Wednesday, January 18, 2017

JRW Book Discussion: BEL CANTO

LUCY BURDETTE: The day has arrived for our Jungle Red Writers book club discussion of BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett. Hopefully you've had time to read or reread and are ready to chat. Kristopher Zigorski of BOLO BOOKS will be our facilitator today.

1. Bel Canto has been bestowed with (or saddled with) the moniker of being a “literary” novel, and yet it contains many of the hallmarks readers associate with genre novels – crime fiction in particular.  Why do you think critics feel the need to label things “literary” as a way to elevate them?  And do you agree that Bel Canto is more “literary” than thriller?

2. How does the closed environment setting of the mansion work to elevate the suspense?

3. Think about the role language plays throughout Bel Canto. Keep in mind that music is referred to as “the universal language.”  How do music and language serve different roles with in the action of the novel?

4. Think about which characters are the most interesting to you and try to get a sense of why that might be. Do you think Ann Patchett intended readers to feel closer to some characters over others?

5. Bel Canto was released in May 2001, just a few months before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Do you think US readers experience the novel differently now that the risk of such attacks on home soil is no longer unthinkable?

Listen to performances of two opera arias important within the story of Bel Canto. It is worth noting here that Renee Fleming is generally accepted to be the inspiration for Roxanne Coss – the diva in the novel.

Renee Fleming performing Song to the Moon:

Angela Gheorghiu performing O mio babbino caro:

Lastly, in November 2015, Bel Canto (the novel) was turned into Bel Canto (the opera) having a premiere at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Here is a sampling of the music, sets, and costumes from that production:

Lucy again: The system for our discussion will probably be a little clunky--you can post any answer any time today--just label it with the corresponding number. Any other comments always welcome! And thank you Kristopher Zgorski

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Addicts Unite

Lucy in 2009

LUCY BURDETTE: I confess that I am greedily, unredeemably addicted to books. I can’t wait to enter each new world created by an author, visit places I’ve been (or haven’t,) and root for my new friends, the characters. I might own more books than I can finish in a lifetime, but hmmm, what if none of them were books I wanted to read at that moment? I have suffered a bookless panic twice--both times abroad. The first time, I carried a stack of books in my luggage that I judged would last me more than a week. But I got sick and spent more time reading than I'd expected. And we were in Barcelona, so the selection of English books in bookstores was quite limited. Ack! Ack! A ten-hour flight home with nothing to read? Impossible! The second time my new Kindle failed--on the first day of the trip. I had to read whatever anyone else in the group had finished...

So I can’t help buying books at every store I visit. Over the last two weeks of December, I hit the Key West Island bookstore and Books and Books in Key West, RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison CT, and the Strand bookstore in New York City (twice, because I was afraid I might've missed something the first time through—it was very crowded, you understand, and that made it hard to browse.) 

This bookish greediness might help explain why I have volunteered five times to judge the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award contest for best mystery of the year: twice in the best novel category, once in young adult, once in best TV series (OK those were DVDs not books,) and this year in the middle grade mystery fiction category. One of the bonuses of serving as a judge is that you receive your own copy of every book submitted. (In the first photo, you can see part of the loot I collected during my 2009 best novel tenure--we had to whittle the winners down from over 500 books.) 

Here’s part of my current TBR stash—I didn’t buy all of them, some were Christmas presents, and that was followed by a big birthday (they’re all big at this point…) The six on the top right I tore through and loved right after the MWA reading was concluded. 

Inquiring minds must know, what’s on your pile? I have a niggling feeling most of you share my addiction…And how do you choose what's next? AND PS, SEND ME A PHOTO OF YOUR TBR PILE AND I'LL TRY TO POST AS MANY AS I CAN ON SATURDAY!! raisleib at gmail dot com

And PPS, don't forget to come back tomorrow for our JRW book discussion of Bel Canto!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Modern Day Heroes

From Martin Luther King Jr., from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

photo by Mike Licht

LUCY BURDETTE: King was only 39 years old when he was assassinated, and yet he left such a large footprint. He identified civil rights as his life’s work back when he was a teenager. And he never let up on that. And he was willing to sacrifice his own life to stand up and speak his mind.

