Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Great Lobster Mystery at The Bookstore

Some of you might have already heard about the mystery at The Bookstore. It started when Jenny decorated the window with our Julie & Julia theme. We started to notice that every morning, the table in the window was in disarray, and the plastic lobster had somehow gotten out of the lobster pot. Was it a burglar? A prank? A ghost?

So we set up a security camera in hopes of solving the mystery. Look what we found!

We hope you'll stop in The Bookstore to visit our resourceful little lobster (he's back in the pot in the window, signing autographs) and share a few laughs over Sue and Margie's questionable film debut! Don't forget to pick up your copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julie & Julia or My Life in France.

And many thanks to McGowan's Seafood for loaning us their surprisingly resourceful lobster!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Interview with Masha Hamilton, Author of "31 Hours"

Regular customers and the members of my book club already know I'm a big fan of Masha Hamilton and her previous books, including The Camel Bookmobile, which continues to sell well at our store.

So I know I have good company in my excitement for Masha Hamilton's new book, 31 Hours. It's set in post-9/11 New York City, and it's about a young home-grown terrorist and his mother's quest to protect him. (On sale Sept. 8th, more information at

I'm thrilled to report that this book is a stunningly good read, and that it will make a great book club selection. It's a suspenseful, well-paced story that keeps you turning the pages well into the night. But more than that, it's a love story about a mother desperate to save her 21 year-old son when she senses something is terribly wrong.

I read this book as I was about to drive my daughter back to college, knowing that no matter what we do as the parents of older children, we are only one phone call away from devastating news. And that no child is immune from mental illness or potentially fatal mistakes. Not even a well-loved child.

So I jumped at the chance to interview Masha Hamilton about this book. As you will see, she indulged me with long, thoughtful answers to my long, earnest questions, so I'm going to split the interview into two parts. Stay tuned for the rest, and in the meantime, if you'd like us to put a copy of the book on the hold shelf for you, just call 630-469-2891 or e-mail:

MARGIE: 31 Hours is going to make a fantastic book club discussion book. My colleague Sue and I are deeply divided over our interpretation of the book, and we're at a complete impasse. Without giving away the suspenseful ending, can you offer us some kind of clues, some crumbs through the forest that we should consider, pro and con? The more opaque you'd like to be, the better. We really just want more fuel for the fire. We can't wait to invite our customers to join the debate.

MASHA: Margie, first, THANKS for your support of this novel! I am so grateful, Re the above, there were several things I wanted to explore as I wrote. First, the possibilities and limitations of maternal intuition. Carol feels her son is in trouble, though she has nothing solid on which to base that. Her son is 21, and is supposed to have his own life at this point, so she doubts her intuition even as she feels it. I tapped into my own changing maternal role and my own amorphous fears as my children reach young adulthood. (I have three kids, ages 14 to 20.) Secondly, the place of spirituality in modern life was something I thought a lot about while writing 31 Hours. Carol at one point asks her ex-husband if they made a mistake by not raising Jonas with a religious tradition, any tradition, something that would provide comfort and a set of answers. Mara, who feels she doesn't know how to pray, enacts this middle-of-the-night ritual with everyday objects. And Sonny feels the subway is his church, his sanctuary. Finally, I wanted to look beyond the headlines and understand the humans who exist in that space. That's where the challenge of the book comes in, in my view - both for me as the writer and actually, for the reader as well. 31 Hours asks the reader to empathize and identify with difficult characters: Jonas, of course, but Sonny also.

If you are asking me about the final outcome of the story, Margie, I'm going to be worse than opaque. I have my own theories, of course, but I am going to leave that in the eyes of the reader. SO sorry!

MARGIE: The mother in the story trusts her own instincts. It feels like such a powerful affirmation of motherhood at a time when mothers of college-age children seem to be under assault for too much "helicoptering." On the other hand, there's a lot to be said for giving your older children the space to suffer through and learn from the consequences of their own poor decisions. In the face of all the advice and criticism out there, it's easy to doubt your own maternal instinct. Is this book your response to these doubts?

Yes, absolutely, as you can see above. There is absolutely no question in my mind that our role as parents must change as our kids move into young adulthood. And yet in our culture, young adulthood feels to me a little like a parenthesis in life - you are certainly NOT a kid, but nor are you really an adult yet with adult responsibilities and concerns. Our world is chaotic and confusing and violent and Jonas is a sensitive young man. When is a poor decision - and we all made them as young adults - going to have a relatively benign outcome? When might it derail a young person's future life? This is Carol's struggle. She knows Jonas will be angry with her for meddling, trying to track him down as if he were a teenager violating curfew, going to see Vic. Yet she can't quiet her own disquiet.

