Read More About It

If you’re like me, when you finish a book you absolutely loved, you really want to find something similar to it, whether it’s more work by the same author, more books in the same genre, or titles that people who read the same book also recommend. You could go to one of the various variations of Amazon, but while they offer a lot, the reality is that their search interface needs some help.

A better solution is to visit, a cheery red-trimmed site that offers deep discounts, searching by author title or ISBN, and, even better, a “like for like” search function (available to members only) that allows you to plug in the last name of the author whose work you just finished, and get back a list of authors who write similar stories.

I tested this search function with the name of an American author, but there were no responses. Testing it with British authors (specifically Dick Francis and Marian Keyes, whose work is vastly different, though still fiction) netted better results, and I’m excited because now I have some new authors to explore.

The registration process is simple – name, email, and password, then tell them your favorite genres – and you can specify how often (monthly, semi-monthly, or weekly) that you want to receive email. You get to start browsing right away, and even cooler, there are downloadable excerpts of almost all the books on the site. (Format is pdf.)

While purchasing books through LoveReading is not cost effective for me, I’d recommend that UK residents do compare prices, as they offer a 25% discount off cover prices. I definitely recommend the site for all users, however, if only because of the Like for Like search.

Coming Soon

Just a brief note about what will be happening on the blog in the next few weeks.

REVIEWS include:
One Dance in Paris by Julia Holden, a quirky tale about a young woman from Massachusetts who chases the dream of the mother who died when she was young first to Las Vegas and then to Paris after a mysterious package arrives at her door.

Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster, sequel to her first memoir Bitter is the New Black.

And Interviews (In Their Own Words text interviews) with
Keith R. A. DeCandido

In Their Words: Patricia Klindienst (part 5)

Describe your ideal book signing. Is it in a large chain bookstore, or a smaller independent one? Is there a café? Do they have food and drinks that tie in with your book? What is the audience like?

Bookstores with cafes are the worst—blenders whirring, milk being steamed nosily, lots of mindless chatter and the clattering of plates and forks and spoons in the background. Libraries are marvelous. Some of the most wonderful occasions for reading, showing images, talking stories, and signing books have been in libraries. My hometown library event was unforgettable.
The best audience, no matter how small, is composed of people who are really listening. Looking up to see someone letting the tears come as I read or speak about the pain of loss for immigrants, or listening as people come to me and tell me a story from their own life as they tell me who to sign for—it answers the long lonely nights of writing when you have to hold your future reader in your head in order to keep going.

Small bookstores can be wonderful. When they have to run around to fetch more chairs it feels great. My biggest events were out west. In California at a famous garden, Filoli, 130 people showed up as I honored the two Italian gardeners, Maska and Mario Pellegrini, who had died before the book came out. Four generations of their family came, friends, neighbors, other immigrants, friends of mine from various parts of my life. Someone baked and donated all the biscotti; another family donated the Italian wine. It was amazing. Then on Bainbridge Island, a hundred people squeezed into the independent bookstore, Harbor Books, including many Japanese Americans who thanked me for telling Akio Suyematsu’s story, including the family’s internment at Manzanar—they laughed, asking me how I got him to talk to me; when they interviewed him all he’d talk about was strawberries.

For me, the best readings close with the members of audience telling stories. I invite them to, and it changes everything. At Filoli, people regaled each other with stories—there was laughter, clapping, crying, and a few moments of eloquent political exhortation reaching back to the story of Sacco and Vanzetti that opens my book. I’ve had my share of disappointments: two people, four; events planned a year in advance that end up competing with some huge local event. Everyone has such stories. It teaches you not to take it personally.

Tell us a bit about your current project. What’s it about? When is it coming out? Is it drastically different from your last work, or continuing a similar theme? What do you want prospective readers to know?

