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1. The Thing About Jellyfish/Ali Benjamin: a major new voice for younger readers (for all readers)

When Jessica Shoffel speaks, I listen.

She's the sort of person who makes you feel seen. The sort who, as a Penguin publicist, didn't just oversee the campaigns of mega-watt writers like Laurie Halse Anderson and Jacquelyn Woodson, but also took time to read my novel Small Damages, to tell me how the story worked within her, and to create a glorious press release and campaign on its behalf. The sort who stood with me through a difficult time. The sort who found me alone at the Decatur, GA, book festival and included me in conversations, in a dinner, in a memorable hour with Tomie dePaulo. The sort who makes time in a hugely busy life to reach out to young people who have experienced loss, to run marathon races on behalf of medical research, and to talk to a dear family member, Kelsey, about what it is like to work among books. Jess is smart and gracious and kind and hard working. She is there. She is present. She is with you; she is for you. She is a rare kind of sisterhood.

And so when Jess wrote a few weeks ago to tell me about a book she had just read in her new role as Director of Publicity for Little Brown and Company's Books for Young Readers, when she said it was my kind of book, I didn't for one instant doubt her. Can I send it to you? she asked. Of course, I said.

And so it arrived. And so I have read it.

This book—this gorgeous, intelligent, moving, seamless, award-destined, Andrea Spooner edited book—is a debut middle grade novel by Ali Benjamin called The Thing About Jellyfish. Everything about this story enwraps, engages, enraptures. Its frizzy-haired, science-leaning, universe-scanning narrator who has lost her former best friend. Its obsession with the jellies that bloom incessantly within our seas, leave the big whales hungry, endanger us with their undying stings. Its child-hearted hopes and its big-minded mix of science and mystery. Its neat division into paper parts—purpose, hypothesis, straight through to conclusion. Its language—just the right bright, the right curious. (I could quote from every single line and prove that to you; Ali Benjamin never writes anything less than a wonderful sentence.) The science itself—impeccably (never intrusively) filtered into this story about friendship, family, school, and school teachers who care.

And then—watch—Diana Nyad appears. Diana Nyad, the endurance swimmer who refused to give up on her dream. The endurance swimmer who braved the countless jellyfish stings and made it to the other side. Symbol, hero, character. There she is, in this most exquisite book.

(For more on Diana and her relationship with my friend and agent Amy Rennert, read here. And look for Diana's much buzzed memoir, Find a Way, out in October).

In this summer of contemplation, this summer of weighing the odds, of wondering through the writing again, of maybe or maybe not trying again, of not knowing, it is a glorious thing to be reminded of what is possible with books. The thing about The Thing About is what says about what possible is.

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2. paperback writer (three upcoming releases)



On this day, ahead of a predicted storm, I'm happy to share these three images—snapshots of books living forward.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir will be released in a month or so by Avery—its fourth printing—with a newly crafted afterword (featuring some of the newly read memoirs and evolving memoir theories I've had since Handling was first released in August 2013).

Going Over will be released by Chronicle as a paperback in November, following a happy run as a hardback (thank you, kind librarians, teachers, readers).

Small Damages has just been released by Speak (Penguin Random House) in its second edition paperback—slightly different packaging, same story, and much gratitude to those who found and read the book either as a Philomel hardback or a first-edition Speak paperback.

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3. I don't know what it says, but I like it (Undercover, in the Netherlands)

It is possible to feel affection to people far away, in other countries—never met, never seen. This morning I am grateful to Callenbach, the Dutch publishing house that beautifully reproduced Small Damages not long ago and today shares Undercover, the first young adult novel I ever dared to write (1997), seems like centuries ago.

And get a load of that pink!

Thank you, Callenbach.

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4. does the entire book lie within its first two sentences? Herman Koch and a Kephart experiment

The only thing benign about Herman Koch's The Dinner is the title—which, like almost everything else about the story, is designed to throw the reader off. "My Dinner with Andre" this is not. Politics, culture, morality, and childrens' lives are at stake (only the first three were at stake in the movie). The questions: What would we do to protect a child who has committed a heinous act? What would we do if we had somehow (implicitly, explicitly) encouraged or modeled or genetically produced an evil creature? Who do we love and why do we love them and what does familial happiness look like? At what cost, secrets?

