Orringer’s ‘Invisible Bridge’ a Mighty Draw

Cover ImageWhen I picked up The Invisible Bridge, my understanding was that it involved love, Paris, architecture, and many other reader bon bons. I knew that war was involved, but was under the impression that it was used more as backdrop than as the premise of the story. That said, I usually steer clear of books addressing the Holocaust in any direct way. For me, to read of the devastation and incalculable loss is so profoundly numbing that I can’t move far enough past the actual historic events to meet the novel’s characters. So, it was to my great surprise that Julie Orringer carried me through my prior resistance on the back of her debut novel ‘The Invisible Bridge.’

While reading the book, I wasn’t sure if it was one that I could recommend. Tipping the scales at about 600 pages, ‘Bridge’ is definitely an an emotional and timely investment. As fluffy summer reads and the latest paperbacks beckon, a hard-covered doorstopper doesn’t hold much appeal. However, the more time that passes since I’ve finished the book, the more enamored I have become.

Julie Orringer brings an emotional beauty to the stark barbarism of war-torn Europe and creates a deep, passionate empathy through her strong prose and characters. Crafting heartfelt ruminations like that of Orringer’s main character Andras, Ms. Orringer envelops the reader into the family dynamic while providing an intimate perspective and an invested urgency to survive:

“One and a half million Jewish men and women and children: How was anyone to understand a number like that? Andras knew it took three thousand to fill the seats of the Dohany Street Synagogue. To accommodate a million and a half, one would have had to replicate that building, its arches and domes, its Moorish interior, its balcony, its dark wooden pews and gilded ark, five hundred times. And then to envision each of those five hundred synagogues filled to capacity, to envision each man and woman and child inside as a unique and irreplaceable human being… each of them with desires and fears, a mother and a father, a birthplace, a bed, a first love, a web of memories, a cache of secrets, a skin, a heart, an infinitely complicated brain – to imagine them that way, and then to imagine them dead, extinguished for all time – how could anyone begin to grasp it?”

Orringer has a penetrating commitment to dialogue that fortunately overrides the high rate of coincidence in the story. While some encounters and reunions are a bit of a stretch, they are redeemed and quickly resolved by Orringer’s swift ability to engage the reader’s emotions over any tendency to criticize. In essence, the story wins out every time.

FYI: Julie Orringer was a Helen Herzog Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan

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-Post by Megan Shaffer

To Weed or to Read?

Cover ImageI decided this summer I was going to plant my own little urban garden. Not only would my garden be cute with its clean swept rows of fresh lettuce and red robust tomatoes, but it would be healthy and green as well. So, in the spirit of adventure and sustainability, I secured my space at Bowers Farm, dropped a hondo at Home Depot and started sowing my seeds. Then I went up north for a spell.

Needless to say, when I dropped in to admire my bounty this evening, my cute plot looked more like something from The Lost City of Z. Was I really supposed to sacrifice my reading time to weed? Regardless, I am taking a week to stop and smell the basil. Or try to. In the meantime, check out a few foodie titles that are enjoying time in the spotlight. Feel free to comment on the many other hot titles right now that involve eating, growing, and yes, slaughtering.

Anything by Michael Pollan

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

*Support your local gardens. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri Brings ‘Price of Stones’ to Liberty Street

Cover ImageI hate to be a sponge, but why reinvent the wheel? To read up on the wonders of author Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, link to the following posts –

Free Press Special Writer Christopher Walton:  Writer Builds School for AIDS Orphans

Journalist Bill Castanier’s article on blog site:  Mittenlit

The Liberty Street Borders in Ann Arbor will host author and activist Twesigye Jackson Kaguri tonight, June 15, 2010 at 7:00 pm for a discussion and signing of his book The Price of Stones:  Building a School for My Village. As always, call and confirm dates and times before heading out the door.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Sides Brings ‘Hellhound’ to Baldwin Public Library

Cover ImageYou might recognize author Hampton Sides from his previous work Ghost Soldiers which won the 2002 PEN USA award for non-fiction, or perhaps for Americana or Stomping Grounds. Currently though, the narrative history and bestselling author  is promoting his latest work Hellhound on his Trail:  The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for his Assassin.

