Author Event: Stephen King!

The Kansas City bookish crowd turned out en masse to hear Stephen King speak last week in Kansas City. He was brought in by local independent bookstore Rainy Day Books and the format of the event was a conversation with the owner Vivien Jennings. This event was quite a big deal –  before Stephen came out, Vivien said that she was even more nervous to speak with him than when she was in conversation with Hilary Clinton!

Not to bore you with the details but I want you to get a sense of how different this event was from the other author events Rainy Day books holds. Usually, a person buys a ticket which is the price of the whatever book is being promoted.  For that price you get your ticket, a guest ticket and a copy of the book. After the author is finished speaking, everyone lines up to get their books signed. Sometimes the author lets you take a picture with him or her, sometimes not. At Stephen King, your $30 ticket got you a copy of his new book Revival – no guest ticket and there was a limit of four tickets per customer. Vivian let us know that after Stephen came on stage, he would stand up for approximately 30 seconds and we could take pictures of him at that time – with no flash. After he sat down, there would be no more photos or videos. Finally, there was no signing at the end. King randomly signed some copies of his book and if you were lucky, the book you got was signed. Unfortunately, my copy was not. Oh, and there was not one, not two, but THREE security guards in the lobby. Stephen King is truly a rock star in the literary world!

Okay, now on to his actual conversation with Vivien. King said his new book, Revival, is about the power of religion and the scars that it leaves. It allowed him to express all his reservations about religion. He said that the title, Revival, has more than one meaning. There is the church revival and there is also revival as in bringing someone back from the dead.

He said that he chose the Methodist church as the religion in Revival because he grew up Methodist.  He mentioned that one of the main characters participates in MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) as a child, like he did. I thought that was funny because I also grew up Methodist and was in MYF. Stephen King and I have so much in common.

Vivien asked him was he thought about fiction being divided into different genres (e.g. horror, literary, women’s fiction). He said there is an arbitrary divide between literature and fiction. [Which I agree with - who decides what is what?] He said he when he was awarded the 2003 National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters it felt like the equivalent of winning Miss Congeniality in a beauty pageant. He pointed out that the same thing happens in the movie world. He felt that Dee Wallace Stone deserved an Oscar for her performance in the movie Cujo but of course was never considered since Cujo is labeled as a horror movie.

He told a really funny story: He was grocery shopping and a lady came up and asked him if he was Stephen King. He said yes and she proceeded to tell him that she didn’t like his books because they were too dark and disturbing. She said she preferred uplifting books like Shawshank Redemption. When he said he wrote that too, she protested and said, “No, you did not!” She really didn’t believe him.

When Vivien asked him about critics, he said that he believes that if every critic says the same thing, then it’s probably true but every critique is different, then the critics are full of crap. He also said that if someone takes away a book from you, buy it and find out what they don’t want you to know. [Good advice!]

Stephen talked about his love of music and that he plays guitar. Vivien’s husband Roger brought out a $2,000 guitar (sorry, I know nothing about guitars so I can’t tell you what kind it was or anything)  that a music store lent them for the occasion and asked Stephen to play.  He played The Shadows of Knight’s Gloria and the 1,200 person sold-out audience sang alone and gave him a standing ovation. Then he mysteriously vanished…. (or exited the stage, I’m not sure which.)

***I want to thank my friend Average Jane profusely for letting me use the photos she took at the event in this post. I do not take pictures well under pressure and all of mine turned out really crappy.***

Book Review: Hanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton

Hanukkah in America: A HistoryHanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton
Publisher: NYU Press
Release Date: October 14, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In New Orleans, Hanukkah means decorating your door with a menorah made of hominy grits. Latkes in Texas are seasoned with cilantro and cayenne pepper. Children in Cincinnati sing Hanukkah songs and eat oranges and ice cream. While each tradition springs from its own unique set of cultural references, what ties them together is that they all celebrate a holiday that is different in America than it is any place else. For the past two hundred years, American Jews have been transforming the ancient holiday of Hanukkah from a simple occasion into something grand. Each year, as they retell its story and enact its customs, they bring their ever-changing perspectives and desires to its celebration. Providing an attractive alternative to the Christian dominated December, rabbis and lay people alike have addressed contemporary hopes by fashioning an authentically Jewish festival that blossomed in their American world.

