“I am not a cynic. I love you, and I love the world, and I love it more with every new inch I discover. But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know.” ~Ta-Nehisi Coates, BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
Three things prompted me to pick up this book:
- The Toni Morrison Blurb: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates….This is required reading.”
- This book was written as a letter to an adolescent son. I have three sons (of English-Irish-Welsh-Russian Catholic descent), whom I am trying to raise in an environment that will prepare them for the world by encouraging intellectual, emotional, and spiritual exploration, to make them more empathetic human beings. I need to expand my worldview to expand theirs.
- I have grown up 30 minutes outside of Baltimore my entire life, and after the Freddie Gray riots, I realized a) I might as well live on another planet, and b) I need a better understanding of the black men and women raised there.
This book was eye-opening, to say the least. I have new insight into what it means to grow up black in America, and I am deeply ashamed of the past of the country, disheartened by the current state of it, and admittedly hopeless about the capacity for large-scale future change. The problems are systemic–so much a part of our cells, our maps, our minds–and the root systems are too complex to fully eradicate. Not to mention that there must be a reckoning; society must reap what it sows.
However, I believe in God–a force Coates acknowledges he has no connection to, yet does not discount because of the strength faith has given so many–and with God, there is hope. While Coates does not provide a tidy solution, I’m inspired by a truth I found reinforced in his anecdotes, and in my conversations with others after reading the book. We are responsible for those around us, for the small square of land we inhabit.
More and more, when I’m tempted to take rants to Twitter or Facebook, pile onto the masses, tear out my hair over the terrible state of the world, I pull inward. I look at the many and varied faces of the people around me. I see the living they do–the good in my community, my church, our schools. I see the rifts in my family and know that until I reach out and mend those torn places, trying to impose change on society is futile. I realize I can make simple gestures: hold a door for young black man and walk in after him, look a person in the eye when I’m speaking with him, raise my sons not to fall into the traps of categorizing people based on “race,” give the book to the family member who insists on proclaiming her ignorance when confronted with Black Lives Matter by retorting All Lives Matter to read, instead of hitting her over the head with it.
The responsibility lies in my hands, my actions.
I don’t know if Coates wanted someone like me to read his book, and I don’t know if this is what he wanted me to take away from it. All I do know is that I cannot stop thinking about it, and this thinking has silenced me. Acknowledging the crisis of the past and present, and watching, listening, and responding to the needs of others is what I can do in my home and in my community to start change, and I intend to do it.
My friend and fellow writer, Karen White, tagged me to contribute to Read a Romance Month, in celebration of love in fiction, and I was delighted to do so. Below you’ll find my thoughts on the value of romance in fiction, some fun answers to questions, and a giveaway for my latest novel, THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE. Enjoy! xoxoxo
The Joy of Romance
We all need a little love and light in this world, don’t we? One turns on the news and cannot escape evil, darkness, war, murder, and violence. Even the weather channel casts a dark shadow. A good romance is the antidote to all of that.
The novel can be a love letter to books, an ode to a city, a fairy tale or a second chance, a story of deep and abiding friendship, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, a couple from history or from the imagination of a writer. Be it chaste or steamy, serious or humorous, at the very least a romance provides an escape, but at best, brings joy, exuberance, light, and hope into the mind of the reader, and arguably, the world.
I asked the publisher of my latest novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE for the subtitle, “A Romance.” In his preface to THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES, Nathaniel Hawthorne announced that his book was a romance in this manner:
“The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us.”
Hawthorne also mentioned the liberties taken by writers of romance to portray the truth of the human heart. I referred to his definition of romance often while writing my novel of the tale of two artists and what they both lost and gained for love. I chose his wife Sophia Peabody Hawthorne to narrate the book because I wished for the novel to be permeated with her immense capacity for hope in spite of the many trying circumstances they faced. While I was not given permission to use my preferred subtitle, THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE is by any definition a romance.