Ricci Coughlan/DFID
His “holiday” has me wondering, are we making heroes the way we used to? I mean grand-scale heroes who are willing to sacrifice their lives either literally or figuratively to protect something vitally important for the rest of us. I would put forward Michelle Obama as one of mine. Over the past eight years, she has been consistently classy and strong-minded supporting issues she believed to be important, and managed to raise two amazing daughters while under the microscope. Whom do you admire, and for what?

RHYS BOWEN: I'd agree about Michelle. One classy lady who has raised two daughters with the idea of service and dedication. Another of my heroes was Maya Angelou. When I tried to go through our current crop of politicians I'm afraid I couldn't come up with a single "Ask what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you."  It's been more "Ask how I can accept kick backs from lobbyists while denying the other party the chance to do anything." But there are plenty of small heroes: those who teach in inner city schools and buy all their own supplies. Nurses who sit by the bedside of a dying child. Those who minister to the homeless and go to war-torn countries to provide help to refugees.

I think we are all called upon to be heroes in our own small way. It involves not turning a blind eye to injustice, speaking up even though it may make us feel foolish. Never allowing bullying or intimidation. Choosing our charities that mean something special to us and then giving generously. Volunteering. Showing compassion. Vowing to do one small act of kindness every day and to leave the world a little better than we found it. A great challenge, but worth undertaking!

HALLIE EPHRON: I agree on Michelle Obama. And in that vein, another heroic first lady was Eleanor Roosevelt. She found her own niche. lobbied for the needy and oppressed, and had Franklin's ear. And I'll second teachers and nurses and politicians who are motivated by a desire to serve for the public good. And the suffragists and suffragettes and abolitionists. Reminding us that it's easy to sign a petition but actions speak louder.   

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Chiming in on Michelle Obama. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does as a private citizen (and she has so many years ahead of her! She's younger than many of us.) Politicians, leaders... I find Sen Tammy Duckworth incredibly inspiring. Someone who has given as much as she has to our country and who is willing to give more. Elizabeth Warren, the populist firebrand. Maine's own Senator Susan Collins, one of the last of the moderate Republicans in DC, a politician who is willing to listen to and work with people across the aisle.

I agree with Rhys: the days to come will require us all to be heroes, if even in one small gesture or one kind word.

INGRID THOFT: Another Michelle Obama fan here.  I looked up "hero" in the dictionary, because it seems to be a word we toss around a lot more than we used to. defines it as "a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character," and Michelle seems to fit the bill with nobility of character.  I think there are groups who have acted heroically by providing shelter and relief to those displaced by war.  I think Anita Hill was a hero for taking a stand (literally) in the face of horrendous abuse and character assassination.  I think that kids who stand up for other kids on the playground are acting heroically, and I do think people who do jobs where they run towards danger rather than from it are heroes.  

JENN MCKINLAY: I adore Michelle, too. Frankly, I admire anyone who can keep their composure when under constant scrutiny and frequent vicious attack. I am not that person - my command of profanity prohibits me from being polite when a good chewing out is deserved. I do try, but I usually fail. I consider myself a work in progress, learning from people like Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Emma Thompson, Malala Yousifazi, and my mom, to name just a few. In raising boys, I feel lucky that they have several strong male role models (like their dad) to learn from but when they were younger, I also employed the Rule of DC/Marvel. If they exhibited behavior that was unacceptable, I'd say, "You love (insert Spiderman, Ironman, Batman, etc.), do you think he would behave like that? If you want to be a hero, you have to act like one." For the most part, it worked like a charm. It will be interesting to see who they choose to emulate as they grow older. Right now, it's all about music, specifically rock and roll -- Keith Richards as a role model, go figure!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm all for Keith Richards as a role model, Jenn!! And I admire Michelle tremendously. I think it will be very interesting to see what she does when the First Lady shackles come off. 