The current project doesn’t have a name yet. It comes out of a chapter my editor asked me to drop from the first book. It’s a lost piece of American immigrant history, the story of the man who decided he would devote his life and his fortune to rescuing all the Jews from Czarist Russia in the late 19th century told through the story of two young lovers caught in the vortex of historical events, whose lives in America he made possible. The lovers are the grandparents of one of my best friends. It’s a story of persecution, flight, exile, and love, interwoven with the story of one of the richest, boldest businessmen in Europe, whose scheme affected the lives of millions.

[go back to Interview, Part 3]
[visit the Publisher’s Website for The Earth Knows My Name]

In Their Words: Patricia Klindienst (part 4)

What are you reading these days? Or, what types of things do you like to read when you have time?

Writing nonfiction meant I got pulled away from my first love, the novel. I went so far out on a limb, so far from anything I was trained to think or write about, with this book, that I had a lot to read. History, horticulture, environmental writing. Now I’m starting a new book, one with roots in Europe and Russia, so at this moment, I’ve begun a European novel, The Radetzy March, by Joseph Roth, who wrote in the thirties, an exiled German Jew living in Paris. It sounds as if he was a great reader of Dostoevsky. It summons the world of the Hapsburgs, the AustroHungarian empire in its late days. The contemporary writer whose work lit a new way for me seems to follow in this tradition—I mean Sebald, the German post-war writer who emigrated to England and wrote astonishing works that hover on the line between fiction and nonfiction, gorgeously written peregrinations through the landscape of European history, all through the eyes of a narrator who seems always to have just recovered from some illness that has rendered him delicate, impressionable. I’m still telling other people’s stories in the next book, so I’m feeding my imagination, listening for the right voice for the next story.

I loved Kurt Vonnegut’s last book of essays. Aahron Appelfeld’s memoir is stunning.

Got tunes? What’s flowing from your headphones or speakers while you write?

Depends on what I’m doing. If I’m deep in writing, it’s silence I want—birds outside the window, wind, rain, the house creaking, the rumble of the furnace coming on to pump out the heat, the ticking of the baseboards in winter—but not music. Most of my music comes to me as a gift from friends and family. Yo Yo Ma playing Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites works for almost anything. I am not a music snob. I love it all and listen to it all, depending on my mood.

How do you start a project? Do you begin with a random idea or an urge to cover a topic, or does research inform your choices? Once you’ve got an idea, do you outline, or just write what comes?

Many years ago while I was working on a big project (when I was still a professor), a sudden insight into a text came to me in a flash—I grabbed a pad and wrote like mad till I got it all down, till the pressure was relieved, then went back to the main task before me. When I reread what I’d written, it was an entirely new, separate essay, and I published it—and never published the big thing I was writing. It happens that way every time—little tributaries of thought interrupt the main flow, and if I don’t pay attention, I lose some of my finest work. It’s like seeing out of the corner of your eye when you have to look straight ahead or you’ll lose your way. You train yourself to notice where your imagination goes, what riches it finds and brings you—if you don’t pay attention, it won’t keep bringing you gifts.

Things come to me. This book came to me after hours of staring at the photograph I talk about in the prologue. There’s another book waiting to be written that also grew out of a photograph. That one is about my father, radar, and World War II.

I never outline unless forced to. And then I hate it. Usually I hear a voice, and when I catch on that I’m hearing a voice, I get to a piece of paper and a writing implement, and try to let it come out clear. Usually normal thinking gets in the way.
Big ideas come in a flash. Then you work like a dog to chart the way to and through what arrived on the wind, whole and beautiful, and elusive.

A childhood memory loaded with power, a tiny moment on the playground in fourth grade, just found relief in a short essay in a volume on encountering genocide, “Eichmann on the Playground.” I know it will become a bigger piece later—but I got the tent stakes in, so it won’t blow away now.

[go back to Interview, Part 2]
[continue to Interview, Part 4]

In Their Words: Patricia Klindienst (part 3)

Do you write in longhand first, or do you compose at the keyboard? Tell us about your preferred pens, ink, paper, or platform and program.