Imagine if there were a channel devoted to the good news, to relationships being built instead of destroyed. There is a channel: Romance. It’s a joy to celebrate romance novels and novels that contain romance this month, and I’m honored to be a part of Read A Romance Month.
1 – Tell us about a moment in your life when you experienced sheer joy.
In a little creek off the river where my family likes to fish, there is rope swing tied to an ancient tree on a twenty-foot cliff. Each year I watch teenagers and the occasional adult climb the old ladder past the warning signs to take a ride on the rope. It’s dangerous, old fashioned, 1970s fun, and it took me a long time, but I finally worked up the courage last summer and jumped. It was one of the most terrifying, exhilarating things I’ve ever done, and I’ll never do it again.
2 – Tell us about a place that brings you joy, or is attached to a memory of joy.
Topsail Island, North Carolina has brought me and my family so much joy over the years. From watching dolphins following shrimp boats, to building sandcastles and playing beach volleyball, to watching the birth of sea turtles under a sky full of stars, everything about the place carries away the scar tissue from the year and washes it out to sea, renewing me until my next visit.
3 – Tell us about a sound that brings you joy.
Summer time country music brings me pure joy—“Pontoon” by Little Big Town, “American Kids” by Kenny Chesney, “I Love This Life” by LoCash, “It Can Buy Me A Boat” by Chris Janson: I could go on and on…
4 – What recent book have you read that brought you joy.
THE STORIED LIFE OF A J FIKRY brought me tremendous joy. It’s a novel about an unabashedly nerdy mess of a bookseller on a small New England island. He has lost his wife and a priceless first edition of Poe’s TAMERLANE, but what he gains far outweighs his losses. This book is a gem.
5 – And for fun, the joy of choice, pick a Chris! ;o) Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Chris Rock, Chris Evans or Christopher Plummer (circ. 1964 aka Capt. Von Trapp.)
Recommendations – I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, either with or without romance. My recent favorites are: Priya Parmar’s VANESSA AND HER SISTER, Allison Pataki’s THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS, and Stewart O’Nan’s WEST OF SUNSET.
Drawing – Please leave a comment about your favorite love story in a book or on film for a chance to win a copy of THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE. Enter by 9 pm ET on 8/19, and please share on social media. (US residents only, please.)
It’s Historical Fiction Week at Goodreads! This means there are loads of giveaways and opportunities to ask your favorite authors of historical fiction those burning questions you have.
In celebration of all things historical, 5 copies of THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE are up for grabs. Enter here!
I’m also taking questions at Ask the Author here.
“Maybe I should go there, too, my mother says.
Everyone else, she says,
has a new place to be now.
has gone away.
And now coming back home
isn’t really coming back home
Jacqueline Woodson, BROWN GIRL DREAMING
Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
I had the pleasure of seeing Jacqueline Woodson deliver the Keynote Address at last week’s Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. Rarely does one come across a speech that inspires, humbles, makes one laugh and cry, and ends all too soon. Ms. Woodson’s talk did just that. She enchanted the room with her warmth, humor, and intelligence, and when she concluded, the crowd of hundreds gave her a standing ovation.
I read Woodson’s memoir BROWN GIRL DREAMING on the train home. I could hear her voice in my ear, telling me in verse who she was from the roots up, creating such vivid pictures with her words that I could have been watching a film. From Ohio in the sixties to the Jim Crow south, to New York in the seventies, each time and place are encapsulated vividly in the references to songs, shows, dress, and food, and provide the context for a girl learning who she is from the adults around her. The memoir has won the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, and the Coretta Scott King Award, and all are well deserved.
In Ms. Woodson’s speech, she said, “Going deeply into the emotional truth of the work makes the specific universal.” Because BROWN GIRL DREAMING does just this, it is every child’s story, coming of age in complicated families and cities. It is the kind of book everyone in this country should read right now, because it makes us aware of our shared humanity, and our obligation to give our children a better world than the one in which we currently exist. I give BROWN GIRL DREAMING my highest recommendation.
