work out.
In any type of romance, the main focus typically shouldn’t be on what the couple does, but on the emotion between them. This is where writing sweet romances helped me. Because when you can’t describe the physical, you have to make the reader feel the connection with emotions. You have to think outside of touch to convey how they feel and in doing that, you hone your ability to write dialogue and thoughts that often show the emotion much more intimately that sex ever will.
So when I sat down to write something racier, I wanted to keep that emotion front and center. I didn’t want people to read The Submissive series and walk away thinking it was whips and chains with a kiss or two thrown in. I wanted them to feel right along with the characters: the excitement of that first knowing glance, the despair as she walks away and the joy when she returns. First and foremost, I wanted to write a passionate love story. The BDSM elements are secondary.
Almost ten erotic romances later, I still work hard to show the relationship through more than sex scenes. I’m a long way from doing it perfectly, but I do it better with each book. And I firmly believe those sweet romances gave me a head start.
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The latest from the author of Let the Great World Spin is a collection that contains a novella and three short stories, all of which focus on characters at a turning point. McCann is known for his lyrical writing and abililty to portray the inner lives of his characters. In the collection's titular novella, he does just that as he conjures the voice of an elderly man in decline who used to be a vibrant county supreme court justice but is now limited by his ailing body, his only interactions with the world in the form of his cheerful Jamaican caretaker, Sally.
Oh smash this body entirely, Sally, break it up into little and pieces, and then i could walk around with the still-working head and heart, leave the useless pieces heind me. Fare thee well bowels, colon, pajama pocket, errant prostate, all ye untenable peices. Let the Mendelssohn mind meander. Let the heart stroll. Leave the alter knocker behind. I have always gone according to the laws of nature. It's a naked child against a hungry wolf.
What are you reading this week?
Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
Veiled Magic by Deborah Blake
InterMix• $4.99 • ISBN 9781101884843
Published Nov 17
Deborah Blake creates an intriguing world in which witches have "come out of the broom closet" and adds a dash of romance in Veiled Magic. Donata Santori is a witch and a cop, using her ability to commune with the dead to solve murders—a skill that gives her coworkers the creeps.
When Donata is called to the scene of an art heist gone wrong, the police are at a loss. The painting that cost two people their lives is a not particularly good landscape by a little-known 19th-century artist. Now Donata is tasked with discovering who set up the heist and why they wanted the painting. Her search draws her into the mysterious and dangerous world of the Pentacle Pentimentos, a set of paintings that could spell disaster for all paranormal kinds if they fall into the wrong hands.
Dealing with far more than she bargained for, she teams up with two unlikely paranormal allies and unexpectedly finds herself drawn to both of them—and they to her.
Most Witches had respectable jobs, like dowsers (who could save a company the cost of drilling exploratory holes for water or oil wells), or healers.
And then there were folks like Donata, who did the unpleasant jobs nobody else wanted. Her fellow cops acknowledged her usefulness but could never quite get comfortable with her, so she was relegated to the basement, where the depressing miasma that accompanied her work wouldn’t affect them.
Even the Chief mostly left her alone to do her job, summoning the ghosts of the recently murdered so they might bear witness against those who’d killed them. Not a pleasant occupation, to be sure, but one which Donata had taken on with enthusiasm and pride, pleased to be able to use her unique talents for the greater good.
Of course, that had been a long time ago, and after seven long years of dealing with misery, tragedy, and (more often) petty Human failings, she’d finally burned out enough to seriously consider quitting. Maybe find a job that wouldn’t make her family look down their collective patrician noses, nor get her rejected by both cops (who didn’t much like Witches) and Witches (who didn’t much like cops.)
But that was before last week.
Do you think you'll be picking up this romance novel for your eReader?
Yale-grad Jessica Tom makes her debut with the deliciously fun novel Food Whore, in which a young woman begins ghost writing for a New York Times restaurant critic who has lost his sense of taste. Our reviewer writes, "Tom nails the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, whipping up a remarkably entertaining debut." (Read the full review.)
We asked Tom to tell us about three books she's been reading lately.
Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn by Dale Talde
Sage Living by Anne Sage
I’m slightly superstitious (when embarking on a long and often dispiriting journey like publishing a book, you desperately latch onto any positive signs from the universe). This book is like practical feng shui—how you can create a home environment that encourages creativity, calm, positivity (also things that writers desperately need). I work from home, so a photo here and a bouquet of flowers there makes a huge difference.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I’ve had this book on my TBR list since it came out. Now that I’ve started, I’m hooked. Ng’s writing is haunting and sensual, with surprising turns of phrase that please me as a writer and reader (“loved-baby scent, “impale itself on the shadow”). Every page prickles with suspense. I’d love to write a literary mystery. That’s my favorite genre, neck-and-neck with food books.
Thanks, Jessica! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Liz Clayman)
To celebrate the release of Passion Ignites, the seventh book in Donna Grant’s New York Times best-selling Dark Kings series, we'll be selecting two winners to receive a copy of Passion Ignites as well as the third book in the series, Burning Desire. Enter to win here. (Contest open until November 19.)
Grant is also sharing a song playlist she curated for the hero of Burning Desire, Kiril. Kiril is part of an ancient race of kings, sworn to protect the secrets of their dragon magic. On a quest to destroy a member of the evil Dark Fae, Kiril goes to Ireland, where he meets a beautiful, intriguing woman—who is the very Fae he came to kill. Can their burgeoning love survive the fact that they're sworn enemies?
Grant tells us about why this playlist is perfect for Kiril, saying, "Kiril's playlist suits him because it has the sensual, sexy vibes that surround him and Shara from the first glimpse he has of her. I particularly love 'Animals' by Maroon 5 because I think it screams Kiril and Shara perfectly. 'Latch' by Disclosure and Sam Smith I hear playing in my head at the beginning of the book when Kiril spots her on the street that first time. I dare you to read that particular part and not hear that song."
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