I usually begin everything writing by hand, with a pencil—Ticonderoga #2s are my favorite, but I’ll take a round pencil over them anytime. Every year I go to my favorite copy shop in New Haven to ask for a few. I hoard them, using them till the nub is so short I can’t grip it anymore. The paper is a lined white pad, standard size, with a margin down the left side, where I make notes of things to return to later. I buy the pads by the dozen. If I want to use a pen, it has to have a very fine point. But I like pencils, because I can erase. It keeps me humble. And I love the soft sound of the act of writing on paper. It’s so different from the clicking of a keyboard. Once I’ve broken through the surface, which takes at least half an hour of writing, I’ll write till the idea has come clear. The next stage is going to the computer, moving from the stuffed chair to the desk. But what could be more constraining than writing inside the box of a computer screen? Forced to write left to right, top to bottom, rather than drawing with a pencil—literally sketching ideas, in any shape you want on a page. I print drafts and spread pages on my table, so I can see more of what I’ve written, and draw all over it, moving things around, seeing what it is I’ve made. So for me, it’s very physical, the act of writing, and it includes having to get up and move around, when ideas are coming but the words aren’t, and movement releases the part of my imagination that, freed, will bring me the words. Then, back at the desk, I can work with them.

As for technology, I am usually way behind the curve. I just got a new computer for the first time in 25 years, the new MacBook Pro, which is a beautiful, sleek laptop that I hook up to a big monitor, so I can now see two pages at once. This is like going from a scooter to a Maserati. My other new one was the first IBM PC, which I bought in 1982 to write my dissertation at Stanford. Someone at the law school invented a footnote program that spread like wildfire through the campus. Those were the days of five and a quarter inch floppy disks—which really were floppy—and you had to put this piece of silver tape on the notch at the top left corner to “write protect” your work. In the between the bulky, “computer grey” PC and this lightweight silver slip of a thing, I relied on used computers my sister and niece would send me every couple of years, when they’d update.

I made the switch from PC to Apple in the late 90s after working a job that forced me to learn the Mac. I resisted at first, but then fell in love with the ease of the operating system. I use that big, baggy, monster, Word, because it’s become the standard, but I remember the elegance of WordStar with the fondness usually reserved for one’s first love.

What do you consider a “full day’s work” of writing? Do you measure by number of hours, or number of words? Do you spend time doing mundane chores so that you don’t have to write?

A full day’s work is whatever it takes to get a piece of work done. I’ve had days when I wake up and a whole piece is there, and I can hear it, so I go to the chair or the desk and capture it—or reach for a pad and pencil right there in bed and write it out, and go back to sleep. In the morning, I type it up, fix it till the internal itch is relieved. That’s a great day, a day when I can walk away early and feel satisfied.

Working on the book was work—may days and nights I had to make myself do it. You sign a contract, you feel the pressure of deadlines, though they can be pushed back, they can’t be deferred indefinitely. Five hours of intense work could be a whole day, but there were lots of ten to twelve hour days, and nights when I woke up at 2 and wrote till 4 then went back to sleep, a problem having been solved when I stopped staring at it, jaw clenched.

I don’t think there’s one way to do this, though you have to be honest, disciplined, work hard, get things done in the way that makes sense for your life. You also have to know when to walk away. I had to learn, many times over, that it’s better to stop on a bad day, and do other useful things so that the next day would be more productive.

Who doesn’t practice avoidance? I love Mary Oliver’s essay in Blue Pastures about interruption—it’s not the neighbor coming over to borrow mustard or sugar, it’s ourselves, interrupting our deeper selves in the act of concentration, fleeing from giving ourselves over to the work. So yes, I do mundane chores, but actually, my favorite work day is one that includes intervals of physical work, domestic chores—making a pot of soup, doing laundry, pulling weeds, pinching wilted leaves off the plants, musing, is what it is, aided by not being fixed to one place.

Then there are the days of finish work—the equivalent for a carpenter of screwing switch plates to the wall—when I’m formatting, correcting punctuation, fixing typos, long hours at the machine. Then I turn the volume up loud and listen to great rock and roll.

