Vinita Still Writes in Chicago

Vinita Hampton Wright, the author of this month’s book, is an editor, writer, teacher and speaker. After several years working as a public schoolteacher in Kansas and Missouri, Wright got her master’s degree in communications from Wheaton College. During her time at Wheaton, she was allowed to do creative writing projects in place of taking exams, provided the writing dealt with a theological theme. With her projects revolving around the theme of grace, Wright wrote what became her first book, Grace at Bender Springs. 

Her second novel (and our book this month), Velma Still Cooks in Leeway explores the theme of forgiveness. Wright’s ability to make her characters come alive and the art of her storytelling in this book have been highly praised. In 2007 Dwelling Places, her third novel, won Christianity Today’s award for best fiction.

According to her website, Vinita now lives in Chicago and has been working as an editor for almost 20 years. She also leads workshops helping artists connect their creative work and spiritual lives. Much like her character Velma cooked her way through life, Vinita is still writing today, working on another novel and a book of essays.

If you’d like to learn more about Vinita Hampton Wright, take a look at her website, or check out the article that appeared in Christianity Today shortly after Velma Still Cooks in Leeway was published.

Join us next Thursday, November 10 at 7 p.m. at Paradise Café and Bakery at Hamilton Town Center as we discuss Velma Still Cooks in Leeway. Hope to see you there!

"best selling novelist of all time"

According to the Guinness Book of World Records our author this month, Agatha Christie, is the best selling novelist of all time! No matter how big or small a book club is… they should read the best, right?!

I previewed this book earlier this year, and I know I will read more of her mysteries. Murder on the Orient Express is now in my ibooks waiting for me. Granted, I’ve only read one of her 66 detective novels I may not be the best judge… but the mystery, the funny, the British, the lack of gore won me over, for sure.

Christie had a full life, a life she chronicled in two autobiographies.

So I don’t spoil those books, incase you’d like to read them, here is a glimpse of her life… in numbers:

1890 -the year she was born
1 brother
1 sister
4 yrs old -when she taught herself to read
1st World War -worked as a hospital nurse, and in a pharmacy (with poisons… great for her future plots!)
1914 -married first husband, Archibald Christie an aviator
1 daughter, Roselind
11 days -how long she was missing after news of her first husband’s unfaithfulness
1930 -married her second husband, an Max Mallowan an archeologist
2nd World War -worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital, again with poisons.
1968 -because of her husbands knighthood, she became Lady Mallowan.
85 -age at her death

66 detective novels
14 short story collection
24,000 performances of her stage play, Mouse Trap

1st recipient of the Mystery Writers of America’s highest honour, the Grand Master Award

I hope you join us next Thursday October 13th at 7:00 at Paradise Bakery and Cafe for a great discussion!

Happy Reading,


The gift of storytelling

Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)

Winning a Pulitzer Prize for our current book club novel: Gone With The Wind, her only published novel, she is known by most. Gone With The Wind is on the best-seller list having sold 30 million copies!

Born November 8, 1900 in Atlanta Georgia, she grew up hearing stories of the Civil War which laid the ground work for this masterpiece early on in her life.

In 1922 she took the next step leading to her literary fame when she began writing for the Atlanta Journal, a very uncommon career for a female in that time. In her short time a the paper (’22-’26) she became their leading feature writer.

Believing a husband should support the wife she quit in 1926 to return home and to her fiction when her husband was financially able to support them. Her fiction was the manuscript that would introduce us to Scarlett and Rhett and the war from the Southern point of view. She worked on her novel for roughly 10 years.

A very rough draft was first read by an editor at Macmillian Publishing, Harold Lantham, void of a first chapter, but he new the gem it would become. She, on the other hand, was reluctant to think it would amount to anything, but Lantham promptly sent her a check to encourage her to finish.

Her fame grew quickly as the book was published on June 30, 1936, then winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and the movie released in 1939.

Mark your calendars and join us at 7:00 Thursday July 28th at Geist Park for a picnic and discussion of this epic novel! Bring a salad to share, your own dishes and your lovely selves!

If the past has anything to teach me, the summer goes fast… so I’ll see you all in a few short weeks!!

Happy Reading,

Laughing in the Face of Tragedy: J. M. Barrie

“The combination of laughter and tears, or the effort to make his audience laugh in the face of tragedy, distinguishes all of J. M. Barrie’s writing We encounter the most flawless example of this mixture of humor and heartbreak in Peter Pan—the story of a never-aging boy who takes other children on fantastic adventures and is eventually abandoned by them.” —Amy Billone

James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9, 1860 and was no stranger to tragedy throughout his life. When Barrie was six years old, his older brother David died in a skating accident, an accident that haunted Barrie for the rest of his life, and his mother never fully recovered from the trauma. Barrie had a love for the theater, and was a prolific writer of plays. Two years after his first commercial theatrical success in 1892, he married Mary Ansell, an actress who had performed a leading role in the play. Later he went on to publish novels and a memoir about his mother.

