The Best Books of 2014

I’m part of a wonderful group of nine women who make weekly reading recommendations–every Wednesday, all year long at Great New Books. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for a good read.

This week, we have our list of the Best Books of 2014. Have you read any? Do you have any to add to our list? Need gift ideas?

Click on the image below to get started!

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Author Road Trip, Day 3: Boise

I put my husband in charge of taking pictures during the book party at my in-laws, and therefore I have no pictures of the event to share. However, I do have these, of our day in Boise – enjoy!

Hiking near my in-laws house in the foothills

Hiking near my in-laws house in the foothills north of downtown Boise

Top of the hill

Top of the hill

Lunch at Front Door

Lunch at Front Door

Popped into this bookstore in downtown Boise and they had my book -- a fun surprise.

Popped into this bookstore in downtown Boise and they had my book — a fun surprise.

My niece, a pretty spectacular reason to visit Boise

My niece, a pretty spectacular reason to visit Boise

On to Bend!

The Rooms Are Filled

Happy Publication Day!

  • Today, at long last, about three years after I started writing, is publication day for The Rooms Are Filled. The book is available everywhere books are sold, like here and here and hereIf you’re game, please share this news with your friends, family, and book clubs today. There are some easy sharing buttons below.
  • Here’s an inside peek into the life of this writer on pub morning: I’ve just dropped my children off at school, I’ve poured a cup of coffee and am considering a shower, and then I shall figure out how and whether I can add photos to my newsletter emails. Then, I will pick my children up.
  • I also have the first chapter of the book up on JukePop Serials — you know, the old-fashioned way of publishing. If you’re interested in reading a bit before you buy, click HERE.
  • *TONIGHT*: Google Hangout at 7pm Central. It’s online, so grab a drink, put on your pajamas, turn on your computer, and join us! My two friends will be interviewing me live. We’ll chat about the book, writing it as an at-home mom, and publishing. Please click HERE for details.
  • I am getting wonderful feedback about the book (and not just from people who love me). Feedback like this:

“The only other book I remember reading in 2 days was The Poisonwood Bible. I’m generally distractible, but I couldn’t put this down.”

“It was as good as any of the books I’ve read recently — and I mostly only read books on the top seller lists because I never know where to look for recommendations. In other words, there could be room on those shelves for you. It stayed with me long after putting it down and I can’t wait to read your next one.”

“A painful read but one anyone who has ever been on the outside can relate to. Beautiful.”

I wrote a book I’m proud of, and I’m enjoying the ride. Thanks for being a part of it.

Jessica

PSOn to Minneapolis! See where else I’m headed HERE. And let me know if you have friends there I should invite!

The-Rooms-are-Filled

Barn Happy

It’s frigid again today—blue sky sunny sort of frigid. The coldest winter days are always the sunniest. The children are off school for the third time this month; tomorrow will mark the fourth. Thankfully, some neighbors asked them to play, so they get rid of some cabin fever and I get to write.

When I was a girl, I begged my parents to move us to a farm. (My son does the same to me now; can this really be genetic?) I would clip bits from the real estate section of the newspaper advertising farms in Wisconsin for sale and present my case to them. It never worked and, alas, we stayed in our suburban home my entire childhood.

I now live in that same suburb, in a 1925 farmhouse (of course). There are four original barns left in this entire sprawling suburb, and I’m lucky enough to be able to see one of them, our neighbor’s, from the window next to my writing desk:

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Not bad, right?

Looking at this barn seems to stimulate all the thoughts swirling in my head, all the stories. Every morning, I open my blinds and I am happy to see the barn standing there, as it has for over one hundred years.

The anxious anticipation of releasing a book in a few months is becoming stronger. This barn keeps the anxiety at bay and reminds me that there are many stories to tell and I will continue telling them. One book is one book. There are others to come.

My publisher emailed me the other day with my first Goodreads review, pre-release (my book comes out April 22). I’m happy in a barn sort of way to share it with you here. I don’t know this person, but I love her for making my first review ever as an author a good one:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/795251709?book_show_action=true

BOOK REVIEWERS: An advance copy of my novel, The Rooms Are Filled, is now on NetGalley. Click HERE to request an e-book.

Quiet Literature

Over a year and a half ago, I went to my first writers conference. I had a pretty good second-ish draft of my novel in hand, though I’d recently decided to self-publish. (It will now be published by She Writes Press in 2014.) Still, I wanted to learn more about the industry and get some agent feedback on my first pages.

The two agents assigned to my group of ten writers were young, probably ten years younger than I was. I don’t tell you their age–about mid-20s–to be condescending. But I think it might help explain their know-it-all attitude. I didn’t fully recognize the attitude at the time; though I’d been writing for many years, I was new to the publishing industry and had a lot to learn. They did know it all, as far as I was concerned.

But now I’ve had time to digest my conference experience, learn more about publishing, and reflect on my own trajectory from thinking I know everything (oh, say, ten years ago) to realizing how little I know. As age increases, so does the ability to admit ignorance.

One of the agents in particular looked very young, though she masked it with dark red lipstick and a sweeping up-do. After the first two pages of my manuscript were read aloud, she turned to me and said, “This has the risk of being too quiet. You don’t want to be too quiet.”

“Oh,” I think I said, though I had no idea what she meant. I could guess, but it was the first I’d ever heard the word used to describe literature.

“It’s also a bit…M.F.A.,” she continued.

“Oh,” I said again. Then, sheepishly: “I have an M.F.A.”

Photo: Dorothea Lange

Photos: Dorothea Lange

She nodded with pursed lips, as though I’d just provided her all the information she needed. I already knew that some people thought earning a Master of Fine Arts was a waste of time and often produced people who could write beautiful sentences but couldn’t put together a compelling story. I’d just never had someone say it to my face.

I tell you all this because, since then, I’ve had time to think about “quiet.” That sheepish attitude I had? Oh, it’s all gone.

To the detractors of this type of literature, quiet is boring. It means there are no steamy love scenes, no vampires, no plot lines screaming in your face, telling you, the reader, all you need to know. To the agent, quiet meant, “No Sale.”

Photo: Dorothea Lange

And it’s true, quiet is harder to sell. A lot of people read books to escape into un-reality. There is an important role in that type of literature.

But I am in love with quiet. Quiet literature assumes the reader is intelligent and thoughtful, able to read between the lines, between the gestures, and peek into the spaces between the words—to understand the words that aren’t there, and why. The quiet reader doesn’t need to be told everything.

Quiet literature reflects humankind without much fanfare. It tells the everyday stories of everyday people, seeking the profound in the mundane. Quiet literature finds glory—I find glory—in the moments that make up real life. There is meaning in the way a child eats a green apple with her front teeth or that a shopkeeper wraps a piece of thread around his finger until it hurts.

My favorite part about writing quiet literature is figuring out how to get a point across—through a scene or a phrase or a piece of dialogue that is, or isn’t, there—in the imgressimplest way. What wince, what glance at the door, what touch of the wrist, will be the bit the reader needs to understand?

To me, quiet literature is the Dorothea Lange photography of the book world. It reflects reality, the living–us.

These days, if you Google “quiet literature,” you’ll find articles on Alice Munro. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature last week.

Why, I haven’t read her since my M.F.A. days.