Tag Archives: authors

Big Sur – Fabric and Books

A quick trip to Big Sur brought me to Nepenthe, the former cabin owned by Orson Welles that was transformed into a cliffside gathering place for artists in the 1950s. The new owners were the parents of textile designer Kaffe Fassett, whose fabric I had just used at quilt camp. The connection was a pleasant surprise, and the adjacent shop housed more of Fassett’s unique designs as well as his biography.

The book section displayed books from famous writers who lived and wrote near Big Sur, including Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck. I discovered one of Steinbeck’s short stories – “The Flight” – in the collection “The Long Valley, and I felt a special connection as I read Steinbeck’s words while I looked out over the beautiful vista. If you can’t get there in person, Steinbeck’s words will transport you. “The Flight” begins with:

“Out fifteen miles below Monterey, on the wild coast, the Torres family had their farm, a few sloping acres above a cliff that dropped to the brown reefs and to the hissing white waters of the ocean. Behind the farm the stone mountains stood up against the sky. The farm buildings huddled like the clinging aphids on the mountain skirts, crouched low to the ground as though the wind might blow them into the sea…”





We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

9780399162091_p0_v3_s260x420If you take Barbara Kingsolver’s advice in her New York Times review of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,  as I did   – “avoiding everything written about it…”  including Kingsolver’s review –  you will enjoy the surprise that Fowler conceals until almost 100 pages into the story.  No spoilers here but you might consider stopping right here so you won’t risk it.

Rosemary Cooke, narrates the tale of her family. Her father is a respected university psychologist with a crew of graduate students to help with his research in animal behavior.  She starts her story “in the middle” and jumps back and forth from her college days at the University of California Davis to her childhood with her brother, Lowell, who becomes a fugitive from the FBI before graduating from high school, and her sister, Fern, who suffers a terrible fate when she is only five years old, that changes everything for everyone.

Fowler includes some comic moments with a puppet modeled after Madame Defarge (Madame Guillotine), but the serious notes predominate, with frequent references to scientific study and political upheaval – at times overwhelming the story with detailed erudite citations and shocking brutal treatment of animals.  In addition to her obvious agenda for animal rights, Fowler slowly unravels family lives that are irrevocably sidetracked.  When the surprise is revealed, the consequences of family interaction seem unique to their situation, but by the end Fowler has connected the story to all families who suffer the distractions of sibling rivalry as well as family loyalty.  And, she may challenge your perception of what is normal human behavior.

It’s no surprise that the New York Times asked Kingsolver to write the review; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has faint notes of Flight Behavior – a book with a message and characters who will stay with you.

Books To Look For in 2012

A full page ad for Rosamund Lupton’s Sister – a book I devoured when it first came out – appeared in the first issue this year of the New York Times Book Review.  Lupton has another book – Afterwards – that I looked for in the Heathrow terminal during a long layover.  The salesperson marvelled that I was so excited to find and purchase a book that has already gone to paperback in London, but will not be published in the United States until April.

What other books are coming in 2012 from some of my favorite authors?  Books to look for and anticipate (with publication dates varying according to your country):



  • Sister (nochargebookbunch.com)

What’s In A Name? “Nom de Plume” Reveals All

Hiding a real identity sounds seductive and a little criminal, but writers have been using pseudonyms to mask their real names for a while.  Carmela Ciuraru focuses on a small group of famous writers and the reasons behind their deceit – some we already know about, but in each case, Ciuraru gives us more information than we may know, and feeds our hunger to know the person behind the name.

Why do writers use another name? In the case of the  Brontë sisters, it may have been the hope of better reviews, in a time when women were relegated to nonliterary pursuits. For Charlotte, aka Currer Bell, it worked – not so much for her sisters, Emily and Anne.

Trapped in an arranged marriage, George Sand (whose real name was Aurore) escaped to Paris.  With mentors like Balzac, Zola, Dumas, and Flaubert, she found the courage to write and publish – but under a man’s name. Her real life was bohemian for the times, living with her lover for six months and then returning to her country home to care for her child the other half of the year.  She flaunted her rebelliousness – smoking cigars, wearing sturdy boots; her disguise went beyond using another name.

Through sixteen chapters, Ciuraru explores the lives and writings of those we knew by another name, sometimes another life – from George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, and O’Henry to Pauline Réage – and more.  Her style can be academic at times, but through her careful research, the information becomes biographical.  You may not want to read about all the authors, but it is possible to pick and choose, since each chapter is a story itself and each author is clearly identified in the chapter title.

As one who has used a pseudonym, I found myself immersed in the stories of the writers.  For most, their reasons for hiding behind another name were understandable; eventually, readers discovered the real name anyway.  But, for a time, they were able to stay secluded in their own worlds – without criticism or exposure – and keeping a piece of themselves to themselves – hard to do when you write.

“Never to be yourself and yet always – that is the problem.”                        Virginia Woolf

Carmela Ciuraru wrote an essay for the New York Times Book Review about pseudonyms that could be an introduction to her book – and she used her own name.

Read Ciuraru’s New York Times Article:  The Rise and Fall of Pseudonyms