Check out IndieBound's Next List for the month of June! Find your local IndieBound store to get more information, check out the book, and take it home with you! Some great titles, including Tayari Jones' SILVER SPARROW, the latest Bookreporter.com Bets On pick!
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Elena Gorokhova is the author of the breathtaking memoir A MOUNTAIN OF CRUMBS, one of The Christian Science Monitor’s “10 Best Mother’s Day Books of 2010,” which is now available in paperback. Today, she shares the incredible story of her award-winning mother, who has dedicated her life to the service of others.
Photo: Elena and her mother.
I thought that A MOUNTAIN OF CRUMBS, my memoir about growing up in Soviet Russia, was my memoir. I didn’t know that it was my mother who would become the center of the story. My mother, a mirror image of my Motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. She was a survivor of the famine, Stalin’s terror and the Great Patriotic War, as WWII is known in Russia, and she controlled and protected ferociously. What had happened to her was not going to happen to us.
Almost 70 years ago, in the spring of 1942, a woman carried an unconscious nine-year-old boy into the make-shift hospital where my mother was a surgeon, one kilometer away from the front. It was April, and when the ice on the Volga turned porous and frail, mines frozen into the river began to explode, touched off by the slightest shift, sending flocks of birds into the air and schools of fish to the water’s surface, belly up. Locals with buckets, driven by wartime hunger, waded into the river to collect the unexpected harvest floating among the chunks of ice, setting off more mines.
It was prohibited to treat civilians in a military hospital, but my mother unbuttoned the boy’s quilted jacket and muddy pants and carefully pulled them away from his perforated flesh, revealing blind belly wounds: entrances of shells with no exists. She lifted a scalpel out of the boiling water, made an incision, and pulled apart flaps of skin, exposing multiple intestinal wounds, big and tiny holes in the coils of the boy’s belly. Then she removed each piece of shrapnel, rinsed the boy’s intestines with antiseptic, and sewed up the holes, one by one.
Every day of the war, the soldiers came in trucks from the front, and although she scooped the lice out of their wounds with a teacup and cleaned the flaps of torn tissue as diligently as she could, lice festered in layers of dirty bandages, keeping the wounded awake and screaming throughout the night. They were younger than she was, those wounded boys --- her brother’s age --- and she peered into their dusty faces, clinging to a shred of hope that, in some miraculous way, her brother, who was stationed on the Polish border when German tanks crossed into Russia on June 22, 1941, would be brought into her hospital for her to heal. She hoped her brother was not among the thousands of bodies she knew had been plowed into the warm summer earth of western Russia. She hoped for a quick victory in the Great Patriotic War.
Her brother never came home, and the Victory took five long, excruciating years.
May 9th is the a
Bestselling author Erica Bauermeister’s forthcoming title, JOY FOR BEGINNERS, is a book about women, for women. Below, she thanks her own mother for showing her that reading was a free pass to privacy, and for introducing her to a very special --- and rather feminist --- children’s book that would later appear in her first novel.
I was the fourth daughter in six years; my brother arrived eight years later. Suffice to say, my mother rarely had time to read unless it was to us. But I knew she loved books from the ones she read aloud or put into our hands as we got old enough to do the job for ourselves. I was a cautious child and she gave me Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne of Green Gables, girl characters from Indonesia and Africa and Europe, from my own time and long ago, road maps for a more confident life.
In the midst of a house full of people, reading was a free pass to privacy. On long road trips, my mother allowed me to hide in the far back of the station wagon, surrounded only by luggage, slipping deeply and blissfully into my book of the moment. She gave me what I’m sure she almost never had for herself –-- a room of my own –-- and taught me that it didn’t have to be a physical space.
Then I hit adolescence, and just like so many of the characters I had read about, I lost sight of how intelligent my mother was. I went to college and graduate school and became inflamed with frustration at the lack of women authors represented in the literature classes I took. I set out to counteract a deep injustice –-- one that I was quite certain I had discovered all on my own. I co-authored a book called 500 GREAT BOOKS BY WOMEN, and then, with my own daughter in mind, I set to work on a reader’s guide for children called LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS. In the process I got to revisit Laura and Anne; I got to find books about girls from around the world. And in the midst of that research I came across a book that I had forgotten all about –-- a children’s story of a country bunny and gold shoes. But this time I read it as a mother and it stopped me in my tracks.