All this unfolds over the course of a meal in an expensive restaurant. Two brothers and their wives have come to High Civility to discuss a horrific, seamy event. Paul, whose jealousy and creepiness are transparent from the start, tells us the story. He tells us who he is, even as he repeatedly cautions that many parts of the tale are not our business.

It's a brutal, brilliant book (compared to Gone Girl, I think it greatly supersedes it). It's not the kind of book I typically read, it oozes with contemptible people and scenes, but I was riveted by Koch's ability to see his vision through—so entirely relentlessly. And then I got to the paperback's extra matter and an essay by Koch himself called "The First Sentence."

For me, a book is already finished once I've come up with the first sentence. Or rather: the first two sentences. Those first two sentences contain everything I need to know about the book. I sometimes call them the book's "DNA." As long as every sentence that comes afterward contains that same DNA, everything is fine.

Koch's first two sentences, in case you are wondering, are: "We were going out to dinner. I won't say which restaurant, because next time it might be full of people who've come to see whether we're there." And absolutely, yes. The entire book is bracketed within them.

I believe in the power of first sentences, too. I think about them as setters of mood and tone. I wondered, though, whether I could say, about any of my novels, that the entire story rests within the first two sentences. I decided to conduct a mini-experiment. I grabbed a few books from my shelf. Opened to page one. Conducted a self-interview and assessment. I had to cheat in one place only (Dr. Radway), where more than two sentences were required. Otherwise, I'm thinking Koch is onto something here. (And if it is true for my books, I suspect it is true for yours, too.)

From within the fissure I rise, old as anything. The gravel beneath me slides. — Flow
Once I saw a vixen and a dog fox dancing. It was on the other side of the cul-de-sac, past the Gunns' place, through the trees, where the stream draws a wet line in spring. — Undercover
In the summer my mother grew zinnias in her window boxes and let fireflies hum through our back door. She kept basil alive in ruby-colored glasses and potatoes sprouting tentacles on the sills. — House of Dance

There are the things that have been and the things that haven't happened yet. There is the squiggle of a line between, which is the color of caution, the color of the bird that comes to my window every morning, rattling me awake with the hammer of its beak. — Nothing but Ghosts
What I remember now is the bunch of them running: from the tins, which were their houses. Up the white streets, which were the color of bone. — The Heart Is Not a Size
 From up high, everything seems to spill from itself. Everything is shadowed. — Dangerous Neighbors
My house is a storybook house. A huff-and-a-puff-and-they'll-blow-it-down house. — You Are My Only

The streets of Seville are the size of sidewalks, and there are alleys leaking off from the streets. In the back of the cab, where I sit by myself, I watch the past rushing by. — Small Damages

There was a story Francis told about two best friends gone swimming, round about Beiderman's Point, back of Petty's Island, along the crooked Delaware. "Fred Spowhouse," he'd say, his breath smelling like oysters and hay. "Alfred Edwards." The two friends found drowned and buckled together, Spowhouse clutched up tight inside Edwards's feckless arms. — Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent

We live with ghosts. We live with thugs, dodgers, punkers, needle ladies, pork knuckle. — Going Over

If you could see me. If you were near. — One Thing Stolen

Sidenote: In every case, the first two sentences of my books existed within the book in draft one. Sometimes they weren't posted right up front in early drafts. But they always eventually got there.

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5. Estela of Small Damages arrives in the mail, in the form of an antique bookmark

I write YA books; that is true. But I never write strictly and only of teens. I care about the sweep of generations. I think generations are relevant. Some of my very favorite characters are women even older (believe it!) than me. My Mud Angel and physician Katherine of One Thing Stolen. Stefan's East Berlin grandmother in Going Over. Old Carmen, the rugged beachcomber, of This Is the Story of You (due out next spring). And, of course, my Estela, the old Spanish cook in Small Damages—a character I lived with for a decade before she found herself inside that gorgeous cover.

But now look at the silver wing near the right upper edge of that cover. That is Estela herself, who came to me this afternoon by way of my husband's cousin, Myra. Estela in real life was my husband's father's mother—a loved, buoyant, life-affirming General Counsel in the United States who had also served as the Philippine ambassador to Portugal. I wear her ring as my engagement ring. I hear stories. And today I received this bookmark, which once clipped the pages of the books Estela read.

