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Sacrifices July 10, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, women's fiction.
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Rebecca Rasmussen

The willing surrender of something valued to a god, a person or principal is said to be the greatest act of humanity. But is it? What is the motivation behind sacrifice? Is it truly to honor the entity with respect, adoration and obedience? Or is there a hidden benefit expected by or hoped for? What about sacrifices in our daily lives—giving up those prized pleasures, hopes and dreams for the betterment of someone or something else. What right do people, principles or gods have in demanding sacrifices anyway? We’ll discuss these and other questions about sacrifice as a literary theme this week in #litchat.

Joining us as guest host of #litchat on Friday, July 12, is Rebecca Rasmussen, whose debut novel, The Bird Sisters, explores the personal sacrifices we make for those we love.

In The Bird Sisters, two spinster sisters, Milly and Twiss, live together in the Wisconsin farmhouse where they grew up. The two elderly sisters drift in and out of the present and back to that golden time of father worship and familial honor. They have no vocation to speak of, unless you count nursing injured birds back to life.  When a mother and daughter bring an injured goldfinch to “the bird sisters,” as they’re known in their farming community, it takes only an innocent slip of the tongue and the responding harsh remark to trigger the landslide of memories that drives the story to its bittersweet conclusion. Rasmussen voices the two elderly sisters with wizened simplicity and character restraint, two elements that save the story from slipping into the pool of novels about  worlds crumbling when  feet of clay are revealed.

About Rebecca Rasmussen:

I live in St. Louis, Missouri with my husband and daughter, where I teach writing and literature at Fontbonne University. In addition to writing, I’m reading some wonderful nonfiction books these days (My Life in France by Julia Child is my favorite of the bunch!) and I’m training for a half-marathon this fall. I also love to bake pies. Raspberry. Blueberry. Peach. Yum. This is only miraculous because I essentially grew up in a microwave. Because of this, I am interested in all things old and outdated. I love to think about hope chests and house dresses. Sideboards are big ones, too. At the end of the day, though, when it’s 105 outside in St. Louis, I’m pretty thankful for my thermal windows and air conditioning. Still…I’m always on the brink of trying to put up jam like my great grandmother used to do.

Follow Rebecca Rasmussen on Twitter: @thebirdsisters

Breaking Away July 4, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, Latino literature, literary fiction.
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Jon Michaud

“Going separate ways isn’t a sign that two people didn’t understand one another, but an indication that they had begun to.” This anonymous quote says more about break-ups and divorces in one sentence than many books do in all of the pages between their covers. People come together and drift apart. They burn like meteors for a time, only to fizzle out when their passion hits the atmosphere of reality. Real life often gets in the way of love. If it was ever love at all. This week in #litchat we’re discussing books that feature break-ups and the questions, consequences and casualties that follow.

Joining us on Friday, July 8, is Jon Michaud, whose debut novel, When Tito Loved Clara, was named among this year’s Tantalizing Summer Reads from O magazine.  When Tito Loved Clara is about breaking up, breaking away, and breaking through everything from first love, expectations of family and the cultural ceilings of immigrant life in America. Clara and Tito were raised blocks apart in northern Manhattan’s Inwood, a neighborhood known for its large Dominican population.  Tito and Clara live a Romeo and Juliet existence as high school lovers whose warring families were once like blood. The comparison ends here. Abused and neglected as a child, Clara uses education to break away from the dysfunction she sees everywhere she looks. Tito is a boyish dreamer too content with his cushy existence in the bosom of family to see a reason for achievement. Where Shakespeare’s young lovers choose death over separation, the couple that is Michaud’s Tito and Clara dissolves when the consequences of young love threaten Clara’s plan of escape. Years later, Tito still carries a torch for Clara and fantasizes about life with her, while Clara carries the burden of guilt from her hard decisions. A cast of mostly endearing, yet quirky characters, absorb some of the angst from Tito and Clara with secrets and consequences of their own.

Jon Michaud was born in Washington, D.C. in 1967. The son of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, he grew up in Tehran, Iran, Bombay, India, Bethesda, Maryland, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. Jon was educated at the Methodist College, Belfast and at the University of East Anglia. He holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Michaud is the head librarian at The New Yorker magazine. Before becoming a librarian, Michaud worked as a passport courier, a bookseller, and a bakery assistant. As a librarian, he has also been employed by Time Inc. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. His writing has been published in IronNorth American ReviewSouth Dakota ReviewDenver QuarterlyFawlt, and other periodicals. He writes regularly for the Back Issues and Book Bench blogs on newyorker.com. Michaud lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with his wife and their two sons. He is at work on his next novel.

Follow Jon Michaud on Twitter: @JonMichaud.

Note: There will not be a moderated #litchat on Monday, July 4th, as we take the day off to celebrate American Independence Day.