There is a moment in my novel, THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, when Isabelle is remembering her life as a young mother, when she would read to her daughters “the story of the country bunny, until they quieted into sleep and she sat and thought about having golden slippers that would let her fly around the world and do extraordinary things and be back by morning.” I didn’t include the title of the book on purpose --– the scene was, among other things, a love note to my mother. I figured if readers caught the
New York Times bestselling author Chelsea Cain --- whose latest thriller, THE NIGHT SEASON, hit stores on March 1 --- was not your ordinary child. Below, she honors the mother who left little treasures between pages, and who documented Chelsea’s childhood days in the jackets of her books.
That first word I learned to write was “flower.” Lame, right? It was the seventies, what can I say? Most kids learn to write their names. Not me. My teacher wrote the word “flower” on an index card and gave it to me. She gave me a word. I felt like Moses. The first thing I did was write a book. It was a simple narrative. Just the word flower, over and over again. I stapled the pages together, and illustrated it. Sales were disappointing, but the reviews were solid.
Despite this early promise, my plan was not to become a professional writer, or a world famous horticulturalist. I was going to be a firedog. My parents supported this. Neither one pointed out that I was not a Dalmatian. They were hippies, and I guess didn’t want to be buzz kills.
I continued to write all the time as a kid. I was always storming off into my room to “work on my novel.” But I never imagined that I would be an author. A firedog, yes, but an author? That seemed unattainable.
In retrospect, it amazes me that I ever thought that I’d do anything else.
My mother hid money in books. If you want your kid to read a lot, I really suggest you try this. Opening a book at our house was always a thrilling proposition because I never knew what would flutter out of it: a two-dollar bill, a pressed flower, an old postcard. The flowers and postcards went back in the pages. But the cash went straight to the candy store. Talk about positive reinforcement. I couldn’t wait to pull a book off a shelf.
Even at our food-stamp-free-lunch poorest, my mother bought books. She found them at thrift stores, garage sales, and used bookstores. Do not dog-ear books, she told me. Do not read them in the tub. This from a woman who wrote in every book she ever gave me. The inscription would include when they were given, the occasion, what we’d been doing that day, where we’d come from, where we were going, why that book at that time. I never kept a journal, but I can pretty much piece my life together reading what my mother wrote on the inside of the book jackets of my childhood.
My mother tricked me into loving poetry. She appealed to my competitive instincts by instituting a mother-daughter poetry slam. We each memorized poems. She from THE NEW YORKER BOOK OF POETRY, me from A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES. Then we’d re
Rae Meadows' novel MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS deals with the complexities of family bonds through three generations. In this interview, Rae and her own mother, Jane, discuss their relationship over the years.
Jane, after reading Rae’s novel, do you feel like you have a different sense of the complexity of the relationship between the two of you? Rae, did you think differently of your relationship with your mother after you had spent so much time with Iris, Sam, and Violet?
Jane: I have always thought my relationship with Rae was pretty straightforward. However, it occurred to me at one point while reading MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS that since Rae‘s characters had complicated relationships with their mothers, that perhaps complexity had been part of our relationship, at least for her, and that I had been unaware of its presence. The self-reprimand soon followed that if indeed this was a factor, then I should have caught it and tapped into it.
Rae:My mom and I have had a remarkably un-fraught relationship, but I did think about her often while I was writing this book. She has lived so much life --- she ‘s a beautiful and amazing eighty-one --- and I think in pondering questions for the characters, it made me wonder what it would be like to see my mom as a young single woman or newly married or a first- time mother. This past Christmas she mentioned that she once had dated a professional hockey player named Moose, and I was reminded of how even though I have heard a lot of stories about her life, there is an endless supply of things I don’t know.
Do you think (as Iris mentions) that having children is a way to try and understand one’s own mother? Jane, did you learn a lot about your mother when you had children? Rae, did you?
Jane:Perhaps many might find this to be helpful, but personally I never sought to better understand my mother. I didn’t need to. She was an honest, loving, demonstrative being whom I loved and trusted.
Rae: Although for me it wasn’t a conscious thing, I feel like I have learned so much about my mom since becoming a mother. That intense, unfailing love mixed with worry that she exuded is something I know now on a gut level. My mom had breast cancer when her daughters were eight, five, and three, and I don’t think I fully understood what strength and courage this required until I became a mother and tried to imagine myself in the same position.
The existence of the orphan trains is such a fascinating, yet seemingly forgotten part of American history. Rae has said that you introduced her to the subject, Jane, which sparked her to write Mothers and Daughters. How did you hear about the orphan trains? What was your initial reaction to this piece of history?
