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Literature, life, reflections on books read and books written. Photography and videologs are integral to the postings.
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1. oh, my friends, look what I have. look who.

How glorious it is to receive books from loved friends, and loved writers. The third Ruta Sepetys novel, the already-much-acclaimed Salt to the Sea, is here. And I can't wait to read. You'll hear more from me on this once this veil of supreme busyness passes.

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2. LOVE arrives (and Temple did such a good job)

In the midst of a busy afternoon, two copies of LOVE arrive in all their hardbound glory.

I have stopped.

I have paged through.

Temple University Press, you did an amazing job. The photos are rich, the paper is kind, the cover broadcasts our love for our city.

Thank you.

LOVE is now officially on sale.

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3. Carrying the great A.S. King and Patricia McCormick forward, in This Is the Story of You

My actual beach book. 
Due out next spring, from Chronicle Books.
Thank you, A.S. King and Patty McCormick. 
For the words.
For the friendship.

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4. let's talk about LOVE: my video interview with Gary Kramer of Temple University Press

What a pleasant thing it was to travel to the city, to meet my friend and Temple Press publicist Gary Kramer for an extended stroll through favorite places, and to be introduced to Dan Marcel, a talented videographer, photographer, and film maker, who created two separate videos.

First is my interview with Gary, about the making of Love: A Philadelphia Affair

The second provides a partial city tour—particularly Locust Walk, 30th Street Station, and Schuylkill Banks—as well as brief readings from the book.

Love, which has been kindly endorsed by some of Philadelphia's great leaders, will launch in early September. On October 7, at 7:30, I'll be celebrating its release on the Free Library of Philadelphia stage with Marciarose Shestak. Please consider joining us there. 

Dan Marcel is a marvel—well-named, I've said. You can find out more about his Marcelevision Media here; I highly recommend him. Please listen, too, to the original song, "Trailing Whispers," written and performed for the second production by Dan's mother, Susan.

Gary Kramer (who is not just Temple's publicist but a powerhouse film critic, a Salon.com writer, a Bryn Mawr Film Institute lecturer, among other things):. You made this happen and I could talk to you forever. Thank you.

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5. Chronicle, you make beautiful books. Thank you.

Two weeks ago I shared the absolutely gorgeous cover for This Is the Story of You—my novel due out from Chronicle next April. It's a beach novel and a mystery. A survival story and a tale of friendship and a lost sisterhood.

Last night, after a long day, I was sitting on the couch in a form of melt when dear Taylor Norman, Chronicle editor, sent along the final PDF file for the book's ARC.

Friends, it's beautiful. Carefully considered, page by page. Remarkably built. Accompanied by friends. (A.S. King and Patty McCormick, you're here with me.) And also — a most moving and welcome surprise — a gorgeous reader letter from Ginee Seo, Children's Publishing Director.

The package, the letter, the care, the assurance that my friends with travel with me down this path—Chronicle, you make some of the most beautiful books in this business. I'm so proud to have traveled to Berlin, then to Florence, and now to the Jersey Shore with you.

Thank you.

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6. Reviewing Julianna Baggott's Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders (New York Journal of Books)

A very happy publication day to Julianna Baggott and her immensely wonderful Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders. Baggott spent years getting this book right, she has explained in interviews. Her dad helped with research, her acknowledgments say. And anyone who has witnessed Baggott in social media knows her heart is always in the right place. Her mind, too.

My review in full is here.

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7. I'm starting from scratch, I said. Isn't that wonderful, she answered

I'm starting from scratch, I told a friend the other day. She on her phone, me on mine. I had walked a few miles during our conversation. We'd traveled to Montana and back in time, through clay work and literature, through architecture and family woe, and now I was still walking and we were still talking, and I said, J: I'm starting from scratch.

I meant that I had been sent back to very birth of things in my art and my career. That everything was a very brand new. That nothing was sure, nothing was predestined, I had no sure writing home, no sure writing brand, nothing sure at all, except the stories in my head.

It's like I never published before, I said.

Isn't that wonderful, she answered.

