“The art of family life is not to take it personally.”

Author Mary Kay Zuravleff spent a lot of time thinking about British psychotherapist Adam Phillips’ statement that, “The art of family life is not to take it personally.” This seemed like a great idea, she thought, but how do you actually follow through? She also spent a lot of time thinking about the mathematical theorem of existence and uniqueness (apparently, for us non-mathematical types out here, this is basically the idea that, given certain conditions, there is one and only one solution to certain types of equations…did I get that about right?). When Zuravleff read a story in the New Yorker about a surgeon who was struck by lightning and became obsessed with piano music, the three ideas formed into her third novel, Man Alive! a book about a pediatric psychiatrist struck by lightning while on a family vacation.

We’ll be discussing Man Alive! at the fourth Unwin(e)d meeting on Thursday, March 13 at 5:30. This book covers everything from beach vacations to changing dynamics in a marriage when one partner suddenly and drastically changes, from the way children find their own paths as they grow up to the relatives merits of beef vs. pork barbeque. Zuravleff narrates from the points of view of each of the family members to understand how Owen’s recovery affects everyone in the family. We should have plenty to talk about.

Join us at Unwin(e)d March 13 at 5:30.  We’ll be meeting at Winan’s in Beavercreek. This is the last Unwin(e)d of the 2013-2014 academic year, so don’t miss it. We’ll also be taking book suggestions for future Unwin(e)d meetings, so if there’s a recent piece of literary fiction you’ve been wanting to discuss, bring the title so it’ll be considered for the future.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775.3149. I hope to see you there on March 13th at 5:30!

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What pairs well with barbecue?

man aliveThe thought of some time on a warm, sunny beach is really appealing right now. In the midst of winter, I love thinking about going outside and getting toasty warm. With this in mind, I really enjoyed picking up Mary Kay Zuravleff’s book Man Alive! recently and reading the opening scenes: a happy family wrapping up a summer beach vacation. The sun, the family camaraderie, and the warmth of summer were an appealing start to a book. Of course, there is a limit to how warm one would want to get. Getting struck by lightning, for example, goes way too far on the “getting warm” spectrum. This is, however, how Dr. Owen Lerner’s summer vacation concludes. Putting a coin in a parking meter, the quarter attracts an errant lightning bolt throwing Owen into the air, throwing his family’s life into chaos, and putting Owen permanently in the mood for barbecue.

The fateful lightning strike occurs quite early on in the book. There is no suspense about whether it will happen. Rather, this is the story of how one person’s changed role, abilities, and interests can disrupt an entire family and change the way the individuals in that family see themselves. This is a story about each member of the family. Zuravleff shifts focus between Owen, his wife, his twin college-aged sons, and his daughter in high school. They are all, each in his or her own way, dealing with their own demons and Owen’s accident serves to highlight some of the challenges they face.

Join us at Unwin(e)d March 13 at 5:30 to discuss this book that Library Journal says, “captures both the humor and pain of family life and the fluid nature of its alliances.” We’ll be meeting at Winan’s in Beavercreek. You can decide for yourself whether coffee, chocolate, or wine pairs best with a conversation about barbecue and family.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775.3149. I hope to see you there on March 13th at 5:30


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We Need New Names

Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.

So wrote Azar Nafisi in Reading Lolita in Tehran : A Memoir in BooksThis statement often comes back to me when I read about situations that are based on reality but with which I am unfamiliar. It certainly came to mind when I read NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, We Need New Names. Through this story that was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize, Bulawayo has offered an epiphany of truth about life in Zimbabwe, and of the immigrant experience in the United States.

new namesWe Need New Names is the story of Darling, a young girl who lives in a shantytown in Zimbabwe and spends her days stealing guavas with a group of friends. They dream of escaping and living in wealth. Darling sees a path to this dream through the prospect of living with her aunt and uncle in “Destroyedmichigan.”

Initially, I was a little skeptical about this book. I often turn away from books written from a child’s perspective in an adult novel, especially those that are focusing on situations that can be emotionally difficult. Too often I think the child’s voice comes across as overly  precious and precocious; sometimes it seems as though the author is using the child’s voice to distance him/herself from difficult subject matter (“yes, I’m writing about something difficult…but with cute words and misunderstandings, so don’t find the subject too off-putting!”). Bulawayo, though, uses Darling’s 10-year-old innocence and naivete to highlight and add to the intensity of life in both Zimbabwe and the US.

Beyond the story itself, I found that this book sparked my interest in learning more of the  political, social, and cultural conditions of life in Zimbabwe that framed Darling’s life and the story. Or, as Azar Nafisi might have put it, Bulawayo’s depiction of the truth of the situation inspired me to dig up some research on the reality of it.

There’s a lot to talk about in this book, and I look forward to doing just that at our next meeting of Unwined on January 9 at Winan’s in Beavercreek.  If you have any questions, you can reach me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775.3149. I hope to see you there in the New Year!

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Unwin(e)d with a book about family, food, and Evel Knievel

It’s hard to believe it’s almost November already.  The month of Thanksgiving holds a few constants for me and many others: namely, food and family. So, really, what better way is there to prepare for Thanksgiving than getting together to discuss a book about family and food?  And, of course, Evel Knievel. Because no Thanksgiving is complete without Evel Knievel, right?

