Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Small Plates and Big Names

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It’s college reunion time, and so many of my pals are talking about theirs. My college, Western College for Women in Oxford Ohio, doesn’t exist any more, so reunions don’t, either.  (As far as I know. Yikes, maybe they’re not inviting me? )

Anyway. Reunions are not just a way to see how everyone turned out, they’re a poignant and fascinating time to remember, um, the way we were. And think about what we wish we had known and what we wish we had done—or, hadn’t done, ahem—and connect with the women ahead of us and behind us.

The amazing Katherine Hall Page went to her reunion last weekend. And so did some incredibly interesting and high-profile pals of hers, as you will read below. (Whoa.)

Katherine has a book of short stories out, what, today? Which is serendipitous, because according to Katherine, “What are you reading?” was a hot topic among the women at the reunion.  (And KHP was not the only reunion-attendee with a new book….)

You’ll be fascinated to hear who Katherine was hanging out with last weekend. And at the end, KHP she poses a very provocative question. (And we’re giving a copy of her wonderful  SMALL PLATES to one lucky commenter!)

KATHERINE HALL PAGE:  I could talk about my new book, Small Plates (Wm Morrow), which is a collection of short stories and a novella, but instead I’m going rogue. Do please get the book in whatever way you favor: library, online store, bricks-and-mortar store, eBook, audio etc. Small Plates is a book I have wanted to do for a long time and, although I find writing short fiction much more difficult than writing a full-length novel, it was a wonderful experience. Some of the stories do not mention Faith Fairchild, my series sleuth, or even much food at all.
Katherine now

So—I spent the weekend at my Wellesley reunion and the experience is filling my thoughts this morning (plus I am wearing my favorite Wellesley tee shirt: “It’s Not A Girls’ School Without Men/It’s A Women’s College Without Boys.”).

 Women make up 70% of the book buyers in this country, which adds up to a helluva lot of books. Of course we give some of them to the men and boys we know; but mostly we are buying them for ourselves to read. That’s what we do. We read. It may be Nora Roberts or Nora Ephron (one classmate had grabbed an audio book for the drive thinking it was the latter and has now, to her delight, discovered someone new).

Katherine at Wellesley
Books came up often over the weekend. Madeleine Albright  ’59 gave a very funny, very wise talk about her wonderful new book, Read My Pins. My long time friend and classmate, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Hard Choices went on sale Tuesday (it’s a page turner-fantastic book, get it!) and she was on campus reuning with our class. It was great to see her. And yes, she loved Small Plates, mentioning me as one of her favorite contemporary authors in this Sunday’s “By The Book” in the NYTBR.

The question “What are you reading?” was asked over and over as friends reconnected. The Goldfinch was the clear winner, but many people spoke of their comfort reads. A class of a certain age, as we are, is definitely in need of those. Jane Austen came in first, followed by Dame Agatha—and many childhood favorites: A Secret Garden, and yes—Little Women.

When I got home I looked at the stack on the table next to my bed—I have always read a few books at once, dipping into what my mood, or need, demands. I’m almost finished with Jo Nesbø’s Cockroaches, and well into: The Road to San Giovanni, Italo Calvino; Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald; another favorite Penelope-Penelope Lively, How It All Began; and a frequent reread: Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, and More Home Cooking. I read a ton of chick lit, mostly British chick lit, and I suppose these are truly my comfort reads. Katie Fforde, Sophie Kinsella (aka Madeleine Wickham), Elizabeth Buchan, India Knight, Jill Mansell, Helen Fielding, Jane Green, Marian Keyes—I could go on and on. Just take me to Harvey Nichols to pick out a posh frock or a cottage in the Cotswolds with a handsome stranger down the lane whom you hate at first, but then…and I’m there.

We read. We read to escape. To learn. To imagine. To forget. To remember.
We read for the sheer love of it.

HANK: So—let’s say you were at a college reunion—what would you tell a newbie about what to read? What you wish you had read? Or what didn’t matter? (I came late, and happily, to Edith Wharton. They MADE me read Ethan Frome, which I hated back then. Now, I am Edith’s biggest devotee.)

What didn’t matter in college? Ah. Well, I wasn’t much for actually going to class, but I wouldn’t recommend that.   

What I’m glad I read? Easy. Shakespeare. (And Our Bodies, Our Selves.)