Isn't that wonderful. Starting over, starting fresh, taking nothing for granted, asking questions I haven't asked for twenty years. Twenty-one books are twenty-one books, but I dwell in the here and now. I make for the sake of making. I push (can push) too far. And where I am, and how it's been—I'm starting all over again.

Isn't that wonderful.

Yes, J. It is. I am afraid, I am raw, I don't know, I'm on my own, and it is wonderful. It is brave and uneasy and I'm alive with it, alert to it, figuring it out. Again.

Yes, J. It is.

But so are you, for saying so. And so all the many friends who have accompanied me in this summer of questions, of starting over again. I stepped back and took it slow. You've been there. I thank you.

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8. when an innovative approach to the page becomes a suspect tic (David Foster Wallace)

I went to see "The End of the Tour," the David Foster Wallace film. I knew that, in some ways, I should not have been there. That Wallace's family vigorously opposed the film, gave no permission, did not want this famously private self to be re-enacted.

I respect that.

And. I was engaged, moved, saddened, heartened as I sat there in a packed theater watching the film. What a man, what a mind, what tender nuance was he. That bandana and those dogs. His wanting to be accurate, not shaped, not distorted by his bitter Rolling Stone interviewer, David Lipsky. His desire to live free of the self-doubt that accompanies both fame and obscurity.

This morning, in the wake of that cinematic experience, I read as much as I could about Wallace's widow, Karen Green—her art, her writing, her memoir. Having watched the film I felt it necessary to balance me out with her words.

Inside a Guardian interview, I was returned to Wallace himself, to words written to Jonathan Franzen in a 2005 email. Here Wallace is talking about the difficulty of writing past the known beats and grammar. Of continuously going out to a new edge so that one does not repeat oneself. His words brought to mind all the writers I've read who burst onto the scene with something new, refine that new over the next few books (if they are that lucky, few are), and then begin to tread the same water, return to the same tricks, become a parody of themselves, become (I have used this word a lot this summer, for I've reflected, perhaps too much, on all I've seen) a brand.

That's it, right? How do writers not become a parody of themselves? How do they avoid getting locked into their own deliberate constructions?

Wallace, who had so much to teach us, was thinking about that here:

 "Karen is killing herself rehabbing the house. I sit in the garage with the AC blasting and work very poorly and haltingly and with (some days) great reluctance and ambivalence and pain. I am tired of myself, it seems: tired of my thoughts, associations, syntax, various verbal habits that have gone from discovery to technique to tic. It's a dark time workwise, and yet a very light and lovely time in all other respects."

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9. recent kiln work

Bill threw these pots. I glazed them. A happy collaboration.

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10. writers: let us improve upon our caricatures

"Author tours should not be confused with the rock-and-roll variety. Where bands face a baying throng in a cavernous stadium, writers drone through random chunks of their work at the rear of provincial bookstores, signing copies in the faint hope that the newly enhanced volumes will not appear on eBay before breakfast."

Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, reviewing "The End of the Tour"

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11. Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story. My thoughts in NY Journal of Books

I had the pleasure of reviewing Barefoot to Avalon, David Payne's memoir about the loss of a beautiful brother who faced the demons of Bipolar I, for the New York Journal of Books. Payne's brother was the blessed one, the favored one, a young man much loved. When he dies helping the author move his belongings to a new southern home, Payne is left with the past—sifting clues, pushing beyond old hurts, admonishing himself for not paying closer attention.

It's a knotty, layered, intricate read. It is compelling and urgent. A reminder of the terrible power of mental unwellness and lost chances.

My complete review is here.

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12. F. Scott Fitzgerald Comes to Stay

I've been in love with this guy for a very long time.

He has lived at my parents' stately home for many years.

Last night he came to live with me.

With you looking over my shoulder, F. Scott, I will try and I will try.

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13. the writer in the world: an interview

A few months ago I was very privileged to share an excerpt from a work-in-progress (an "adult" story) with Clockhouse, the beautiful new literary magazine. Recently, Heather Leah Huddleston, a key member of the Goddard community, asked if I might agree to a follow-on interview. Of course, I said, to this very dear and talented soul.