Myra's words (in impeccable handwriting):
This is an antique silver bookmark from El Salvador my grandmother Estela picked up—probably 50 years ago.... I decided it was time to send you this now. I always thought this should go to you—since you are the writer in the family and it came from William's home country.
 I am so in love with this gift. This piece of then. A bookmark shaped like a coffee bean that might as easily mark my third memoir about my marriage to this Salvadoran man, Still Love in Strange Places.

I thank you, Myra.

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6. An Upcoming Medley Read at Arcadia, Free and Open to the Public

On June 27th, I'll be joining Gretchen Haertsch at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA, as part of the Creative Writing Summer Weekend. I'll be conducting a private master class for the participants. I'll also be doing a public reading—a medley that will begin with some thoughts about the empathetic imagination and then move into four brief illustrative readings from Small Damages, Going Over, One Thing Stolen, and This Is the Story of You, the book that will launch next spring from Chronicle (and that I am page proofing this very weekend).

The doors are open to all of you. The reading is free. The facts below. Would love to see you there.

June 27, 2015
3 PM
Arcadia University
Beth Kephart Medley Reading
450 South Easton Road
Glenside, PA 19038

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7. On Harleysville Books, Broken Heaters, and Hair Like Tumbleweed



Yesterday, 3:30 AM. Left the sofa, where I had gone briefly to rest, to begin (again) client work, which became student work, which became the business of writing work, until I looked up at 10:15 or so and screamed. A brown cloud of termites had rushed through my office door and window—escapees from the new construction hole down the street. It happened in an instant, an actual instant. A storm of wings. Beth's cries for help. Clients calling in the midst. Beth pretending to be calm while the critters crawled along her computer screen.

2:30 PM. Settled in with Mr. Heater Man, who, like a physician, was delivering the final news about the new system now required for my old house. Ralph, Mr. Heater Man, is a very nice guy. Still, might as well be sending my son off to another semester of school. I, by now termite proof, smiled (more like grimaced). Wrote the check for the first third payment. Went back to work.

3:00 PM. Received news of an incredible pre-pub review that I will soon be able to share. See how nicely I am behaving? How properly? Not sharing? Yes. I am capable of the incomplete non-share. Even in my current state of sleep-deprived delirium.

5:25 PM. My friend Judy of the cabernet hair meets me for a walk around a Holiday Inn parking lot, just off the Lansdale exit. This is Judy's neighborhood. It is also partway between my home and Harleysville, where Shelly Plumb, the generous owner of Harleysville Books, has invited me to an evening of dinner and conversation regarding Small Damages. So Judy and I walk and talk and walk and talk, six laps or so around the ol' Inn. I love friends who do not mind the craziness of me, or the sweatiness of a walk on asphalt during a 90-degree day.

7:00 PM. In Harleysville with the aforementioned Shelly—I met her, felt like I'd always known her, perhaps I have always known her?—and some twenty others, who had kindly read Small Damages. Outside, there was lightning and downpour. Inside, wine, pasta, dessert, books. Any writer who is ever invited to Harleysville must go. It's a bastion of independent goodness. Also? For the record? Small Damages appears (see photo above) to be a crossover book.

10:00 PM. Home (through rain and a little hail) to more work.

2:30 AM. The aforementioned existing heater (which needs to hold on for just two more weeks) goes off on an all-cymbals clash-o-rama that probably woke President Obama. Did it wake you? It certainly woke me. Well, who goes to sleep after that?

7:00 AM. Hair like tumbleweed.

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8. The Flyleaf Review, the book that almost didn't happen, jaw to the floor

Many moons and books ago, someone sent me a link to The Flyleaf Review. Read this, the linker said. Words about Small Damages. Words about Spain. Words by this exquisite reader/writer.

Oh. My.

Sometimes, when I was writing Going Over, I would think about this Heather of Flyleaf. Wonder what she would think of this Berlin story. Wonder if I would disappoint her. Wonder. Publishing a book is, in the end, such a personal thing. It is only, ever, reader by reader.

Weeks ago, Heather surprised me with a Twitter link. She'd read Going Over. She'd found this most amazing Wall-Love photo. She'd had thoughts. She'd shared them. She had taken so much time and care in assembling those thoughts, and she had so deeply moved me, and then she said, But wait. Come April, there will be more.

How do these bloggers—all of these incredibly generous bloggers—find or make the time to be so thoughtful about books, to share so many ideas, to join the writer in the process of going back in time, or deep into a story?