How about you?  And don’t forget…SMALL PLATES to one lucky commenter.
AND THE WINNER:  of  TERMINAL CITY  is PlumGaga!  Email me via my  website Http:// with your mailing address!
TOMORROW ON JUNGLE RED: Are you a cat person? Or a dog person? Would anything change your mind? Edgar nominee Steve Ulfelder confesses. 

Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-one adult mysteries in the Faith Fairchild series and five for younger readers. She received the Agatha for Best First (The Body in the Belfry), Best Novel (The Body in the Snowdrift), and Best Short Story (The Would-Be Widower). She has been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the Macavity, and the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She has also published a series cookbook, Have Faith in Your Kitchen, which was nominated for an Agatha. A native of New Jersey, she lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.


  1. I’ve pondered this awhile . . . I don’t think I have an “I wish I’d read” unless it’s a Jungle Red writer’s book that I might have missed . . . .
    I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember; I’m glad to have had the opportunity to read the books of so many wonderful authors . . . .

  2. The difference between college and now is that when I read books for class, I had to remember their names and who wrote them. I'm afraid that nowadays, when I manage to pick up a book for pleasure, I rapidly forget both its name and its author. Apparently, my ROM and RAM can only hold so much, so beyond the law and recipes and phone numbers, I devour novels like so much popcorn, and alas, as with popcorn, I do not retain much from them.

    That said, I avoid Jane Austen (I know, it isn't socially acceptable to dislike her books, but I do), and will gobble up anything by Patricia Cornwell and Sue Grafton and Susan Conant. I'm glad I read Conan Doyle and participated in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas while I was in college, but neither is my cup of tea these days.

    Hank, I fought hard in the Eighties to keep Columbia from absorbing Barnard because I was damned if I was going to let anyone devalue my hard-won degree by making my college disappear. I try never to miss a reunion now, because I like being with my old friends so much. And next year will be our FIFTIETH.

    And, Katherine, love the t-shirt (my favorite from Barnard says "Uptown Girl, Barnard College" on it). You sound like you had a class like Barnard's of 1963-- Twyla Tharp, Erica Jong, and Martha Stewart were in that one. My class is nowhere near so illustrious.

  3. Katherine, the new book sounds like great fun. I went to my college reunion (Barnard) two weeks ago - the highlight was a Beatles singalong.

    To Hank's questions:
    What you wish you had read?
    More Shakespeare. More poetry.

    What didn’t matter in college?
    Meeting deadlines; doing ALL the reading on the list. I aimed to pass, not excel.

    What I’m glad I read?
    Henry James.

  4. Katherine, I'm in awe that you are close friends with Mrs. Clinton, and have been since college. And that you share book suggestions with one another. And the t-shirt is perfect! One of my daughters attended Olin College of Engineering, in their second graduating class, and because of an arrangement with Wellesley, she was able to attend two classes there, as well. Wellesley's president was her commencement speaker that year.

    Gosh, it would take more than the space in this blog to list all the books I still want to read. There is never enough time to read them all, is there? I've often described myself as an omnivorous reader, meaning, I'll read almost anything. In different periods of my life I've been drawn to different kinds of books. For a while it was psychology, then true crime, then natural history, then novels bout WWII, then thrillers and spy novels, then chick lit, then mysteries. In between, whatever someone lends/gifts/recommends.

    Hank, with Hueston Woods close by, and that beautiful Oxford campus to stroll around, it would be tough to make yourself go to class every day!

  5. MIchele Slung-anyone know her? Was in my class--well, no, just at Western the same time I was. . SO was Susan VItucci.

    Karen, it wasn;t just Huston WOods and the beautiful campus that kept me from class. It was more like--sloth. :-) If I had it to do over again, I might have studied.

  6. So happy to see some short story love here. I look forward to reading the collection.

    I love Henry James, Hallie.

    The older I get, the more I want to read harder, longer, more challenging books. Probably because I have done a lot of research into dementia, and I live with constant fear of my brain turning to oatmeal.

  7. Welcome Katherine! Small Plates and Hillary's book both going on my list! sounds like a wonderful weekend...

    I wasn't much for going to class either...I was "studying" science, aiming for medical school. Which I fixed later LOL. But meanwhile I missed the opportunity to take creative writing classes from amazing teachers. It never crossed my mind.

    Hallie, Beatles singalong?? what fun!