And so, today, that interview goes live. I'm talking about the difference between writing for adults and teens, the frustrations I've faced, the stuff I don't do well, and the life choices I make, on a daily basis.

It's all here.

Thank you, Heather. And thanks, too, to Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, one of my dearest friends in this wide world, who first bridged me to Heather and to Goddard. Reiko lives in Brooklyn. I live where I live. Even so, sometimes, like just yesterday, I take a walk, dial her number, and live in her company for a glorious while. A true forever friend.

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14. what makes a book small?

It's been some time since I wrote that fifth memoir, Ghosts in the Garden—a meditation on the two years I spent walking Chanticleer (in Wayne, PA). I was at a crossroads. Middle aged. Not sure. Pondering my purpose.

Published by New World Library, this slender book, about a well-loved but entirely local garden (every garden is an entirely local garden), went on to be reviewed in papers across the country (I could not have guessed that) and to be translated (this was an even bigger surprise) in South Korea. It sold out of its original modest printing of 5,000 copies and was never reprinted.

Done. Gone. Another Kephartian exercise, by most standards, in the small.

And yet. Every now and then the book returns to my life. This past week it did, in the form of this photograph—a South Korean garden lover who had read the translation in her country (she holds it in her left hand) and come here, to Wayne, PA, to find the garden with her husband.

A book brought a reader across the ocean to a garden.

What makes a book small? What makes a book big? I wish we never had to ask that question. I wish that we'd stop quantifying authors by sales or prizes and take solace in stories about individual readers who allowed a book to prompt a journey.

One book. One reader. One garden. One sunny day. One surprising photograph. Two smiles on two faces.

Thank you, BJ, for sending that smile my way.

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15. This Is the Story of You: Cover Reveal

Next April, This Is the Story of You will be released by Chronicle Books. It's a book for those of you who love the beach (and a good mystery), those who care about the environment, those who wonder about those storms and survival in the age of the Anthropocene.

Today I'm so grateful to the entire Chronicle team—designer Jen as well as Tamra, Taylor, Ginee, Sally, Jaime, Lara—for seeing this story through. I so look forward to holding it in my hands.

Tamra, we are four books strong. And this is our beach tale.

With thanks to Tom, Nancy, Jess, and Stephen, who told me their own stormy stories. With thanks to Sean Banul, my student, who lifted the paw of his cat in a scene he wrote and gave me, in that instant, the brave-tender character of my Mira Banul.

A description:
On Haven, a six mile long, one-half mile wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But when a super storm defies all predictions and devastates the island, when it strands Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland and upends all logic, nothing will ever be as it was. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing is gone. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future.

Gripping and poetic, This Is the Story of You is about the beauty of nature and the power of family, about finding hope in the wake of tragedy and recovery in the face of overwhelming loss.

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16. thoughts on dispositional gratitude, from my son and David Brooks

Did you read David Brooks on "The Structure of Gratitude" last week in the New York Times? His thoughts on being grateful, on "the sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness"? His thoughts on those who seem "thankful practically all of the time"?


These people may have big ambitions, but they have preserved small anticipations. As most people get on in life and earn more status, they often get used to more respect and nicer treatment. But people with dispositional gratitude take nothing for granted. They take a beginner’s thrill at a word of praise, at another’s good performance or at each sunny day. These people are present-minded and hyperresponsive.

This kind of dispositional gratitude is worth dissecting because it induces a mentality that stands in counterbalance to the mainstream threads of our culture.

Brooks concludes: "People with grateful dispositions see their efforts grandly but not themselves. Life doesn’t surpass their dreams but it nicely surpasses their expectations."

I was struck by this column when I first read it. I thought of the most grateful person I know—my son—who  never fails to see the beauty in a day, the goodness in another, the possibility in an hour. Among the countless things I've learned from him is the power of looking for and seeing the good. It's a better way to greet the day. And it gets you going places.

So that my texts and calls from my son are always cast in light. Beautiful day, he'll say, on heading out. Good day at the office, he'll say at day's end. Just talked to a really cool person in the park. Just ran by the river, and it's gorgeous out there.