I do not know. But today Heather teaches me many things about Berlin, showcases new images of the Wall, posts the fabulous Chronicle links, offers a giveaway, and shares a small piece of writing that I did about the book that nearly wasn't.

It's all here. And I'm in awe.

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9. Small Damages arrives, all dressed up like a Parisian! And Teenreads takes you on a tour of Berlin. It's all global today.

From the French publisher La Martiniere and the translator Corinne Julve comes Small Damages, renamed Gipsy Song: Le choix de Kenzie.

Oh my gosh. I love this.

Meanwhile, over at Teenreads, we've got a tour of Beth's Berlin going on. And a Going Over giveaway! Check it out here.

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10. Speaking to my son in the French I never knew I could write


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11. Diane Keaton and Around the World: Small Damages and Going Over on the Barnes and Noble Book Blog

Yesterday, while I watched the rain pound the world around me (and awaited the watery launch of Going Over at Radnor Memorial Library), a note rose up on Twitter, alerting me to this great gift from Dahlia Adler on the Barnes & Noble Book Blog.

The title of the post: Around the World in Eight YA Novels. Dahlia, amazingly, noted both Small Damages and Going Over:

Small Damages, by Beth Kephart
One of my favorite literary writers of YA, Kephart has beautifully re-created the Spanish countryside for this contemporary novel about a teenage girl who’s exiled from her American home in order to hide the secret of her pregnancy. She leaves no sensation unexperienced, from the feel of the earth to the scent of oranges, and it’s hard to imagine getting any closer to Seville without a passport. (Kephart’s newest, Going Over, which alternates between East and West Germany, is another excellent candidate for this list.)

Incredible words, and I am so grateful.

I am also grateful this morning to that clay artist, Karen Bernstein, who not only graced the table last evening with her amazing Berlin vessel, but who carried a copy of Handling the Truth to New York City, where Diane Keaton was in the 92nd Street Y House. Keaton's memoir Then Again is featured in Handling. I'd always wanted the great actress to have a copy. Last night Karen made that happen. "Signed. Sealed. Delivered.," Karen wrote at the end of her day. This morning, Karen wrote again to say that Diane Keaton had used the word "honored" when Karen gave that bright orange memoir book to her.

One last very cool thing, and then I'm off to read and celebrate the books of others. My agent, Amy Rennert, called a few days ago with the exceptional news that Rich Green, an esteemed film agent who has represented Jonathan Franzen, Matthew Quick, Anne Rice, Andrea Creamer, and others, has agreed to represent Going Over.

A good day. A good life.

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12. Lessons in Publishing Longevity: Undercover Sells to the Dutch House, Callenbach

Yesterday, it became official: Callenbach, the glorious Dutch publishing house that released a gorgeous, translated Small Damages two years ago, has purchased Dutch translation rights to Undercover, the first young adult novel I ever wrote and published.

Like Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River, Undercover first appeared in 2007 and taught me several things about risks worth taking. Like The Heart Is Not a Size, Undercover is vaguely autobiographical—a Cyrano story of a teen who cannot see her own beauty and who relies on words to bridge her to the world. My Elisa writes poems. She has an English teacher who cares. She skates secretly on a frozen pond. She meets a boy named Theo. Her words, she soon discovers, have power. But so, perhaps, does she.

It is moving to think of vestiges of my own Radnor High and adolescence being transported to the Netherlands, under the auspices of a publishing house established in 1854. It is also telling, and hopeful—a sign of optimism for all of us—that books written years ago still live on, somehow. This idea about longevity is perhaps the lesson for me of this year, as Flow, seven years later, emerges as an affordable paperback, and as Undercover begins the process of finding a new audience in the Netherlands, as it has also found in China.

My thanks to Alpha Wong of HarperTeen for negotiating the agreement, and to Amy Rennert, my agent, for letting me know.

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13. My conversation about the making of books, with Editor Tamra Tuller

A few days ago, Tamra Tuller and I got to talking over email, and then we kind of couldn't stop. Well, Tamra, being my editor, gently told me when it was time to stop. Otherwise, I'd have just kept going, I like this Tamra so very much.