“…[W]e sat that way for hours. Long enough for me to feel my own density settle more and more completely into the chalky dust. Aeons had made it, out of dissolving mountains, out of endlessly rocking metamorphosis. The things of the world knew so much more than we did and lived them more truly. The thorn trees had no grief or fear. The constellations didn’t fight or hold themselves back, nor did the translucent hook of the moon. Everything was momentary and endless. This time…would fade, and it would last forever.” Paula McLain, Circling the Sun
From the Publisher
Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.
Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.
Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.
If I hadn’t loved McLain’s THE PARIS WIFE, I still would have picked up CIRCLING THE SUN based on the cover alone: so warm it glows with the heat of the African sun, moody with the distant silhouette of the acacia tree, and the brooding woman with bobbed hair wearing slacks and riding boots when women didn’t typically wear slacks. The cover could enfold a Hemingway story–something Kilamanjaro-esque–and my high expectations were met in every way.
Set in Kenya in the 1920s, CIRCLING THE SUN represents the best in historical fiction. It tells the tale of a little known corner of history in beautiful, vivid prose that not only enlivens the period, but will send the reader searching for more information on the people and places depicted in its pages.
Like Hadley Hemingway in THE PARIS WIFE, the protagonist of CIRCLING THE SUN, Beryl Markham, is a complicated woman. Unlike Hadley, however, Beryl takes bold charge of her own destiny. Her decisions are sometimes selfish, often honorable, and occasionally deplorable, but Beryl’s strength of spirit, honesty, and courage redeem her.
Fans of period fiction, family drama, and tragic love stories will be mesmerized by CIRCLING THE SUN. I give it my highest recommendation.
It’s hard to believe a year has passed since GRAND CENTRAL: ORIGINAL STORIES OF POSTWAR LOVE AND REUNION was published. It seems like just a few weeks ago that my fellow anthology authors and I were donning our 40s attire, getting Victory Curls, and standing under the constellations at Grand Central Terminal. Working on that project was both personally and professionally rewarding, and we all continue to keep in touch.
To celebrate our anthology turning one, I am giving away a copy of GRAND CENTRAL. To enter, please leave a comment below by Friday, July 3rd at 9 PM ET with your favorite novel by one of the contributing authors, or your favorite WWII novel. Please share on social media (US only), and good luck!
My novel, The House of Hawthorne, releases in less than two weeks, and I am eager to share the enchanting world of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne with readers. For the first time I do not use a fictional narrator to tell the story, but only the “true characters” from history. From Emerson, to Thoreau, to Franklin Pierce, to Elizabeth Browning, the well-known cast and luscious settings contribute to the rich canvas of the Hawthornes’ lives.
Christina Baker Kline, #1 NY Times Bestselling author of Orphan Train, says this aboutThe House of Hawthorne: “The timeless questions of identity and creative self-expression facing women today are explored in this richly imagined novel about the marriage of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne. Insightful and transportive.”
- Vanity Fair has selectedThe House of Hawthorne for its “Hot Type” feature in June, and DuJour Magazine is featuring the novel in its recommendations for Mother’s Day Gifts.
- I would love to see you (and your book club, if you are in one) at my launch party on Friday, May 8th, 7 PM, at Barnes and Noble in Annapolis, MD. There will be goodies and a giveaway. If you are not able to make the launch or do not live locally, a list of my events may be found here.
- If you use an ereader or would prefer to pre-order a copy of the book, a list of links may be found here.
- I’m delighted to report that audio rights forThe House of Hawthorne have been sold, and the audiobook will be released on May 5th.
- If you are on Goodreads or any online book sites, I would greatly appreciate if you add the book to your “To Read” lists and consider reviewing it once you finish reading.
- If your book club would like to schedule a visit with me (in person or on Skype) please contact me here.
- Finally, for news and oodles of historical fiction giveaways, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or Pinterest.