Barrie became good friends with George and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and their sons George and Jack in 1897, and his playacting with the boys was the principal source of material for his play Peter Pan, which also developed as a novel, Peter and Wendy that is now known as Peter Pan.

Barrie and his wife divorced in 1909, but in 1910, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies died, and because her husband had died in 1907, Barrie adopted all five of their sons. But in the midst of this joy, pain was still to come. George, the oldest boy was killed in World War I. Several years later, the fourth of the Llewelyn Davies boys drowned while swimming in a millpond with a friend. Barrie never recovered from the death, and his writing pretty much ceased after this. Barrie’s last play, which reflected aspects of his life, including the death of his brother was not successful. He died in 1937.

Despite all of this tragedy, J. M. Barrie has created one of the most beloved pieces of children’s literature of all time, filled with fantasy, delight and humor. But as the quote above mentions, it is tinged with some sadness. Nonetheless, I look forward to our journey to Neverland this month with Wendy, John, Michael, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell as we meet Tiger Lily, the Lost Boys and pirates and battle the evil Captain Hook. Let’s all be kids for a while and enjoy this time to “fly”.

See you at Paradise Bakery and Cafe on May 12 at 7 as we discuss Peter Pan!

Mountain Climber, Peace Maker, Story Teller

I just love people who solve problems creatively.

Greg Mortenson is one of these people.

I love reading about ideas that creatively solve problems.

Three Cups of Tea, is about how Greg Mortenson is creatively solving some BIG problems.

I love this quote about him, “Mortenson believes that education and literacy for girls globally is the most important investment all countries can make to create stability, bring socio-economic reform, decrease infant mortality and population explosion, as well as improve health, hygiene, and sanitation standards globally.” (from wikipedia)

Those problems are big, right? I’d say, though, that Greg’s efforts also work towards the often scoffed at ideal of world peace. But any effort that brings discussion, understanding and conversation over violence is a winner in my book. Ergo, this book=winner. 🙂

Read it: Be challenged. Be inspired.

(And for those of you who are less than excited about reading biographical books: this one has mystery, intrigue, suspense, and drama- all in a far away land!)

Malcolm Gladwell: Author of The Tipping Point

It’s true. I’m a little obsessed with Malcolm Gladwell. I get that way about anyone who I think is doing something really well. And let me tell you, Malcolm Gladwell is REALLY good at what he does.

I read The Tipping Point last year and I could not shut up about it. Ask anyone who I talked to in the month or 3 after I read it. I was enamored with the way Malcolm could tell you something really applicable and interesting- even scientific- using a series of stories. He is a writer and a social scientist, and I don’t know which he excels in more.

Gladwell was born in England, raised in Canada, and is part Jamaican. He has written for many distinguished publications such as The American Spectator, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker (his current employer). Along the way he also wrote for Insight on the News which, from my brief review on Wikipedia, was an interesting and controversial publication, and is owned by some even more interesting people. I’m sure it was not nearly as colorful a place as Wikipedia makes it out to be. 🙂

The Tipping Point is the first of four books that Gladwell has composed. The second being Blink which I’m currently consuming. It’s about the part of our brain that thinks without us thinking about it. Why you should trust your instincts; why you shouldn’t trust them; and how to know the difference. It’s great, and I can’t wait to finish! The 3rd, Outliers: The Story of Success is just as fascinating as the rest. (I’d call it a must-read!) He explains why Mozart really shouldn’t be considered a child-prodigy, why those steel magnates all came to be so rich, and why Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are really very similar. He also spills the beans on the recipe for success. His most recent book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures is a collection of his favorite articles from The New Yorker. No, I haven’t read it. Yes, I will.

I conclude with, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Go and see for yourself! Another group of awesome people who are doing something well are the TED people. They said we should listen to Gladwell because, “his work uncovers truths hidden in strange data.” AND you can watch Malcolm do his thing (ie: uncover truth hidden in strange data) in a video of the talk he gave at a TED conference. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve watched this video at least 3 times. You know you want to know more about the history of Spaghetti Sauce in the US. 🙂

So read up and meet up! St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), 7pm at the Hamilton Town Center’s Borders.

This Month’s Author: The Incredibly Smart Chaim Potok

Chaim Potok is much, much smarter than me.

What else can you say about a man who started seriously writing at age 16, published and edited his college yearbook and graduated summa cum laude in English literature? This same man went on to be ordained as a rabbi, traveled with the U.S. army as a chaplain in South Korea, served on faculty at the University of Judaism, and worked on translating the Hebrew Bible into English. And those are just a few of his accomplishments!

Potok wrote a number of novels, plays and academic works. The Chosen is actually his first novel and was published in 1967. It was nominated for the National Book Award, which is one of the most prestigious awards in American literature. It was made into a film released in 1981, which won the top award at the World Film Festival in Montreal, and Chaim made a cameo appearance as a professor in the film.

Through Potok’s work, we get a glimpse of what life was and in some ways is still like for Orthodox Jews. But his work also speaks about relationships and friendships, which are things we all can relate to.