I know it seems hard at the moment to remember that there are lots of people who act with decency, kindness, and compassion, and speak up--and act--on their principles. There is Jimmy Carter, and Pope Francis. I have great admiration for Bill and Melinda Gates, who donate huge amounts of money AND effort to make the world a better place. And Bill Gates's buddy, Warren Buffet. There's John Lewis, the congressional representative who's much in the news the last few days, but his record as an activist goes back many years. Barbara Bush is a long-held hero of mine for her efforts towards improving literacy. 

And here's something inspiring; the Bush girls (young women, I should say,) Barbara and Jenna, writing to Sasha and Malia on leaving the White House. They have grown up to be women to admire.

And here's one more thing to give a little fist-bump to human compassion and decency: ‘James Bond of Philanthropy’ Gives Away the Last of His Fortune.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Jenn, your rule of DC/Marvel is awesome. Thank you!  I am trying that out this very day.
As for the incomparable Michelle. Yes. I am endlessly grateful. And I am so attached to her. (And I have talked with Anita Hill, and could barely form a coherent word.)
 But heroes and role models? 
My step-son and his wife and our two grandsons are visiting us this weekend. It is enthralling and amazing to watch Josh and Eli learn things and acclimate to their world--and to see their parents juggle and help and encourage. Paul works every day at a stimulating and important job and Krista is getting her masters in early childhood education and STILL they focus on their kids. It is so difficult. So--I am in AWE of any hard-working and devoted  parents. Any parent who is taking the responsibility to introduce a new person into the world--to teach them about love and music and literature and analytical thinking and kindness and  pizza. I applaud you all.  

Reds, how about you? Any thoughts about modern day heroes?

Sunday, January 15, 2017


I heard an interesting piece on the radio when I was driving home this week. It was about former US presidents and their favorite movies.
The ones that stood out to me were:
Nixon liked Patton
K chose the Bond movies
Ronald Reagan picked It's a Wonderful Life
Donald Trump selected Citizen Kane.

What was interesting to me is that each of these men chose a movie that mirrored themselves, or at least as they saw themselves.
Nixon liked Patton, stern leader of men.
JFK saw himself as the playboy daring undercover agent
Ronald Reagan as the humble everyman, wanting to help everybody
Trump identified with the ruthless empire builder. (I wonder if he ever murmurs Rosebud?)

Which got to thinking about my own favorite movies:
The ones that came instantly to mind are
Out of Africa
The Dead Poet's Society
Roman Holiday
Enchanted April

Then I wondered if these mirror who I am? I'd like to be Meryl Streep, having her hair washed by Robert Redford.
Or Maggie Smith, performing the quartet from Rigoletto
One thing they do all have in common is that they are hopelessly romantic. Am I a hopeless romantic? Maybe, but with a touch of cynicism.

Then I wondered which was my favorite. If I could take only one movie with me to a desert island, of course assuming that there was a DVD player with solar battery charger!
I couldn't decide on one until it hit me: THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
That would be my perfect movie for a desert island. I could sing along to the songs. I could dream about those Austrian Alps. I could cry a little.
Okay, yes, so I am a hopeless romantic!
How about you? Do you have a favorite movie? Would it say who you are?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Not Murphy's Law, but Rhys's Law