Today our conversation is posted on the Chronicle Books Blog. It starts like this, below—
What role does an editor play in the development of a book? How does the relationship between writer and editor shape the story that emerges? Here, Chronicle editor Tamra Tuller and Going Over author Beth Kephart sit down to chat about the challenges, rewards, and often years-long process of creating a work of fiction together. 

Beth Kephart: For ten years, before I met you, I had been writing a novel called Small Damages. It had been many things. It had nearly found a publishing home. But looking back now, it was clear: It was always waiting for you. You would be the one to read, to embrace, to understand this story of southern Spain. How did I get so lucky to have you come into my life—to turn the first page of Small Damages, and then the second one?

Tamra Tuller: Well, Beth, first of all I think I am the lucky one. For me it was a no-brainer. I fell in love with your writing! It was impossible not to keep turning the pages. And it didn’t hurt that I had a love for Spain and had traveled there as a teenager. I think one of the things that makes us such a great team is that we love to travel! We also both fell in love with Berlin. Do you remember the amazing conversations we had after we had both visited?

BK: Do I remember the amazing conversations we had about Berlin? Um. Yeah. I remember all of our amazing conversations. You are one of my very favorite people to talk to, and I would say that whether we had started to create these books together or not. Sometimes I think I’m still writing books for the sole reason (also the soul reason) of continuing our conversation.

and then continues here.

Join us?

P.S.: This same Tamra Tuller, who began her literary career at Scholastic Books, wrote yesterday to say that Scholastic has bought Going Over to share with its young readers.

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14. a teen reader speaks about Small Damages


and because I so appreciate her taking the time to read and to record her thoughts, I post her video here.

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15. Dangerous Neighbors, the paperback with the discussion guide, arrives


Before Small Damages and You Are My Only, there was Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont), my Centennial Philadelphia story featuring twin sisters, a boy named William, and the fair that ushered in the idea of the modern.

Yesterday, the paperback edition of Dangerous Neighbors arrived, complete with its fancy discussion/teaching guide.  The book will go on sale in a month or so, just ahead of the release of Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent, the prequel that features 1871 Philadelphia and that animal-rescuing boy named William. 

My thanks to Elizabeth Law and the Egmont team.

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16. what does "best of" mean? how does it change us?

A few days ago, Lynn Rosen, the editorial director of the Publishing Business Group, wrote to ask me about those end-of year lists we see so often in the book business.  What are they?  What do they mean?  How are they created?  How do they affect us?  She asked, and I (with my always limited knowledge) answered. Our conversation is here.

This morning, while I was waiting for an unexpected visitor to leave the house (okay, so it was the pest control guy, and, all right, if you must know, I was not precisely prepared for the visit, and since you won't stop asking, no, my hair was not combed and my eyes were raccooned), I was scrolling through my blog log and saw that my good friend Danielle Smith of There's a Book had written something about pausing.  I need pause right now, I thought, and so pressed on the link, only to discover that Danielle had included me in her glorious post.  You'll see what I mean, here.

Oh my gosh, new insertion.  Here is Sarah Laurence being uber kind to Small Damages at year's end.
 
So how do I feel about being included in some of these phenomenal lists, mentions, citations, possibilities?  I feel blessed, pure and simple.  I feel outrageously lucky.  I have been writing books for a long time.  I have published many.  I was an outsider from the get-go, but I don't feel so outside anymore.  I feel like I am part of a community.  I feel like there is reason to go on searching for stories and words. 

I want to write.

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17. Michael G.G. Jennifer Brown


We woke to a deep mist here, a roiling fog.  It seems the skies understand, that they, like us, are weeping. 

It will be difficult for any of us to move forward.  To stop putting our imaginations elsewhere, and grieving.  And maybe that's okay.  Maybe we do just need to stop.

On this necessarily quiet day, I want to thank two extremely generous people for kindness—an attribute more important to me than any other.  The first is Michael G-G, always a smart writer and blogger, always a dear soul, who read two of my books at the same time and had this to say.  Michael understands my relationship to the color blue.  His words on this and on so much more touched me so deeply—and arise out of the mist.

The second is Jennifer Brown, a former school teacher and now the woman I love to call (because it is so true) "the ambassador for children's books."  She was a terrific panel moderator at the Publishing Perspectives conference held a few weeks ago, just after the storm Sandy stopped us all in our tracks.  She reports on the conference today in Shelf Awareness in the meaningful way that she does all things.

Love, and (somehow) healing.