I think that is why we can learn so much from reading, especially quality, worthwhile books. Hopefully as we read books by those who are smarter than us, we can learn more from them and maybe discover things about ourselves that we might not have known before. And hopefully Chaim Potok’s The Chosen will help us do just that!

So even though Chaim Potok is much, much smarter than me, I’m OK with that.

I hope you are enjoying The Chosen and can come to Border’s on February 17 at 7 p.m. to discuss it with us. It’s been a cold, dreary, snowy February so far, so some hot coffee or tea, a night out, and great book are sure to help beat the winter blues!

From Stunts to Bestsellers: About A.J. Jacobs

The author of this month’s book, The Year of Living Biblically, isn’t afraid to undertake a crazy experiment or project for the sake of a story, and after reading the titles of some of his other works, it’s no wonder that some call this genre of writing “stunt journalism” or “stunt books.” In addition to his quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible for an entire year, Jacobs read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica over the course of a year (That project is chronicled in The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World). He also became a “human guinea pig,” undertaking a series of lifestyle experiments on a quest to improve every area of his life, which he writes about in My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself. His current project is attempting to “perfect his physical condition” for his next book, called The Healthiest Human Being in the World.”

Jacobs was born and currently lives in New York with his wife and three sons (The birth of his twin boys occurred during his year of living Biblically). He is the editor at large for Esquire magazine and three of his books are New York Times bestsellers. He has also written for numerous magazines and is a periodic commentator on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. You can read Jacobs’ full bio (written by him, but in the third person) on his website.

And if you feel bad for his wife, who has to live with him during all of his crazy stunts (I know I do!), it sounds like she got the opportunity for some revenge as he describes the last chapter of My Life as an Experiment. Here’s the quote from his website:

Whipped (a.k.a. the perfect spouse):
At the suggestion of readers who point out that my wife is a saint, I vowed to spend a month agreeing to her every command. Sure, it was a month of Kate Hudson movies and foot massages —but also of stereotype-shattering insights into the politics of the modern American marriage. Plus, at one point, I had wear a male chastity belt. (It comes in three varieties—clear plastic, wood-paneled and camouflage!) And Julie gets to write the final section.

Go Julie! And if this book is inspiring you to take your own crack at some stunt journalism, I encourage you to learn form A.J. Jacobs and put yourself in the shoes of everyone around you who has to put up with your antics. You never know when they might get their chance for some payback!

There is still time to read The Year of Living Biblically before our next meeting on January 20 at 7 p.m. at the Paradise Bakery and Café at Hamilton Town Center. Hope to see you there!

Who is Louisa May Alcott?

Louisa May Alcott was born in 1832 and taught under her father – essentially she was a homeschooler along with her 3 sisters.  Her education was unconventional due to her father being a Transcendentalists.  Let me retract my previous statement.  She was probably “unschooled” then.  Louisa was often thought of as a tomboy, much like character “Jo” in this month’s novel.

Louisa began writing when she was young.  I imagine her and I would have gotten along quite well.  Already, we share the whole tomboy thing and I bet she and I could sit at a Farmer’s Market, making up all sorts of stories about people walking past us.

However, we become different when it comes to acting.  I do like the lime light, but not as a lurid villain.

Her family suffered a season of poverty which prompted her to seriously earn a living from her writing.  She did this quite successfully.  Although she is most popular for her children’s literature, Alcott explored the themes of self expression and women’s rights through her adult fiction works.


(She kind of looks like she has a headache. 

That or she is reading a book.)

But you will have to read those for yourself.  There is an idea for the book giveaway – search for one of Louisa’s adult fiction books.  (I won’t be giving one of you her works.  I already picked up my book at 1/2 Price books . . . it will make you laugh.  At least it did me.)

She wrote over 30 stories.  She followed her father to the grave two days after he died.

In closing,

You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, and the great charm of all power is modesty. 

or consider this loosely paraphrased quote regarding her father:

a philosopher was like a man up in a balloon: he was safe as long as three women held the ropes on the ground.

– Louisa May Alcott

Christoph von Schmid

image I think I would have loved to have been a kid and had this man read me a story.  In fact, he probably didn’t even read his students stories . . . he made them up in real time. 

To be that creative. . .

Christoph von Schmid was a children’s author.  His stories were written for “children, among whom the author daily moved, and were not at first meant for publication.  Usually a story or a chapter was read to the children after school hours as a reward, on condition that they should write it down at home. He thus became familiar with the range of thought and the speech of children, and was careful to speak their language rather than that of books. He was able to observe with his own eyes what it was that impressed the minds and hearts of children both of tender and of riper years.” (From the Lamplighter website)

His writings have been translated into 24 different languages.  How many languages have your words been translated into?  Me?  I’m not sure.  At least one other than English – my blog shows up on my Google Alert in Japanese quite frequently.  Hmmm . . .

The children’s literary champion died of cholera.  He was 87 years old.