The ways in which Hanukkah was reshaped by American Jews reveals the changing goals and values that emerged among different contingents each December as they confronted the reality of living as a religious minority in the United States. Bringing together clergy and laity, artists and businessmen, teachers, parents, and children, Hanukkah has been a dynamic force for both stability and change in American Jewish life.  The holiday’s distinctive transformation from a minor festival to a major occasion that looms large in the American Jewish psyche is a marker of American Jewish life. Drawing on a varied archive of songs, plays, liturgy, sermons, and a range of illustrative material, as well as developing portraits of various communities, congregations, and rabbis, Hanukkah in America reveals how an almost forgotten festival became the most visible of American Jewish holidays.

Don’t let the fact that Hanukkah in America is published by an academic press scare you off. It’s a very readable book about the history of Hanukkah and how it evolved from a minor Jewish holiday into the holiday that most non-Jews think is the holiest of all the Jewish holidays.

I happened to already know that Hanukkah is a minor holiday but I wasn’t aware of how it became the elaborately celebrated holiday that is today. This book explains in detail how Hanukkah has grown and changed over the last century to deal with what has become known as the December Dilemma. As the author of one Hanukkah guide mentioned in this book observed, “Christmas heightens one’s awareness of one’s Jewishness almost as much as any single Jewish holiday.” Because Jewish children felt left out of the fun and merriment of Christmas, Jewish leaders tried various things to make Hanukkah more fun for them so that the children’s families wouldn’t feel the need to erect a Christmas tree as some of them had been doing. On example is that a Kansas City chapter of the NFTS (National Foundation of Temple Sisterhoods) printed directions for a Hanukkah party complete with food, games, costumes and more.

Whenever a book I read mentions Unitarians, I feel compelled to point it out since it is such a rare occurrence for us. In this case, the book explains that Reform Rabbi set up Christmas-Hanukkah meeting between his Temple Youth League and the teens of the local Unitarian church because “that very liberal Christian group could be trusted not to evangelize to the Jewish youngsters.” (Not all Unitarians are Christians but I understand the point.)

I found Hanukkah in America to be a really interesting, educational book. I think people of all religions could learn a lot from this detailed account of how Hanukkah has become what it is today.

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)

To Re-read Or Not To Re-read…

… That is the question.

I haven’t had as many reviews to post lately because I’ve been doing a lot of re-reading. I re-read both Gone Girl and This Is Where I Leave You in preparation for the movies and then I re-read Slant of Light to prep for reading the sequel, This Old World.

Because my memory is so terrible, I try to re-read the book that a movie is based on before I see the movie if it’s been more than a few months since I read the book originally. I do this mostly so that I can write a detailed Page To Screen post. I didn’t do much re-reading of books turned movies before my blog. I have a friend who says that she prefers not to re-read the book so that she won’t notice every little detail of how the book is different and can just sit back and enjoy the movie. Of course if there are huge discrepancies, she’ll still notice. I can definitely see the advantage of not re-reading to avoid being disappointed.

Again, because of my terrible memory, when a new book in a series comes out, I try to re-read at least the immediate previous book in the series to refresh myself on what was happening with the series. Usually, if I read a book twice then I do a much better job of remembering what happened in it so I don’t have to re-read EVERY book in the series every time a new one comes out. For this reason,  in the case of series that have a set number of books determined at the outset, like trilogies, I’ll wait until all the books are released before starting the series so that I can read them all in quick succession, thus avoiding re-reading. I even did this with the Twilight series believe it or not. I resisted the hype for as long as I could!

The last type of re-reading is re-reading books just because they are favorites. I have rarely done this. In fact, I can’t remember doing it at all as an adult reader. Sometimes I will listen to a book I have previously read on audio though. There are just so many books and so little time that I can’t justify re-reading to myself in that case. What if I don’t read all the books before I die because I spent time re-reading?!

What are your thoughts on re-reading?

Monopoly Marathon

West, Neve and I started a Monopoly game this morning. Then when Cash and Travis returned home from a scouting event, we started over so they could play too. We played straight up until bedtime with only a couple of near meltdowns. I’ve loved Monopoly since I was a child and it’s so fun to see the kids getting into it. And they are even learning – making change, budgeting, patience, delayed gratification, negotiation skills, strategy, sportsmanship -  the list goes on. Don’t tell them though! Let them think they’re just having fun.