Dancing is always good when you get stuck, or when you get something just right, or when you reach the finish and hit “save.”

[go back to Interview, Part 1]
[continue to Interview, Part 3]

In Their Words: Patricia Klindienst (part 2)

The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic America

What question are you never, or rarely, asked in interviews, that you really wish people would ask? How would you answer it?

“How has doing this book changed your idea of America?”

I’d start by talking about how skewed our idea of ourselves as a people has been by official history, then talk about the parallels between the conquests of America and our current global crisis. I’d want to emphasize the hope the interviews aroused in me. We rarely hear about these people; we rarely see their faces; we know so little about their history on the land.

Conversely, what question are you often asked, that you really don’t like to answer? What don’t you like about that question (no, you don’t have to answer it)?

“What was my favorite garden/interview?”
I have no favorite. I grew closer to some of the gardeners than to others, but I feel an abiding respect and affection for all of them, and for the three times as many others whose stories I couldn’t include. The hardest part of creating this book was what I had to leave out.

Who in your life was/is the greatest influence – good or bad – on your writing?

Virginia Woolf. A good influence, tremendous, really, as she was for my generation of American women, but one I had to grow through to find my own voice, to return to American stories.

The fist thing of hers I read was To the Lighthouse in what was called a House Course at Hampshire College up in Amherst, MA. This was in 1971, the beginning of the second wave of feminism, and women writers were just being rediscovered and a whole new language for interpreting literature in the light of history was being invented. It was possible to find first edition hardcover copies of all of Woolf’s novels for a dollar apiece in the socialist bookstore in Northampton. Many were out of print, so that was the only way I could get them. I devoured them all very quickly, once I’d been spellbound by her voice. Finding her was a revelation to me. Her biography, letters, and diaries had not yet been published. Imagine. I lived through the rediscovery of this hugely important writer who’d been neglected, like so many others, because of the male dominance of the academy. Before I graduated, the biography was out and the volumes of her private writings were coming out one, sometimes two volumes a year.

Our teachers, especially our women teachers, were learning along with us; it was very democratic, this life change, this emotional awakening to a sense of injury—how distorted our education had been, how partial the kinds of questions framed in literary studies—and exuberant awe: this legacy was there for us all to reclaim together. It was a tremendously exciting time, filled with a sense of invention, a revolution in thought. Of course we are living through a period of extreme reaction now. But at the time, we all shared a sense of discovering, as she herself says in A Room of One’s Own, that as women, we do, in fact, have a history, one that had yet to be written.

So she’s the huge influence, the reason I learned the art of close reading; I learned to think of literature in relation to politics, to everyday life. From reading her, I learned to hold the architecture of an entire novel in my head, so that I could actually move around inside of it. My gradual detachment from her, my move back toward American voices—Eudora Welty and Raymond Carver, Emily Dickinson, three enormous influences—came after my brother’s death, when I was writing a whole book about The Waves, which Woolf privately dedicated to her older brother, who had died tragically at a young age after a trip to Greece. In my own grief, I saw clearly that my metaphysic was different from hers; I did not respond to death as she had. It freed me. I never published that work; someday I will return to it and finish it.

[back to Biography]
[continue to Interview, Part 2]

In Their Words: Patricia Klindienst


This post marks the first of what I hope will be many author interviews. The questions are generic, and each author may use as much or as little space as he or she likes. I have not edited content, only format.