The House of Hawthorne is especially close to my heart, and will be my first hardcover release. It fills me with joy and gratitude to think of the progress from selling that first box of self-published books out of my car at a wine festival to now. Your support and encouragement have made this possible, and I am so thankful.
In honor of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s love of beauty, art, nature, and family, I am hosting a Mother’s Day giveaway of 2 signed copies of The House of Hawthorne. Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10th, so I will run the giveaway for one week to allow ample time to mail the books in time for the holiday, if you choose to use it as a gift. US residents have until 9 PM ET on Wednesday, April 29th to enter. Comment below about your favorite Hawthorne story, or a reflection on motherhood and family, and please share the post on social media. Good luck!
“Jackman writes well, with great atmosphere…The hard realism and violence, combined with the evocative prose, will intrigue readers of Cormac McCarthy and James Lee Burke.”
Tracing a group of ruthless outlaws from its genesis during the American Civil War all the way to a final bloody stand in the Oklahoma territories, The Winter Family is a hyperkinetic Western noir that reads like a full-on assault to the senses.
Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America’s harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery.
From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there’s a hypnotic logic to Winter’s grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.
With its haunting, hard-edged style, The Winter Family is a feverishly paced meditation on human nature and the dark contradictions of progress.
“[A] blood-soaked historical western covering over three decades of mayhem, from the Civil War to 1900 Los Angeles. There are no good guys here…The strength of the story is Jackman’s vivid portrayal of men who choose violence and lawlessness as their way of life, and the justifications they create to rationalize their immoral behavior. This is a chilling tale. “
— Publisher’s Weekly
If these reviews get you excited, I might have a copy of THE WINTER FAMILY for you. I have a hard time with books of extreme violence, so I chose not to read it, but I can tell you, if Chapter One is a reflection of the larger style, THE WINTER FAMILY is gripping and well written.
The publisher of sent me a hardcover. If you’d like to win it, please comment below about your favorite novels that tackle tough subjects, and share the giveaway on social media. US residents have until Tuesday, April 21st at 9 PM ET to win. Good luck!
“Hemingway learned to believe that stories only become whole when the writer’s words…are allowed to collide with the reader’s own experiences and interpretation.” Robert Wheeler, HEMINGWAY’S PARIS
Walk through the Streets of Paris with Ernest Hemingway.
In gorgeous black and white images, Hemingway’s Paris depicts a story of remarkable passion—for a city, a woman, and a time. No other city in any of his travels was as significant, professionally or emotionally, as was Paris. And it remains there, all of the complexity, beauty, and intrigue that Hemingway described in the pages of so much of his work.
It is all still there for the reader and traveler to experience—the history, the streets, and the city. Restaurants, hotels, homes, sites and favorite bars are all detailed here. The ninety-five black and white photographs in Hemingway’s Paris are of the highest caliber. The accompanying text reveals Wheeler’s deep understanding of the man; his torment, talent, obstacles and the places of refuge needed to nurture one of the preeminent writers of the twentieth century.
Moved by the humanistic writing of the man—a writer capable of transcending his readers to foreign settings and into the hearts and minds of his protagonists—Wheeler was inspired to travel throughout France, Italy, Spain, Africa, and Cuba, where he has sought to gain insight into the motivation behind Hemingway’s books and short stories. As a teacher, lecturer, and photojournalist, he set out to capture and interpret the Paris that Ernest Hemingway experienced in the first part of the century. Through his journal and photographs, Wheeler portrays the intimate connection Hemingway had with the woman he never stopped loving, Hadley, and with the city he loved most, Paris.
I met Robert Wheeler at New Hampshire’s River Run Bookstore where he attended a book talk for my novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. He and his wife, Katherine, warmly welcomed me to the city, and we spent the evening discussing our mutual appreciation for the work of Ernest Hemingway. It was during dinner that Robert revealed a series of stunning black and white photographs he had taken in Paris from “Hemingway’s perspective.” As he passed the pictures to me and described–with great passion and exuberance–the meaning of the photos and their connections to Hemingway’s work, I was overcome by his unique exploration in understanding Hemingway.