Beautiful day. Good day. Great day. Gorgeous. My son's messages are bits of magic—interruptions in any darkness or churning I might be feeling at that instant. Wait, I'll think when the phone pings and it's him. It really is a beautiful day. Or, yeah. Every day can be conceived or reconceived into some kind of happy.

Why not do that reconceiving, my son reminds me. Why not reap the rewards of looking for brightness? I don't always get it right; sometimes I wallow. But then a sunshine text comes in, and I think: Yeah. Right. Why not be grateful?

And so this post script. My son knows precisely what he wants to do with his life (the perfect job taps his great strengths in statistics, new media, pop culture, demographics, and trend spotting) and two months ago, he was hired as a contract employee at the perfect company. A six-month job, but glory, he was going to take it, and every day he's been there—happy to stay late, happy to do more, happy to take on more training, happy to do, happy to be around people he respects and people who clearly respect him. My son wasn't going to worry (like his mother tends to worry) that it was just a six-month contract. He was just going to love the days he had. He was going to remind me, when the topic arose, how lucky he was to be where he was. Right now. The future would come. But someday.

Turns out my son didn't have to worry. Turns out he was right all along. The future would come, and earlier this week he was offered a full-time job at this company that he loves.

I have to think his aura of gratitude worked in his favor. I have to keep learning from him.

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17. the fame trap. thoughts on the responsiblities of artists and their fans, after viewing "Amy"

Every representation of a person's life is just that—a representation. A curation. A summary. An interpretation.

I know that. I off went to see "Amy," the deeply moving documentary about the great singer, Amy Winehouse, fully aware that what I was about to witness was a life encoded by footage and recall, and not a life itself.

Still. There are some incontestable things about this British singer with a genius touch and a tortured relationship with her own talent. First (incontestable): she could sing. Second (I think it's clear): she wasn't always sure of who to trust. Third: she died too young of alcohol poisoning in a body winnowed to near nothing by too many drugs and an eating disorder.

Fourth: Winehouse never originally wanted to be famous, never thought she would be famous, never imagined herself capable of fame. She is there, in the footage, saying so. But fame became hers, fame became her, and she had to live, and die, with the consequences.

There is a dividing line between those who make things in order to be known or seen, and those whose loyalties lie with the things themselves—the songs, the films, the stories. There are those who craft themselves into a brand—who orchestrate aggrandizements, who leverage opportunities, who seek out "friendships" that will advance them, who overstay their welcome, who build cliques that further not their art but their careers, who ricochet with gossip. And there are those who (I think, in the book world, of Alice McDermott, Marilynne Robinson, and Michael Ondaatje) seek out private quiet. Yes, they cede to interviews and talks and touring when their books are released. But they also vanish from public view, and consumption, just as soon as they're able.

Fame—a seething hope for it—is not what propels them.

Watching "Amy," one wants to turn back time. To give the artist her creative space. To let her walk the streets without the blinding pop of cameras. One wants to give her what matters most—room for the everyday and the ordinary. Supremely talented, unwittingly destined, Amy Winehouse suffered. She made choices, certainly. She faced a wall of personal demons. But the media that stalked her and the fans who turned hold some responsibility for what happened.

Artists have the responsibility to do their work for the right reasons. They have responsibility to the work itself—to not sell out, to not write to trends, to not step on others in their quest for something.

But fans have responsibilities, too. To give the artists room to make, to risk, to sometimes fail. To love artists for who they are and what they do and not for whether or not, in this bracket of time, they appear to be potentially famous. To see artists as people who would be better off, who would be healthier, given some time to live with dignity instead of trailing endless glitter.

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18. pondering life's pauses, and turns, at Andalusia, in today's Inquirer

In the Philadelphia Inquirer today I'm thinking about serenity—how we need it, where we find it—at Andalusia, along the Delaware River.

A link to the story is here.

A link to my blog post about the children I met and taught at this Biddle mansion is here.

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19. remembering a Mayor Nutter moment in Philadelphia

Philadelphia. I love her. I write about her. I celebrate her. But don't think that I can't see. This can be a hard-knock city. It doesn't always love you back.