Most recently published work (as of this posting): The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans

Website: (not yet live)

A brief biography:
Patricia Klindienst began her career as an interdisciplinary scholar, publishing the first of her ground-breaking feminist re-interpretations of classical myths and biblical stories, “The Voice of the Shuttle Is Ours,” while still a graduate student in Stanford University’s Program in Modern Thought & Literature. She wrote two companion pieces, “Ritual Work on Human Flesh: Livy’s Lucretia and the Rape of the Body Politic,” and “‘Intolerable Language’: Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery” as an award-winning scholar and teacher at Yale University. She then left the profession, putting aside the manuscripts of two scholarly books, one on Virginia Woolf and another a collection of her essays on the iconography of rape, and began to write for a broader audience. Her first book, The Earth Knows My Name tells the stories of fifteen ethnic Americans who transmit their cultural heritage through their gardens. Praised by readers as diverse as Jane Goodall and Barry Lopez, Klindienst’s eloquent and passionate rendering of the voices of ethnic peoples has been called “An original and exemplary kind of cultural study” by Geoffrey Hartman, Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature and co-founder of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimony at Yale, who characterizes her book as “… essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the growing reality that an ancient ecological relationship, imaginative and religious in its intensity, is slipping away.”

[photo credit: Kelly Becerra]

[Continue to Interview, Part 1]

Reading Habits

I’ve been tagged by the lovely Gautami to write about the following:

My Reading
I read almost anything, and I read cyclically, finding everything by a particular author, and working through that, and then moving on to the next. I like thick books with good plots, but sometimes I read forumla romances because they’re hilarious, and sometimes I only want horror or mysteries. Most recently, I’ve been only reading novels taking place in France.

Total Number of Books Owned
I haven’t the faintest. Seven six-foot bookshelves, triple stacked?

Last Book Bought
Probably One Dance in Paris or the 2008 Writers Market

Last Book Read
I’m currently re-reading Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. Does that count?

Five Meaningful Books
Certain Women, by Madeleine L’Engle
Outside Lies Magic, by John Stilgoe
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

I am tagging:
The first five people to read this?

Booking Through Thursday: Comfort Food

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.

What do you read?

For me, comfort reading, like comfort food, involves things that invoke a cozy setting, and have descriptions of either food or clothing, or are somehow familiar – a favorite author, for example.

Madeleine L’Engle’s works A Live Coal in the Sea and Certain Women are comfort books for me. Laurell K. Hamilton’s work, as much as I love it, is not. Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary mysteries, the really early Nero Wolfe and The Cat Who… books, and almost anything by Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes qualify as well.

Possibly my favorite ever comfort novel, though, is a book called Mothers, by Jax Peters Lowell that I picked up ages ago, decades even, and fell in love with it. It’s about Claire, a photographer, and Theo, a caterer, both young women who identified as straight, who fall in love, and eventually manage to have a son using artificial insemination. It’s a candid account of two women falling in love in the 60’s and 70’s in New York, and it has food and photography and sweet domestic moments, and a trip out to the beach – all my favorite things – but what I like about it most is that it isn’t a gay novel or a straight novel. It’s just the story of a family who love each other.

What could be more comforting than that?

Booking Through Thursday

Left Bank

by Kate Muir

About this Book:
Madison Malin is Texan by birth and French by marriage, an actress who has always found herself playing the bimbo in distress in not-quite-pornographic movies. Her husband, Olivier, is an itinerant philosopher who chases young women and holds court in cafes, fancying himself to be a sort of Gen-X version of Sartre. The novel explores there relationship, and how it disintegrates when they hire a new English nanny for their daughter, Sabine.

Why I Chose this Book:
I was in a French sort of mood the day I picked this up, which was the same day I picked up a couple of other books that took place in Paris. I liked the title and the back cover blurb, and thought it would be interesting. I was expecting a light and predictable romance, and instead got a sometimes-amusing, sometimes gritty view of a marriage. Why is it, by the way, that no one ever writes stories about happy marriages?

What I Liked About this Book:
I was all set to love the nanny and hate Madison, but really the only character I wanted to shake to death was Olivier, which means Ms. Muir did her job, because he was supposed to come off as an arrogant ass. Anna, the nanny, by the way, was delightfully real, and I liked the subplot with the cook and the Chechnian immigrants.

Would I Recommend this Book?
Read it if you don’t mind a jaded air about your fiction, and don’t expect fluffy bunny happy endings. These characters are interesting and complex, but they’re not always nice or pretty. This is NOT chick-lit.