It gives me tremendous joy these years later to hold HEMINGWAY’S PARIS, a photo journal of Wheeler’s images and reflections on the famous writer and his beloved city. As clean as the prose of Hemingway himself, the nearly one hundred photographs progress like the sketches of Hemingway’s A MOVEABLE FEAST. HEMINGWAY’S PARIS has inspired me to reread the classic, and has deepened my desire to visit Paris.
Whether you are a lover of Hemingway, Paris, photography, or art, you will find great inspiration on the pages of HEMINGWAY’S PARIS. It would make an excellent gift, display book, or artistic companion, and I will be sure to pack it on my first trip to Paris so I might walk the routes of Ernest Hemingway.
The publisher will provide one copy of HEMINGWAY’S PARIS for a giveaway. Please comment below with your favorite Hemingway story or Paris memory, and share on social media. US residents have until Monday, April 20th at 9 PM ET to win. Bonne chance!
“[S]he is a cautious creature. Given to bone-shattering honesty. Believe all her words…she does nothing by accident. Nor is she careless, like her sister. Virginia would set the house on fire just to watch everyone come running out in pyjamas.” Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister
What if Virginia Woolf’s sister had kept a diary? For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a spellbinding new story of the inseparable bond between Virginia and her sister, the gifted painter Vanessa Bell, and the real-life betrayal that threatened to destroy their family. Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “an uncanny success” and based on meticulous research, this stunning novel illuminates a little-known episode in the celebrated sisters’ glittering bohemian youth among the legendary Bloomsbury Group.
Full disclosure: I first bought VANESSA AND HER SISTER for my ereader, but after forty pages, I was confused by the characters and their nicknames, and could not sink into the very specific rhythm of the story that I sensed was there. Books have a funny way of whispering in my ear, however, so after a few weeks, I purchased the hardcover. Within ten pages I was spellbound by the gorgeous prose, the unique structure, and the very real women and men peopling the story.
Assembled as a series of letters, diary entries, and telegrams, Parmar’s writing is literary, witty, visceral, and captivating. I struggled to find just the right quote to include in this post because I underlined, starred, and dogeared at least a third of the book. (Another plug for paper: one cannot vandalize an ebook in such a satisfying way!) Whether one pauses in a sitting to savor the language, or grows full from devouring large portions of text, either case will leave the reader satisfied and eager for more.
If you do not know anything about Virginia Woolf’s family (as I did not), do not seek out information. Allow this book to begin your education on the fascinating Stephens siblings; allow it to surprise, thrill, anger, and move you as the novel unfolds. If you do have knowledge of the family and the artists of the Bloomsbury Group, enter their space as you never have before to gain new understanding of their movement.
At one point in VANESSA AND HER SISTER, a character says this about art:
“Yes, the public are disconcerted, but that is how art must happen. It cannot be a comfortable, smooth transition from one aesthetic to another. It must bump and jostle and disrupt and shake the ground until the ground gives way…The old does not politely move over to make way for the new; it must be roughly shouldered aside.”
Priya Parmar does just this through her experimental style. She disrupts the common form of the novel and presents us with a telling of such intimacy and immediacy, it is as if the characters are whispering in our ears, conspiring with us. I did not want this book to end, and when it did, I went back to the beginning and started re-reading it. I will keep VANESSA AND HER SISTER close at hand, revisiting the story often for enjoyment and for craft study.
I shudder to think that format almost kept me from enjoying one of my new, all-time favorite novels. If you are a fan of historical fiction, of literary fiction, or of being moved by spectacular writing, I highly recommend VANESSA AND HER SISTER.
**(I do love my ereader; don’t see this as an indictment of the format. It is just that some books are meant to be read on paper, and this is one of them.)**