#Women in Fiction

I love the fact that Twitter is lighting up with the  hashtag #womeninfiction.   Started by Preeti Chibber, manager of Harper Collins Children’s Books, Chibber started tweeting about women authors and women heroines in the world of fiction.  Check out her  Storify where everyone from Hermoine Granger to Jane Eyre is mentioned in an outpouring of love to strong women characters.  I started to think of my favorite women characters in history that I’ve read in the past few months  and these two titles came to mind.

jamonthevine.Ivoe Williams is the main character of LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s   Jam on the Vine.  The young well-educated African American woman helps found the first female-run African American newspaper during the turbulent times of the Jim Crow era.


indexAaliyah Saleh, the complex woman in Rabih Alameddine’s  extraordinary work, The Unnecessary Woman, nominated for a National Book AwardHow could I not fall in love with the cantankerous septuagenarian Lebanese woman whose love of books is at her  essence and the transformative  power in her life. If you haven’t read these two titles, you should add them to your to be read pile. More importantly, who are your recent favorite women protagonists?

Posted in African American Fiction, book group; reading group;, books, jim crow, literary fiction, National Book Award, Women in Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

R.I.P Sir Terry Pratchett

index-1.aspxLast week  the iconic and beloved fantasy author, Terry Pratchett,  lost his battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease  and began his walk with Death. Writer of over 70 novels, Pratchett is perhaps best known for his series of books set in  Discworld, a flat planet  balanced on the back of four elephants where the seas pour over the sides.  Discworld was a place ever evolving, becoming  more convoluted and somber in Pratchett’s later works, perhaps the result of Pratchett’s diagnosis.   The author had written over 40 novels based  in this  fantasy world — and one of those characters was Death himself.    If you have never read anything by Pratchett, a good place to start might be A Blink on the Screen, a collection of shorter fiction by Pratchett that spans his illustrious career.  You will see  how Pratchett evolved from a young high schooler to the  finesse and witticisms of his latter work.  In another of his books about Death , Reaper Man, Pratchett wrote “no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away”.  Please give a work by Pratchett a try so his ripples live on for many more years.

Posted in Alzheimer's Disease, Discoworld, fantasy, fiction, science fiction, short stories, Terry Pratchett | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Today marks the anniversary of the Broadway debut of A Raisin in the Sun

index.aspxA Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway on March 11, 1959,  The  play, written by Lorraine Hansberry,  was the first play written and acted by African Americans to appear on the Broadway stage. The play tells the classic story about a struggling African American family living in an apartment on Chicago’s South Side.  The premise of the play revolves around  the younger family matriarch who is due a life insurance check that could change the family fortune.  When the curtain rose  on March 11th, Hansberry was worried about its success.  It later  went on to win the New York Drama  Critics’ Circle  and was nominated for 4 Tony Awards. Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote that A Raisin in the Sun changed  American theatre forever.  If you’ve never read or watched this iconic story, please give it a try.

Posted in African-American, books, Broadway, dvds, New York Drama Critics' Circle, play, Tony Awards | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Down Barriers- Women Authors Using Pen Names

I recently stumbled across this article from Mashable regarding the pen names of women authors who’ve had to change their names in order to get published. Seeing as how it is Women’s History Month,  I thought it would be interesting to see the history of the use of womenoverhurdlemale pen names by women  and how they are still being used today.   From Jane Austen who published simply under the name,  “A Lady, ” to the present, Nora Roberts as J.D. Robb; women have simply had to modify their name in order to get their works published and to establish credibility with literary critics.  Bloomsbury asked Joanne Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, to initialize her name so it would be more appealing to young boys.   Since she had no middle name, she borrowed her grandmother’s name, Kathleen.   After her enormous success with the series, she wrote, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and added another nom de plume, Robert Galbraith, mystery writer,  to separate herself as much as possible from her famous persona.

“In 1980, science fiction writer and editor Ben Bova told a group of women writers, “Neither as writers nor as readers have you raised the level of science fiction a notch. “  I’m sure that Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin would have disagreed with his outrageous comment.  However there were science fiction authors who did  take male or unisexual names in order to get their works taken seriously.  Author Alice Sheldon wrote her speculative fiction under the name James Tiptree.  When her name was revealed it caused quite a stir.  Carolyn Janice Terry as CJ Terryh and Catherine Lucille Moore as CL  Moore also adopted more androgynous names to gain acceptance.

Conversely, there have been a few male authors who’ve adopted women pen names for various reasons.  Mohammed Moulessehoul, a high ranking Algerian military officer,  wrote The  Swallows of Kabul under the female pen name, Yasmina Khadra, to avoid military censorship.  There are also male romance writers who have adopted female pen names to gain women readers.

In the 21st century, is it possible to get past these sexist preconceived notions  in order to accept that good writers can write from any angle, male or female?  I certainly hope so.