  8. And ps Katherine, you were so cute in college!! (still are of course:)

  9. Welcome Katherine! Hey, I'm a Wellesley grad, too — class of '91. And my heroine is a Wellesley grad as well — class of '37. Where can I get that t-shirt???

  10. P.S. Hank, I can't picture you EVER being a sloth...

  11. After my first two years in college, I transferred to another college, from which I graduated. There were lots of courses I wanted to take but couldn't fit into my schedule because I needed to take all the required courses at the second college that were either not offered or not required at my first college.

    What do I tell people to read? Just yesterday I encouraged someone in the lunch room at work to look into all the books written by JRW authors! She and I already read a lot of the same authors (she is a big Deborah Crombie fan) and she wanted to know what I was reading.

    At the end of the spring semester one year, I went to the college bookstore to buy a bunch of novels to read after the end of finals and before my summer job began. Wellll...I ended up reading ALL those books BEFORE finals! They were mostly science fiction, and mostly by Robert Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut. After finals I had to buy some more books to read before my summer job started!

  12. I'm not sure there's anything I wish I'd read that I didn't - I read widely and pretty constantly when I was in school at Northeastern University in Boston in the late 1970s. Perhaps I could have spent a little more time on classic literature.

    If I had it to do over again I'd pay a lot more attention in creative writing class, because the prof was Robert B. Parker, who had an adjunct teaching gig at NU when he was getting his writing career off the ground. I took two classes with him - he himself was a real character, but dead serious about writing.

    I recall his class was one of the few I attended without fail(not so much some others) but suspect I could have learned more had I known then what I know now.

    But isn't that always the way?

  13. Oh, Brenda, of course that's always the way. But I bet you learned more than you thought. Was he a good teacher? It's funny--it's difficult for me to picture him teaching!

  14. Oh, Susan, yes, sloth. In fact, one of my funniest memories: I made a crossword puzzle for my then 12-year-old niece. It wasn't that complicated, but it took some time.
    When I gave it to Emily, my mother was shocked. SHe said "Oh, I don;t think I've ever seen you finish anything."

  15. Hank, you are one of the least "sloth-ly" people I know.

    My 20th is next year. What would I recommend? Certainly books by the Jungle Reds, my friend Annette's Zoe Chambers series - I'm blanking this early in the morning, but I'm sure conversation would spark others.

    I was an English major in college. There isn't too much out there that I haven't read. LOL For both my Bachelor's and my Master's, I had to do oral comprehensive exams. One for each major period in literature for the BA (all the way back to Beowulf), 45 minutes each. One three-hour panel in front of three professors for the Master's where they could ask me anything. The reading lists for each degree were 10 pages long - novels, poetry, short stories, plays, essays. Makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

    What didn't matter? Going to the bar. My friends and I had more sophisticated tastes in alcohol - we did our drinking in the dorms. =)

  16. Ahh, college life. Thanks to Facebook I've reconnected with a lot of college friends. What to read? Something for pure enjoyment. For me it's Agatha Christie. Even if I have read the book before I still find something I missed in previous reads. What I wish I had read? I wished I had read more English and American literature. In college I didn't have time for that. Being a music major every spare moment was spent in the practice room. After college you are getting married, raising a family, pleasure reading gets put on the back burner. Now as an empty nester, pleasure reading is back in the agenda.

  17. My best semester was the one when I dropped several courses (Reinhold Niebuhr's was one of them-- unintelligible!) after the first class, and picked up others, and wound up with Shakespeare and The Modern American Novel and American Constitutional Law and a couple of others not as memorable. Did ALL the reading for the novel class in the first two weeks of the semester.

    What I wish I'd known then is that sometimes a pseudo-intellectual gets tenure, and that I should have challenged authority (something that did not become a byword until I was in my last year of law school) more often.

  18. So much fun reading all these! Thank you for inviting me, and thanks to all the rest of you fabulous Jungle Red women!

  19. So great to meet KHP on the pages of JR! I've read all your Faith novels.

    I'd have to say that there isn't anything I wish I'd read--I mean, I'm still reading and have a world of books at my fingertips. But there was a class, taught by an ardent feminist, which introduced me to a bunch of writers I might not have discovered on my own--I think that's what college did best for me. My Spanish classes, for example, stuck for time--my prof let me design my own course content--and in I dived among Spanish poets--so many times, my classes in any subject, really, led me to new subjects, authors, pleasures of reading.