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18. Differences Magazine kindly blesses Small Damages

Today, my thanks go out to Gina Lewis, who truly blesses Small Damages in Differences Magazine with this review.  My thanks, too, to Serena, for letting me know.

Gina writes of her wish that Small Damages would "continue on further."  Gina, if you are reading this, know that an entire sequel lives in my mind—that these characters are still living, dreaming, and remembering under the heat of southern Spain.  A baby has been born.  A new adventure simmers.

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19. Christmas weather, holiday kindness, and thank you, A. A. Omer


I made my way to Body Combat early this morning.  The snow began to fall just as I left.  I allow myself to be lazy after workouts like that.  To lie on a couch and dream a novel forward. 

I write so slowly now.  But I never mind the time I make to dream a novel forward.

In between I read the astonishing work being sent to me by the YoungArts writers; our literary future, ladies and gentlemen, is in excellent hands.  I read, as well, Katrina Kenison's glorious new book, Magical Journey, of which I wrote not long ago.  Look for a chance to win your own copy here, on New Year's Day.  All you'll need to do is tell me what makes you quietly glad, and your name will be put into the hat.

Finally, I discovered, thanks to a little white-winged bird, that A.A. Omer, a reader of discerning tastes (in my humble opinion), placed Small Damages number one in her five-book list of the year's best writing.  It joins the work of David Levithan, Moira Young, Ilsa Bick, and Wynne Channing.  It is an act of greatest kindness.  Thank you.




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20. Small Damages a top five read of the year, with thanks again to A. A. Omer

I spent part of this day in the cold, white weather, by my mother's grave.  I spent part of it watching the news, wondering about the state this country is in.  I spent part of it reading the still incoming essays by the two dozen YoungArts writers I'll meet in Miami in just a few days and part of it receding into that safe hollow where story still lives within me, if I listen hard, if I wait.

I came to this computer just now to see what a handful of these new Florence paragraphs look like on this big screen, because I will never believe in the sentences I make until I see them and remake them and endlessly reshape them until they are set, a tableau vivant.  When I arrived, this bit of thrilling something was right here, waiting for me:

A.A. Omer, who just hours ago named Small Damages number one within the Best Writing of 2012 category, has today named this book of mine to her top five reads of the year.  Here, on this list, it joins Gone Girl, Drowning Instinct, Pandemonium, and Blood Red Road.

I have no idea how I got this lucky, but I hope you don't mind if I directly quote:
2) Small Damages by Beth Kephart
Every paragraph, sentence and word was important and a story that could’ve been dull was made captivating. Werewolves, vampires, dystopian worlds are fun but sometimes it’s everyday life and everyday problems that’s the most interesting.
A.A. Omer, I need to throw you a party.  A very happy new year to you!

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21. thoughts on the new year: the bounty of friendship, the dearness of Caribousmom

We celebrated New Years Eve with truly beloved friends, as we now do each year.  We choose a restaurant halfway between our homes, in a town called Skippack.  We talk students, dance, Hollywood, art, travels, books, life as it is and was.

The bounty of friendship.

In so many ways the year now gone terrified those of us who love this country and care about the rising class of dreamers.  I am vulnerable and incapable, often.  I have not learned what I can do in the face of national and personal tragedies, congressional cacophony and faulty machines.  I have lost my faith in the sanctity of theaters and classrooms.  I have worried about weather.  I have felt sickened by conversations that stopped far short of anybody actually listening.

I have wanted to make room.  I have asked myself how.  I have asked myself questions.

Why are we screaming so much at one another?  What is the payoff of cruelty?  How can we push a man into the path of an oncoming train?  How can we survive the gunning down of children, of teachers, of people watching Batman?  What can we do for the friend who has lost a brother far too soon?  What can we say when illness happens, and when it returns, when jobs are lost, when everything is so preposterously uncertain, when the storms sweep in?  When we don't know and we need to know?  When there are people relying on us?

We can, I think, be kinder to one another.  We can be more trustworthy.  Less self-indulgent with our anger or our needs.  Less quick to correct or accuse, humiliate or shame.  More aware of the connections between people and things, and how easily—pushed too far, intruded upon—they're broken.  We can surround ourselves with the bounty of friendship, and it is this bounty, and the love in my own family, that sustains me, that shows me how.  It is this bounty that I am particularly grateful for, on this first day of this new year. 