Posted in C.J. Cherryh, C.L. Moore, fiction, James Tiptree, nom de plume, pen names, pseudonyms, science fiction, Women's History Month, Yasmin Khadra | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toni Morrison on Censorship and the Power of the Written Word

burnthisbookPerhaps it is no accident that I happened to stumble upon Burn This Book edited by Morrison a few days before her birthday today.  Published in conjunction with the PEN American Center, the book is a collection of essays by famous authors, such as Updike and Rushdie, and  the meaning of censorship and the power of the written word.  Why write? is the question posed in the 11 essays in this slim powerful volume of work.  As Morrison states in her essay, Peril, “We all know nations that can be identified by the flight of writers from  their shores.  These are regimes  whose fear of unmonitored writing is justified because truth is trouble. ”   Written in 2009, Burn This Book is still relevant today  where the whole truth is often hidden from view. We are grateful to our writers, especially one as gifted as our beloved Toni Morrison, for as she writes ” A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind, they are its necessity.”



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Black History Month- Other titles of Interest

The Village Voice recently published an article on lesser known titles for Black History Month, other than the usual recommended classics.  Here are the titles we have available at Newburgh Free Library.  Take them out and give them a read.

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Posted in African American Fiction, black history month, books, fiction, jim crow, nonfiction, slavery | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cold Weather Brings out the Thrill (er) in Me: A Review of The Girl on the Train

There is something about the winter that makes me read dark psychological suspenseful  books that keeps me on the edge of my seat.  I’ve just finished reading, The Girl on The Traingirlonthetrain by Paula Hawkins.   I remember hearing buzz about this book last spring at Book Expo and it certainly lived up to its hype.  Perhaps it is the dark grey winter days that makes it easier to be transported into these dark scenarios.

Similar to Gone Girl, Hawkins has created an unreliable main narrator, Rachel,  who keeps us on our toes and guessing throughout the novel.  Rachel, recently unemployed and frequently inebriated, is wallowing in the depths of despair over the recent loss of her marriage and job and has taking to keeping up the pretense of being employed as she rides the train every day as if she is going to work.  As the train slows down past the backs of a row of houses, Rachel becomes  a voyeur and lets her imagination run wild. She makes up names and imaginary lives for these characters she doesn’t know.  She becomes particularly enamored with a young couple who seem similar to her and her  ex-husband in happier times.  In her mind they are named “Jason and Jess”.  Imagine her surprise when one day as the train approaches the back of the row houses she sees Jess passionately kissing a man that is not her husband!  This sets Rachel into a tailspin especially since the next day, the front page of the newspaper is covered with a photo of  “Jess” who happens to have gone missing!  This book has everything you’d want in a thriller and kept me on my toes till the very end.  If you’re like me and love to curl up with a thriller when its cold and grey outside– give The Girl on The Train a read!

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Happy Birthday Pride & Prejudice

pride&prejudiceToday is  the 202th anniversary of the classic by Jane Austen. One of the great master of English literature,  Austen sold the copyright to Pride and Prejudice to Thomas Edgarton for  £110 but because of favorable reviews he quickly recouped his money and made  approximately £45o for just the first two editions!

While some have claimed Pride and Prejudice is simply a romantic comedy, Austen’s themes of marriage, wealth and commentary on the  class structure of  18th British society have made the novel revered and studied to this day. Whether you loved the book or not, it certainly has endured for a reason.  Is this your favorite Austen title?

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Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards were Announced This Week

Since 1974, book critics, authors, literary bloggers and other members of the National Books Critics Circle have presented awards for the finest in literature published in the United States annually. While the winner will be announced in March,  the five finalists in the fiction and non-fiction categories   (click on a title to reserve) are listed below.  Who do you think deserves to win?


euphoria lila briefhistoryof7 onsuchafullsea unnecessarywoman


zhivagoaffair sixthextinction capitalin21st problemofslavery  deepdowndark

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The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

When I was at Book Expo last year, I remember Deb Futter, Editor in Chief of Grand Central Publishing, talking about The Secret Wisdom of the Earth secretwisdomand how much she loved the manuscript and  wanted everyone to share in her enthusiasm for the book.  It quickly became a title that all her co-workers were talking about. There is nothing better than hearing about a good word of mouth book!  That got me intrigued and so out of all of the hundred or so galleys I received at BEA, this was the title I read first.  It didn’t have a fancy cover at the time, but the title grabbed me and with Deb’s recommendation I was quickly transported off into the world Scotton created.

First time author, Christopher Scotton, sets the tale of Secret Wisdom in the heart of  Appalachia coal mining country in the 1980’s.   The story revolves around 15 year old Kevin, who has been sent to visit his grandfather for the summer along with his grieving mother after tragedy has struck the family. I  quickly became enamored with the characters and this tale that entwines environmental issues with the moral dilemmas that come into play in this classic coming of age of story.    I lived and breathed this story as I was reading it and I hope you will too.   If you love a good coming of age story mixed with redemption and honest believable characters, you should put this book at the top of your to read pile.  I was so enamored with the book it will be my book discussion selection for February and we will be Skyping with the author.

Please give it a  read — it is a classic that will be in at the top of my best list in 2015 !

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