    I was hard-wired to keep my nose to the grindstone--wish I'd been a bit more slothful! But, Hank, we all find our way eventually to where we are meant to be--and look how hard you work at what you love to do!

  20. You know, FChurch, I think that is so wise--that's what I might tell a college student: DOn't worry--something will work. YOu just don't know what it is.

    And you might as well read Shakespeare in the meantime, right?

    Katherine, if you're still here--tell us a bit about the stories! (I know you--the soul of discretion--can't talk about HIllary, grr...)

  21. That was really me above, FChurch and Katherine..

  22. Hallie, what was the Beatles singalong?

  23. Katherine, what illustrious classmates! My most notable (at least as far as I know) classmate was Ron Kirk, former mayor of Dallas, now United States Trade Representative serving in the Obama administration. He's a great guy--we all hoped he might be the first black president of the US.

    Things I'm glad I read? Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species AND The Voyage of the Beagle. (And many other things, but I was a biology major...)

    Things I could have missed? Anything by John Steinback and William Faulkner. Maybe I would like them better now...

    Things I wish I had/or hadn't done? I might say I wish I'd partied MORE. Austin College is a hard school and I studied a LOT. Not really sorry about that, though.

  24. Hey, thank you, DebRo! xxo

    And PLUMGAGA wins TERMINAL CITY--remember to email me via my website!

    And BEV, you won TRUTH BE TOLD--let me know your mailing address.

    ELlen, that class of 63 is amazing. Hard to believe. WOnder what it was like for them all? Wonder what their classmates thought? Were they special, even then? Or--outsiders?

  25. The stories, yes. Many readers have already commented and two in particular seem to be favorites among all-"The Would-Be Widower" and "Hiding Places". "Widower" is not a new story. It won the Agatha a while back and it's about a man who pines for widowhood to be the object of universal, female, sympathy, and perhaps more. Also casseroles. Besides, he loathes his wife. Much Black Humor and a real twist at the end. "Hiding Places" also has an O. Henry type ending and starts out innocently enough about the places spouses/partners might hide things-secret vices like peanut M&Ms or old love letters etc. As the story progresses and Felicity, a newlywed, discovers her husband's stashes, the story loses some of its light-heartedness. A lot of it. I also like one of the ones in which Faith Fairchild appears, "Sliced". Presents a very different side of her and her career.
    As for Hillary. Smart, funny, generous, loyal. Simply one of the best people I know. And that laugh...

  26. How delightful that you and your classmates were talking about what you're reading, Katherine. It's my favorite topic, except for my grandchildren (of course). And, talking to Hillary Clinton about reading? Wow! Talking to Hillary Clinton about reading and having her name you as one of her favorite authors? Off the charts exciting!

    Having graduated from college with an English degree, I had a fairly good sampling of literature. Shakespeare course, British lit, American lit. However, I would have liked to had more British lit. Unfortunately, the summer of that course, I learned how to achieve an A without reading the entire required list. I toyed with the idea of taking some classes as an adult in specific authors or periods of literature, but I got my Masters in library science instead. I am rather deficient in Dickens and still have hopes of rectifying that.

    There are some authors and books that I'm glad I had to read for my English degree, books that have stayed with me these many years. Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

    Katherine, thank you for such an interesting post today, and I will be looking for Small Plates, which has a great title.

  27. “It’s Not A Girls’ School Without Men/It’s A Women’s College Without Boys.”
    Totally brilliant!

  28. Hi Hank,

    Prof. Parker did not want us to call him Prof. Parker, if I recall correctly. He dressed casually and often seemed to have come to class straight from the gym. He was interesting and funny and gave helpful critical feedback on my writing (which was terrible, I'm quite sure).

    Brenda B.

  29. My writer friend in NY-RWA, Irene Kleeberg, ( RIP) told us in our writing group once that when she went back to Wellesley for her class reunion the speaker then was a bright young kid named Hillary Rodham and Irene was convinced that day that the kid would once be the President of the US!!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  30. Am delighted to meet Katherine Hall Page on this page - and, wow, indeed: What high powered women at her class reunion!

    Mostly, I read mysteries and I read food writing. I love both for how they take me out and away from my own life.

    I like how mysteries take me on a journey and lead me through an interesting plot and interesting characters to a satisfying end. And I love food writing for all that satisfying food without any of the calories.