Reunited and It Tastes So Good…

Did you know these candy bars are still around? I found this one at Toys R Us. This was my favorite candy bar to eat while studying in high school. Ah, memories!

Stephen King Briefly

I had the good fortune to hear Stephen King speak tonight to a sold out 1200 person crowd. Getting out of the parking garage afterwards was like trying to leave a rock concert – it took over half an hour! I’ll post details of his talk sometime next week.

Wordless Wednesday

Book Review: This Old World by Steve Wiegenstein

This Old World: A Novel of Utopian Dreams and Civil WarThis Old World: A Novel of Utopian Dreams and Civil War by Steve Wiegenstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Publisher: Blank Slate Press
Release Date: September 1, 2014

Publisher’s Description:

After the war, James Turner and the other men of Daybreak return home to find that war has changed their Utopian community forever. Charlotte Turner, Marie Mercadier and the other women they left behind survived raiders and bushwhackers, raised up children, and survived on little more than dogged determination. Now that the men are back-those who fought for the North and those who fought for the South-the community must somehow put the past behind them. But some carry scars too deep to heal, and others carry hate they have no intention of letting go.

This Old World is the second book in the Slant of Light series and starts after the Civil War has ended. With almost all their men having been at war, Daybreak is hanging on by a thread. Raided time after time by bushwhackers and soldiers on both sides, the people of Daybreak are weary and hungry. Yet they have no choice but to persevere. Then the men come back. But they are hardly Daybreak’s saviors. The war has changed them too. Even James Turner, founder of Daybreak, has been scarred and lost his motivation to lead. Luckily, his wife Charlotte hasn’t lost her dogged determination in the face of challenge.

Most all of the characters who survived Slant of Light return in This Old World and some new ones are added. Lysander Smith’s mother shows up to provide a bit of respite from the serious tone of the book. Dathan is a man of few words with a quiet strength about him. He may have been my favorite character this time around.

Wiegenstein is excellent at giving each character a unique voice. And some of his characters in this book are definitely flawed. I wanted jump in the book and give a few of them a good talking to! Charlotte has come into her own as the leader of Daybreak, making tough decisions while keeping what’s left of the community going. Her strength is a marvel.

The time immediately following the Civil War was a dark, confusing time in American history and that is fantastically clear in This Old World. It’s darker and more tragic than Slant of Light but still just as captivating.

This Old World is a wonderful example that real gems of literature are published by small independent publishers. Don’t let the fact that a book is published by an indie dissuade you from reading it. Especially this one!

Book 1: Slant of Light

(I received this book courtesy of the author.)

Book Review: The Bees by Laline Paul

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull
Publisher: Ecco
Release Date: May 6, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.

But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen’s fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds.

Do you have reader friends who give you book recommendations that just up your alley? One of my go-to friends for book recommendations is Kelly. I love 99.9% of the books she has recommended to me. One of those books is The Bees. The Bees is about a bee colony that is totally devoted to their queen. In fact, that’s their motto, “Accept, Obey and Serve.” If there is any strife in the hive, the queen releases her Queen’s Love scent and everyone calms down, prostrating and chanting, “Accept, Obey and Serve.”

The bees are divided into castes called kin groups with each group having a different job in the hive. Flora 717 is born into the flora kin, which is sanitation, the lowest of the low. However, she is different from the rest of her kin. She is bigger and has the power of speech while the rest of her kin are speechless. When she is first hatched and the other bees notice that she is unusual, I thought, “Oh great, it’s Divergent in bee form.” But thankfully it soon becomes clear that it’s not.

Flora’s purpose is a mystery right up until the very end. Why was she born into the flora kin when she doesn’t fit in? Why can she do things that only the Queen is supposed to do? The Bees has a dark and Orwellian atmosphere that I found captivating. Since The Bees is so good I’m surprised I haven’t heard any buzz about it. (Get it? Buzz!) Anyway, thanks Kelly!

Sweet-Ass Sunday

My church had a clothing swap this weekend. Give what you want, take what you need. I got a ton of cute clothes for Neve. West picked out this sweet-ass shirt for himself. It looks familiar to  you because your grandpa wore it in 1976.