Earlier this year, Wendy Robards, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a caretaker, one of the smartest readers of books anywhere, a quilter, read an early copy of Small Damages and began to make a quilt that captured the colors in the story.  When it arrived I was astonished.  Since it arrived, I have shown it to every single person who comes, sometimes I show them twice.  It is symbolic, this quilt—bright, particular, personal, and made and given out of love.

Today Wendy has posted her favorite books of the year, and, Wendy being Wendy, first provides incredible reviews of a truly stellar collection, then finally names Small Damages as her favorite read of the year.

A tree grows for you in my heart, Wendy.

Love to all of you in 2013.



6 Comments on thoughts on the new year: the bounty of friendship, the dearness of Caribousmom, last added: 1/14/2013
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22. in gratitude to Kerry Winfrey, for these words on Small Damages


So indebted on this white Saturday to Kerry Winfrey, who wrote of Small Damages on Hello Giggles, and heartened me with her words.

Thank you. You return summer and the smell of oranges to me. I have missed both.

1 Comments on in gratitude to Kerry Winfrey, for these words on Small Damages, last added: 2/15/2013
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23. Join me for a book club dinner in Harleysville, on April 10th

This photograph made its way to me and stopped me in my tracks.

It also reminded me to let you know of this special upcoming event—the book club dinner at the Harleysville Book Store, with Small Damages appearing as the featured title. The evening event will take place on April 10, 7 o'clock, and you can register for it through the kind folks at Harleysville Books in Indian Valley, PA.

I hope to see you then. I will answer (almost) any question you ask.

1 Comments on Join me for a book club dinner in Harleysville, on April 10th, last added: 2/17/2013
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24. Small Damages and Books and Movies. Carrie, thank you.

A moment to say how much it has meant to me to continue to hear from readers of Small Damages. I am, in so many ways, an under-the-radar writer. To be found, to be read, to be kindly (generously) remembered on Facebook—it is remarkable. To find Small Damages on blogs as powerful and respected as Carrie's own Books and Movies—where are the words?

With greatest thanks to all of you. With great thanks to Carrie today, for this review.

1 Comments on Small Damages and Books and Movies. Carrie, thank you., last added: 2/28/2013
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25. apologizing in advance (rethinking the blog)

I have always had the utmost respect for the true book blogger—for all of you exceedingly generous souls who make so much time for books and the book community. I imagine that your houses are built out of bindings and glue. That your lamps stay on well into the dark. That you might wish to fly a kite or dig a hydrangea into the ground, but kindly turn pages instead.

When I started this blog six years ago, I imagined it to be a place where I would muse out loud about the world, its words, its images. I'd write about my friends and my communities. I'd provide updates on my journeys. I'd share news about books I'd somehow stumbled upon. I'd have fun.

I didn't imagine that a blog could become so pressing. That it could become more overwhelming than any job.

But indeed it has. For longer than I can remember now I've been crushed beneath the weight of requests, queries, books sent my way for blog review or blurbs. Yesterday in the space of a single half hour, five requests came in. In the morning there were two. A typical day in blog land.

The thing is: I want to make everybody happy. I want to make each day a gift. I want to read these books and write about them, but I have run out of time. Even sleeping three hours at night I'm behind. Even setting my own work to the side most days, which I have been doing forever now in an attempt to get square with the requests.

It occurs to me that I can't catch up. That as beautiful as so many of these books undoubtedly are, as deserving, I'll never be able to cover them all. Even if I never again stepped foot outside. Or did my day job. Or taught my students. Or washed my hair. Or paid my taxes.


And so, going forward, I'll have to say no to many things I wish I didn't have to say no to. And I will hope all of you understand. And I hope, too, that you will know how grateful I've been for the care you've given my own work. Certainly I'll still be covering books here—books I've bought, books I've requested, books by true dear friends. But I'll have to rearrange the piles in order to finally get clear.

In the meantime, I will always be grateful to people like Keertana, the creator of Ivy Book Bindings. She, like so many book bloggers, does this work far better than I can. Recently, for example, she found her way to Small Damages and kindly asked me to share something of its history as well as my own recommendations for recent historical/literary reads. She has woven all that together beautifully here. Her blog is well worth linking to.

11 Comments on apologizing in advance (rethinking the blog), last added: 3/22/2013
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