MARGIE: There will be more questions and answers in a future post, including the book Masha Hamilton would sneak onto President Obama's nightstand if she could get past the secret service!

My Own Julie & Julia Experiment: Casserole Chicken Tarragon

It seems like everybody's talking about Julie & Julia. We're having great conversations at The Bookstore, no doubt prompted by our Julia Child inspired window display. If you haven't seen it yet, stop by. Jenny outdid herself again! She's even got an antique French butcher's knife on display -- it's a family heirloom. Yes, there's a story there, but you'll have to stop in to hear it.

Thanks to the movie, we're selling a lot of copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of our customers reported that she made the Boeuf Bourguignon from the movie (the dish that Julie burned when she passed out on the couch). It sounded like fun, so I decided to try one of Julia's recipes myself.

When I discovered that Meryl Streep's favorite Julia Child recipe was Casserole Chicken Tarragon (sounds even better in French: Poulet Poele a l'Estragon), I knew I'd picked the right recipe. Streep admitted in this month's Glamour Magazine that she's not much of a cook. The recipe was supposedly foolproof. The family was psyched.

The family was still psyched over two hours later when we finally sat down to eat. Now I know why the French eat so late: it's because the food isn't ready yet! My hungry teenager was ready to sneak a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while he waited. The chicken had to roast in the oven for an hour and 20 minutes, but first I had to fuss with browning each side on the burner.

The browning wasn't as simple as it sounds. Julia's recipe (you can almost hear her voice as you read it) warns to be careful not to rip the skin as you turned the chicken. Ha! Of course I did, and not just once. It looked like Jack the Ripper had been there. I had no idea how to flip the chicken (Julia didn't say) until my husband showed me how to stick the wooden spoons into opposite ends of the cavity. I got a little miffed: how did he know that anyway? Just like Julie, I found myself talking out loud: "Get real, Julia! Who cooks like this anymore? We don't even like the dark meat!" Seriously, I could throw a couple of chicken breasts in a pan with a little tarragon and be done in 15 minutes. Why the bother?

Mmmmmm, . . . that's why. The chicken was moist, tender and buttery (of course), and the tarragon flavor was so deeply absorbed it made the chicken taste like something new altogether. Like something above and beyond chicken as we know it today. My son was so grateful he helped me load the dishwasher at 10pm, even if it was a school night and he still had homework left to do.

So just like Julie, I learned a little something while cooking with Julia. That time and patience in the kitchen might actually be worth it. Maybe we've lost a little something in our 30-minute recipe mentality, and it's not just the flavor. It's time with your family. It's the grateful, admiring look on your family's faces as they taste something really, really good. There's a sense of pride in the creation. And at the risk of sounding like a much better cook than I really am, it's the "art" of French cooking.

Please call 630-469-2891 or e-mail us at to reserve your copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. ($40.00). Then share your cooking stories with us, we'd love to hear them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Man on Wire Trailer

Here is a trailer to the Man on Wire documentary I refer to in the following post about Let the Great World Spin. Rent the video, read the book. They're both amazing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Staff Recomendation: Let the Great World Spin

One of Sue's and my personal favorites on the staff pick shelf right now is Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. It's absolutely stunning.

It's told from many different alternating points of view: a chorus of gorgeous New York voices, from some surprisingly sympathetic prostitutes to a grieving mother of a Viet Nam soldier. The story of the World Trade Center tightrope walker in the 1970's is woven through their interconnected stories. About halfway through this book, it felt like somebody had just grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go. After that, I could barely finish a chapter without needing time out to absorb the love and the empathy and the charm of this book.

The funny thing is, I had just watched the award-winning documentary called "Man on Wire,"about Phillippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who illegally and astonishingly crossed between the World Trade Center towers in August, 1974. It was an exhilarating story that captured the engineering and psychological challenge of the feat. One of the things I learned was the importance of the cavalettis, the additional cables that had to be strung diagonally across the main wire in order to provide support. Without the cavalettis, the main wire could have swayed, flipped or twisted, and Petit would have plumetted to the ground far below. To see the YouTube trailer for the movie, just click on "View Blog" above and go to the August 20th post.

So as I was reading Let the Great World Spin, I noticed the pictures of the cable and the intersecting cavalettis at the start of each separate section of the book. And I felt like I could grasp what McCann meant to say. That it's the intersection of our lives that glorifies life. It's at the intersection where humanity resides, where there is an answer to loneliness and grief. It's up to us to decide what to make of it.

I really hope you'll read this book and then stop in to tell us how much you liked it. To read an excerpt, just click here:

http://http// (If that link doesn't work, sorry! Just google "oprah", "let the great world spin" and "excerpt")