Today I'm remembering a moment I will forever cherish. Dangerous Neighbors, my Centennial novel, being featured as part of a First Book celebration. Mayor Nutter, standing beside me, signed my books for 120-plus young people who had never owned a book before.

I was honored.

I always am.

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20. My mother's brother and mother. Such love we had.

Images of two people who shaped my childhood and taught me so much about grace and love.



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21. My earliest public words about and for Philadelphia

Long before I was writing essays for the Inquirer or novels enriched by my city I was a 25-year-old marketing coordinator for Cope Linder Associates, a Philadelphia architecture firm. I got the job in part because of my great uncle's role in the creation of the Waldorf Astoria, the Pierre Hotel, and dozens of other major buildings (I had a degree in history from Penn, but I could talk architecture in interviews). I stayed with the company not just because of the friends I met along the way (one friend became my husband), but also because of the opportunities I was given. Organize the photo library. Write proposals. Research potential clients.

And go in and out of libraries on behalf of projects like Penn's Landing. I found the Philly firsts that are inscribed along the plaza. I collected the art and wrote some of the captions for the placards. It felt like a big deal then, and today, returning to the old plaza by the Delaware River with that very same husband I felt a surge of Philly pride.

I may be so much older.

I still love the same things (and man).

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22. One Thing Stolen beautifully illustrated and excerpted in Main Line Today

Hugely grateful to Hobart Rowland at Main Line Today for including One Thing Stolen in the Big Summer Read edition of his magazine. And happy to be spending time there with my friends Kelly Simmons and Daniel Torday.

A link to the full story is here.

Gratitude is here but also where nobody but me can see it.

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23. Marciarose Shestack, broadcast pioneer, will join me at the Free Library, to launch Love: A Philadelphia Affair

This, up there—the gorgeous woman seated beside Tom Snyder—is Marciarose Shestack.

The first woman to anchor a prime time daily news show in a major market (famously rivaling Walter Cronkite in the ratings). The face of ABC, KYW, Noon News, and her own "Marciarose Show." A film and theater critic. A woman who regularly sat with presidents. A credible and beloved analyst of culture, history, and politics.

Marciarose—still gorgeous. Once my mother's friend, and, today, my own.

How grateful I am to her, then, that she has accepted my invitation to join me on the Free Library of Philadelphia stage as I launch Love: A Philadelphia Affair (Temple University Press) on October 7, at 7:30.

I hope that you will join us—and take this opportunity to meet this Philadelphia legend on a night dedicated to Philadelphia love.

With thanks to Andy Kahan, always, for opening the door.

Love will go on sale on September 7.

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24. a most incredible Bank Street Book Fest

How lucky am I?

What an incredible line-up.

I will learn so much.

I am grateful.

Thank you, Jennifer Brown, Bank Street, and all those writers, reviewers, librarians, teachers, thinkers that I will learn from soon.

You can register at Bank Street College. And I hope you will.

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25. Start Where You Are — an illustrated journal by Meera Lee Patel

Meera Lee Patel (illustrator, innovator, gentle soul) entered my life through a quiet door, sending me glory in the midst of worry, kindness in the form of a small book, goodness in the form of a nest.

And then, this week, her newest creation—Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration. It's a book of quiet urgings. It yields room to reflect. It asks us to breathe, to clear our minds, and to move forward.

It gives us the words of others, and it gives us Meera herself, who, in her introduction, writes:
I spent a lot of my years longing for the past or waiting for the future to arrive, confused about where I was and where I wanted to go.... I welcomed distraction. I ventured down various paths for the sake of going somewhere, even though none of them took me close to where I wanted to go.
And then.

By simply going forward, Meera says, she wrote, and is still writing, the story of her life.

I don't know how your summer is going, but mine is somewhere between cataclysmic and silent. Or maybe both things at once. I don't know where you are in your life, but I stand at the bottom of a mountain looking up, bewildered and saddened and determined to push on.

Meera's book whispers, Push on. Push on. It's as lovely as she is. It's now available from Perigee (Penguin Random House). It's another Meera gift.

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