  31. Lit major at Seattle University. Brits, Russians, the French (in French), moderns -- you name it, I probably read it.

    But I will here publicly confess that Victoria Holt got me through law school. Fifteen minutes of Gothic romance a night wiped all thoughts of torts and taxes out of my head (tax law permanently)so I could sleep. If I had it to do over again, I'm not sure I would go to law school -- but if I did, I'd definitely recommend a nightly dose of fiction!

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  33. What I'm glad I read in college: The Grapes of Wrath

    What I wish I'd read more of: American literature classics. Somehow I've always been more fond of the British classics and feel that I really should redress the gap of American literature. But there's simply not enough time to read all that I want to now!

    What books would I recommend: Lots of mysteries! KHP - I finally finished all of the Faith series. I pick The Body in the Boudoir as my favorite.

  34. I'm glad I read: Nabokov.
    What I wish I'd read: Jane Austen (I must be the only woman in America who hasn't!)
    What I wish/miss: I wish I'd discovered how much fun research is earlier in my college time. Some of my greatest memories (related to actual classes) are of digging through stacks in the library, viewing microfilm, and drawing conclusions based on decades or centuries old prose or paintings.

  35. Thelma, that is fascinating! WOUld had been such fun to have heard that..

    ANd Brenda, what a great memory! (It's still hard to picture..)

    Amanda, lovely to see you! And never thought about the no-calorie part. Brilliant!

  36. And the winner of the ARC of TRUTH BE TOLD from Monday.. is Bev Fontaine! Email me your address via my website

    I will give away another ARC if I don't hear from Bev by tomorrow!

    ANd PlumGaga wins TERMINAL CITY!

  37. I still have my Hillary sticker on the rear window of my car from 2008. Needless to say, I'm "Ready for Hillary."

  38. Thank you, Katherine for the shout out to Sophie Kinsella - highly recommended for a fun, intelligent non-crime read (and she is an Oxford grad).

    At college I studied English literature, and read literary works for class and beyond as though my life depended on it .. It did, in a way. Loved giving the time to learn to appreciate great work.

    Now (many years later) I equally need crime, chick lit, thrillers: searching for the meaning of life giving way to satisfaction in seeing plots resolved, problems solved?

    I want a t-shirt that reads 'Hey, i've read Chaucer in the original, too'.

  39. I graduated from a women's college (45th reunion a year ago) -- what didn't matter was what we looked like (I wore a combo of two skirts and two sweaters for years!).

    I was an English major (and also did graduate work in English as well), so I am pretty well read. There are plenty of books I am so glad I read with "supervision" -- Henry James, for example, and Faulkner.

    I wish we had read more literature by women -- they were totally invisible when I was in school. Literally, I read Emily Dickinson (period)as an undergraduate. I had an Austen seminar in grad school.

    I was a classics minor so read Sappho.

    But, young ones, that was it!

  40. Modifying my rant in recognition of Flannery O'Connor -- and a few other short story writers and poets!

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  42. Denise Ann, I LOVE that, Seriously, I wore the same heather blue sweater and heather blue miniskirt for TWO YEARS.

    And I used to go to German class--8AM--in pajamas and a trench coat.

    (My captcha is verb must )

  43. I forgot to tell Katherine Hall Page that I've read all the Faith books and am delighted to hear about the short stories! Looking forward to reading them, too.

    Add me to the (short)list of women who have not read Jane Austen. I've tried, though. (I think I'm the only member of my family who has not read her - and I was an English major.)

  44. Oh wow, these are so great. Regarding appearance. Yes, very nice to let go of that kind of baggage and we ran the gamut from jeans to Lily Pulitzers, everything in between. It is a high powered class as they all were in those heady late 60s, but we're also very low powered.
    If I had to choose one word to describe us it would be 'accepting".

  45. I'm glad I had the Shakespeare class because he had just permeated our culture.
    I used to think if I started something, I had to finish it. Now I don't. If I don't like it, I move on. Maybe getting old does that. ;)

  46. Women's colleges for the win! (Says the parent of Smithie '14.)

    I hope we get to see you up in
    Maine this summer!

  47. "Accepting" is so brilliant, Katherine! And such a life-changing choice. Thank you so much for being here today! xoxoo You are fabulous!

    See you all tomorrow.. and we'll announce the winner of KHP's SMALL PLATES!

    Are you cat person, or a dog person? Let us know--tomorrow!