Evel Knievel Days, the sophomore novel from Pauls Toutonghi follows 20-year-old Khosi Saqr the summer he discovers his father. Khosi is an obsessive-compulsive, semi-agoraphobic, half-Egyptian, half Irish-American museum guide living in Butte, Montana, hevel knievelome of Evel Knievel.  When gambling debts and loan sharks caught up with him, Khosi’s father fled Montana for Egypt, leaving Khosi’s mother a three-year-old son, and his family’s recipes.

Family is key in Khosi’s life. He disagrees with Tolstoy’s contention that unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way. “See: I think Tolstoy was wrong. Unhappy families are all alike. They’re all alike in this moment-in this pause before something happens, in the pause before someone reacts. And that pause: It can last seconds or minutes or days or months or years.” For Khosi, the pause has been life-long. He imagines that someday he will see the family tree in Egypt and perhaps have the chance to utter the word, “daddy,” but his lifelong estrangement from his father makes this unlikely.  He knew his mother’s parents, but they never accepted Khosi and his Egyptian heritage, even while he sat at their dining room table. Khosi’s closest relationship in his family, aside from his mother is the ghost of his great-great-grandfather, copper magnate William Andrews Clark who tags along to Egypt when Khosi decides it’s time to meet his father. So, in short, it’s a book about family, food, Evel Knievel, overcoming personal challenges, copper in its many forms, a copper baron’s legacy (and his ghost), and traveling to Egypt.

If you haven’t picked up your copy of Evel Knievel Days yet, you’ve still got plenty of time! There are print copies and eReaders with the book pre-loaded available at Dunbar Library. You can purchase a copy for 20% at the WSU Bookstore.

We had a great discussion at September’s meeting when we talked about The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, and I’m looking forward to the discussion of Evel Knievel Days.

Come discuss this title with us at Unwin(e)d on Thursday, November 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees. If you have any questions about the group, feel free to get in touch with me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu.  I hope to see you on the 14th!


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A hidden gem of a book

A few years ago at a dinner party one of the other guests remarked in passing that there just aren’t any new books of any merit being published.  Publishing now, he suggested, is limited to the books that you see in airport gift shops and next to the greeting cards in the grocery store.  Well, dear readers, that poor gentleman had no idea that his simple, off-handed remark was tantamount to handing me a soapbox, complete with stepladder to climb on, and a megaphone.  You see, there’s plenty of good fiction being published. If anything, I think it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the good books that are published.  The problem is that many of these new books, especially if they’re written by a debut author, simply don’t get the press or word-of-mouth that they might really deserve.  It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited that the Friends of the Libraries have started this new book discussion group — it’s a great chance for us to start talking about some of these great new books. I decided that we’d start with The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, a book that had caught my attention from the introductory page’s suggestion that, “”If you believe that you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett & Grouse Publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience.”

So, imunchangeable spotsagine the pleasant surprise I had a few weeks ago when author Meg Wolitzer  named The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards as a hidden gem, one of the five books of summer that deserved more attention. I was drawn to this book because of its interesting use of the unreliable narrator, a technique that I sometimes find off-putting but in this case, as Wolitzer says, “makes for a playfully weird narrative experience.”

I’m eager to your thoughts about Jansma’s use of the unreliable narrator.  Has he, as Emily Dickinson suggested, told all the truth, but told it slant? What’s real and what’s fiction? Come discuss this title with us at the first Unwin(e)d on Thursday, September 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees.

If you have any questions about the group, feel free to get in touch with me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu.  I hope to see you on the 12th!

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And so it begins…

What do books, coffee, chocolate, wine, and good conversation have in common? If your first thought was, “Clearly, it’s that they’re all awesome.” then pay attention because have I got something for you!  The University Libraries are excited to announce that, thanks to a grant from the Friends of the Libraries, we will be hosting a book discussion every other month of the 2013-2014 academic year at Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees.

Think of it as a happy hour that involves talking about some of the most interesting books around with some of the most interesting people around.  I’ve got you wondering now, haven’t I?  What exactly are these “most interesting books” and who are these “most interesting people?”  Fair questions.  The books we’ll be reading will be relatively new…generally published within the past year or so. They’ll generally be literary fiction and they’ll generally be under-the-radar. We’re trying to bring you books that aren’t the titles everyone’s already talking about but that we think are interesting and will generate a lot of good discussion.  As for the interesting people, that’s where you come in.  Join us and share your thoughts on that month’s book.  Whether you love it or hate it, we want to hear what you have to say.

As we get closer to the first discussion, I’ll occasionally add information about the book we’re reading, author interviews, and other things I think you might find interesting.  I’d love to hear your thoughts along the way, so feel free to comment. In the meantime, happy reading!

The specifics

Who: Wright State Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of the Libraries

What: Unwin(e)d, a Friends’ book discussion group

unchangeable spotsWhich: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma – we’ve got print copies and copies on eReaders here at the Library. If our copies are out, try OhioLink or SearchOhio for copies. The bookstore also will be ordering copies if you’d like to buy a copy.

When: Thursday, September 12 5:30 p.m.

Where: Beavercreek location of Winans (3510 Pentagon Blvd — in front of Hilton, across from Soin Medical Center).  

Why: Did we mention books, coffee, chocolate, wine, and good conversation?

If you have any questions, contact Mandy Shannon at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775-3149.   We hope to see you there!

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