Jane:I was waiting for Rae to arrive at the airport in Cleveland, and I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me who was also waiting for her daughter. She mentioned that her daughter had done some research on the Orphan Train Movement of the early part of the twentieth
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The author of a string of New York Times bestsellers --- her latest book in the Looking Glass Trilogy, QUICKSILVER (published as Amanda Quick), hit stores April 19 --- Jayne Ann Krentz uses three different pen names for each of her three "worlds” of romance novels. Today, she hones in on the world of her childhood, and a mother who read to her when she was in the cradle.
I learned pretty much everything I needed to know in life from Mom. She was a believer in the whole karma thing –-- what goes around, comes around --– long before karma was cool. She held strong convictions on the importance of not overcooking vegetables. And she never neglected her standing appointments at the hair salon and her weekly manicures which ensured that, until the very end, she always looked twenty years younger than anyone else at her retirement community.
But most of all I learned that reading was not a spectator sport.
Television, on the other hand, was a spectator sport so the rule was that when you watched TV you were expected to do something else at the same time. You ironed or folded laundry while you watched TV. You knitted while you watched TV. You made up a grocery list while you watched TV. Yep, Mom was into multi-tasking before there was a name for it. But, then, what mom isn’t?
Reading, however, was different. Mom read to us kids while we were in the cradle. And it was clear from the very start that reading was not a spectator sport. When you read a book it was understood that you were expected to be wholly engaged. Mom taught by example that reading for pleasure --– unlike watching TV --– was an entirely legitimate pursuit. One did not have to justify what one read. Nancy Drew or Shakespeare, reading did not require any apologies. The concept of a book club struck her as very odd. She read what she wanted to read, not what someone else told her she should read. She was delighted to talk about books but she did not view them as an excuse to socialize. When she wanted to be with other people, she played killer bridge or went out to dinner or to a concert with friends.
Mom read widely, non-fiction and fiction. With non-fiction, she expected to learn something. When it came to fiction she demanded two things from a book: a good story and a happy ending. See, Mom was an optimist and a big believer in the power of positive thinking. She saw no point in filling her very creative mind with negative energy. There was enough of that in the daily news.
I have always read the same way Mom did and for the same reasons. And that is also how I write. I tell the story to myself, first, last and always. If I tried to write for someone else –-- an imaginary reader, for example --– I wouldn’t be able to get past the first sentence. Writing --– like reading –-- is not a spectator sport.
And I want the same thing Mom did from fiction, whether I’m reading it or writing it: a good st
With three praised novels and a memoir under her belt, Diana Abu-Jaber will release BIRDS OF PARADISE --- a multilayered novel about a family that comes apart at the seams --- later this year, on September 6. Today, her mother recalls Diana’s early talent, and cautions those with writers as children!
Did you have any book or reading rituals in your house?
Books have been a huge part of our family. Diana's father always boasted that his mother was the first woman in Jordan to have her own library. She brought her books with her when, as a refugee, her family fled Palestine to live in Jordan. Her maternal grandmother was the first, and the only, one of her six brothers and sisters to go to college and become a teacher.
Did you read to Diana as a child? What did you read?
As a child, Diana would sit with her precious bunny, while I read my own favorite book, THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, to her --- it’s a story about a toy rabbit that is loved so much, it becomes real. Once Diana learned to read herself, there was no stopping her. She entertained us with stories and jokes during our long ride from Syracuse to New Jersey to visit grandma.
When did you know she was going to be a writer?
I knew Diana had real talent when her high school social studies teacher wrote her a letter thanking her for a report she had done. She had written it through the eyes of two camels. She and her cousins were inspired by "Jesus Christ Superstar," and they wrote a play that they acted out at home. She also entered a writing contest as a junior and won an invitation to attend a month-long workshop at Wells College in Aurora, NY.
What authors, besides your daughter’s books, do you read?
Since then, she has only become even more creative and proficient. Although Diana is my favorite author, I also enjoy classic stories, such as novels by John Steinbeck. I especially like the descriptive writing about the settings and the history of the people and places, along with the strong stories.
What’s it like being the mother of a published author?
It's amazing and awesome to have a brilliantly talented child, but I offer a note of caution: One never knows when something you have said or done will end up being written on a page for all the world to read.
Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of several novels, including the highly anticipated BIRDS OF PARADISE, which will be available in stores
With a black belt in karate and a penchant for exotic travel, Bethany Maines isn’t too far off from the female spy in her books BULLETPROOF MASCARA and COMPACT WITH THE DEVIL. Below, her mother discusses their early family reading tradition (which didn’t involve spies or ninjas), and spills info about Bethany’s latest project.
Photo: Bethany and her mom taking a break from reading.
Did you read to your daughter as a child? What did you read?
Our family didn’t have a TV (by choice) until our children were in late elementary school so I was the family reader. Reading time was family time and my husband joined Bethany, her older brother Lyle, and me on our reading adventures.
We read everything from Babar and Winnie-the-Pooh, through a variety of series like Trixie Belden and Dig Allen Space Explorer, all the Anne of Green Gables books as well as Tolkien and Mark Twain.
In fact we read through the Tolkien trilogy three times over a period six years. My husband had never read them and his birthday was the same as Bilbo’s and Frodo’s: September 22. So, on September 22, when Beth was three and a half and Lyle was six, we started THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and probably finished all three books some time after Christmas. I’m sure the first time through, the kids didn’t get all of it and I know, in parts, I just gave my husband the abridged version, but they loved the story and the language. It became a family tradition for Dad’s birthday two years later and two years after that.
How old was Bethany when she started reading?
Bethany was five and I had been working to help my son with his reading. He is Dyslexic. Beth had been hanging around watching and finally I realized I couldn’t slow her down any longer. I remember asking her, “Do you want to learn to read today?” She thought she might like that and an hour or so later she was officially a reader.
Did you have any book or reading rituals in your house?
We always read and we always talked about the books we read. We still do.
When did you know she was going to be a writer? Can you remember Bethany writing as a child?
Bethany started writing about the time she started reading but she was also an excellent visual artist so I just tried to encourage her creativity however it emerged. She wrote stories and kept journals throughout her childhood. In fact, she is not only a writer, but she has a degree in graphic design.
A New York Times bestseller occasionally known as Kathleen Korbel, Eileen Dreyer is the author of NEVER A GENTLEMAN, the latest installment of the Drake’s Rakes series, which hit the shelves on March 29th. Below, she shares a touching tribute to her late mother, who taught her how to live --- and even more importantly --- how to share.
Photo: Eileen's mother
"Life's a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death." The line is from Auntie Mame. The sentiment is my mom's. How did my mom influence me toward my life as an author? She died never knowing that I dreamed of being a published author. In fact, it was her death that inspired me to get off the pot, as she used to say, and give publishing a try. So, what did she contribute to my career?
She inspired me by that quote. That sentiment. My mom didn't just repeat Mame's words, she believed them. She only lived 56 years. She never saw a foreign country, or headed a corporation, or ran for office. But it will always amaze me how much my mom squeezed out of what many would call a small life. She lived her motto so thoroughly that recently, when my dad died almost 30 years to the day later, we got almost as many reminiscences of my mom as we did my dad.
There’s another quote I like to use, which is from Secondhand Lions. "They lived. They really lived." Change the pronoun, and it would have been a perfect eulogy for my mom.
My mom's choices were constrained by economy, tradition and need. My mom was a writer, too. But she was also a child of the Depression. Depression children tended to set aside dreams in favor of making sure the house was paid for. So with her family's blessing, she became a nurse. After all, nurses could support themselves. And as anybody who's ever tried to get published knows, the same can't be said for us.
She did write. But it was church bulletins and parish plays, and the most amazing letters. And even though seven children pretty much defined where her life would go, she never stopped learning. She had an appetite for life that was unmatched. She read voraciously and sang at the top of her lungs (she always said that, since God gave her a voice, He had to listen to it), and she loved her children loudly. And she had an amazing way of sharing everything she learned or experienced or believed, which, if you come down to it, is what a writer does.
My mom taught me to be hungry. Not for food (although I have an exceptional talent for that); for knowledge. For experience. For living. I, too, became a nurse because it paid the bills. But I became an ER nurse, because I knew that I would experience more there, learn more, feel more. And as an author, I've been lucky enough to share it all.
I've learned from Olympic skiers, film directors, FBI profilers, fertility specialists, reenactors, forensic psychologists, Hindu holy men, army nurses, forensic anthropologists, tall ship captains, New Orleans cab drivers --- well, I could go on forever. Technically, I interview them for my books. But every time, I learn something new, or have a new experience (For one book, I took the training to become a medic on a SWAT team
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