I have a character named Molly Murphy so naturally I am well aware of Murphy’s Law. I’m not sure of the exact definition or even where it came from. Something like “If something can go wrong, it will.”
Today I’m sharing Rhys’s law. Not quite as dire but perplexing.  If something can be bloody annoying it will.
This topic came to me when I was getting ready for a party over the holidays. I wanted to wear a particular necklace.  I had left several chains in the jewelry case and not touched or moved them since. When I pulled them out they were hopelessly tangled together. How can that happen? Do pieces of jewelry get up to high jinks when I’m not looking? Do I need to install a CCTV camera into my jewelry box? And worse still, how can an individual chain, lying all alone, manage to tie itself into an impossible knot? Inquiring minds want to know! Has this ever happened to you?
So Rhys’s law says “If you need to put on a necklace at the last minute the chain will be impossibly tangled in other chains.”
More items of Rhys’s law:
If ever I am sent flowers it’s always a day before I’m due to travel somewhere. Does anybody send me flowers when I am home for a month to enjoy them? No (except for the time when I had broken my pelvis, but I wouldn’t want to go through that again!) So I usually have to hand over a lovely bouquet to a relative or friend when I take off.
And speaking of travel: why do we always hit turbulence when I’m about to sip coffee? Usually I have brought the cup up to my lips when there is a large bump. And usually I am wearing a white shirt at the time. Why do I only spill food down my front when I’m wearing light clothing? If I were head to toe in black I’d never spill a thing—except powdered sugar from a donut.  At least I’ve now learned to take an extra light shirt with me when I travel. And a Tide stain removing stick!
And why does the toast always fall jelly-side down if I drop it? And when I decide to take a long soak in the tub why does the phone decide to ring?
All minor annoyances I suppose. Nothing really to complain about.

 How about you? What is your version of Rhys’s law?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh don't get me started.
 Why is there is always just one egg left?
Why does the battery die just as you really need the phone/mouse/toothbrush?
Why does the person call EXACTLY when you sit down to dinner?
When the lights go out, why is the flashlight always where you are not?
As a corollary, why is the umbrella always in the car--or not--depending on where you are when you need it?
Why is the driver in front of you ALSO looking for a parking place--and there is just one left?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The book you want to read is out at the library. When you break down and buy it (in hardcover,) the next day you'll find the library now has two copies on the shelf.

Within a week of hauling something up to the attic or stowing it in the cellar, you will need that item. It will be in a box, underneath two other boxes.

I have a necklace related one as well, Rhys: the necklace that perfectly matches your outfit will have something scratchy on the clasp, which you will only find out after you've already left the house. Collary: Your blouse will have an annoying tag that only touches your skin when you turn your head to the left, and you will spend the day scratching at odd moments.

HALLIE EPHRON: This is fun.

When you're in a rush, why does the light always turn red?
Why is the spot in the back of my head where my hair looks weird located where I cannot see it in the mirror?
Why does the bookmark fall out when I drop the book?
Why does my screen freeze up when I've been working for an hour without saving?
Why does my grandbaby's diaper need changing minutes after I change it?
Why do airfares go down the moment after I book my flight?


Why does your prescription run out two days into the trip?
Why does the GPS quit when you're driving in a foreign country, but work perfectly in your own state?
Why can't you find the one item in your suitcase you really need, and you have to unpack the whole thing?  (Not that this happened this week or anything!)
Why does my computer problem get fixed the moment my software developer husband walks into the room?  He doesn't even have to touch the machine!
Why does the DVR recording cut out two seconds before the reveal on "Love It or List It"?

RHYS: Oh and Ingrid, speaking of computers why does the start screen say "Installing update 1 of 14,720" when I'm in a panic to send off an email?

Why does the good song come on the radio after I’ve reached my destination?
Why does the plot point that’s been scratching at my subconscious only become clear
after I send my manuscript to my editor?
Where do the missing socks go? I really want to know!
Why does the waitress ask me how my food is right when I’ve taken a bite?
Why do we always have a heatwave right after I’ve packed my summer clothes away?

RHYS: Oh yes. Socks! John is always having a minor meltdown because I've lost one of his socks in the dryer. What do the washer and dryer do with socks? I'm always afraid the plumber will be called one day to a massive blockage caused by thousands of socks.

So now it's up to you: time to vent your own annoying frustrations.
I should add that we all know how lucky we are that the worst thing in our lives is a tangled piece of jewelry or a missing sock. Next time things like this happen I'm going to try and remind myself that at this moment people are living on the streets, fleeing from conflict or about to undergo major surgery. 

And Deanna Raybourn has let me know that she has picked Karen in Ohio to receive a signed copy of her book. So Karen, email me and I'll put you in touch with Deanna. Congratulations!