Laura Miller of Salon.com writes, “Sides’ meticulous yet driving account of Ray’s plot to murder King and the 68-day international manhunt that followed is in essence a true-crime story and a splendid specimen of the genre – a genuine corker.”

Hampton Sides is a native of Memphis and holds a BA in history from Yale. He has written for several well known publications including National Geographic, The New Yorker, and Esquire. Mr. Sides  has guest lectured at Columbia, Stanford, SMU, Yale and Colorado College, among other institutions.*

This evening, Monday, June 14, 2010 Hampton Sides will be discussing his work at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham as part of their Writers Live! series. Mr. Sides is scheduled to appear at 7:00 pm in the connected Rotary and Donor Rooms. Limited seating is available. As always, call and confirm all dates and times before heading out the door.

For more on Hampton Sides and his latest book, check out this article in yesterday’s Eccentric.

Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters!

-Post by Megan Shaffer

*info taken from Random House and Hampton Sides home sites

Chef George Vutetakis Brings Back ‘Vegetarian Traditions’

George Vutetakis is coming home this weekend. Though he now resides in San Diego, the culinary progressive and former owner of The Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak is revisiting his “roots” with his latest work Vegetarian Traditions.

Veggies have made quite a comeback over the last decade, and no doubt Vutetakis has played a pivotal role in their fame. Before “Whole Foods” and other chains began to tout and commercialize the value of organics and natural, healthy fare, Royal Oak’s very own was already far ahead of the trend.

As stated of Mr. Vutetakis on his site, “His reputation as a leader in the creation of delicious, healthy and innovative vegetarian cuisine using fresh, unadulterated ingredients flourished as chef and owner of the award winning Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak, Michigan.” You can read all about the famed chef, author, and teacher here, or check out his popular blog at www.thevegetarianguy.com.

George Vutetakis will appear at  The Book Beat on Sunday, June 13th at 2:00 pm to promote his cookbook Vegetarian Traditions:  Favorite Recipes From My Years at the Legendary Inn Season Cafe. As always, check all dates and times before stepping out the door.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by  Megan Shaffer

Related Links

-‘Vegetarian Traditions’ is available at several local outlets including one of my favorites, the Birmingham Farmers Market.

‘The Lacuna’ Snags Orange Prize for Kingsolver

Cover ImageI’ve had a rocky relationship with Barbara Kingsolver. While I loved many of her earlier books like Pigs In HeavenAnimal Dreams, The Bean Trees, and her sweeping Poisonwood Bible, I must admit that I fell off with Prodigal Summer. So bitter was the taste of that love story let down, that I haven’t been able to bounce back to her work.

For better or for worse, every author has the right to test new ground and break their own barriers, and truth be told I would much rather have a writer step outside the box than sit inside the mainstream. On her home site Ms. Kingsolver says, “What keeps me awake at the wheel is the thrill of trying something completely new with each book. I’m not a risk-taker in life, generally speaking, but as a writer I definitely choose the fast car, the impossible rock face, the free fall.” It is this attitude that has brought about high praise and award for The Lacuna and a definitive revisit to her work from me.

On Wednesday, Barbara Kingsolver won the highly regarded Orange Prize for fiction by women. A stiff competition, The Lacuna was up against Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs and Hilary Mantel’s Booker winner Wolf Hall. Chosen for its “breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy,” The Lacuna apparently edged out the other contenders in what was a difficult decision for the panel.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

-Try this brief piece in The New York Times

-Quick clip at BookBrowse

Rhoda Janzen Brings her ‘Little Black Dress’ to B’ham Borders

DetailsMichigan’s very own Rhoda Janzen will be at Borders in Birmingham for a reading and signing of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 7:00 PM. The Hope College professor will present her humorous hit memoir which was recently released in paperback and has become a book club darling.

Ms. Janzen was born in North Dakota where her father was the pastor of a small Mennonite church but has made Michigan her home for years. You can catch a few “quick facts” about Ms. Janzen by clicking here. Ms. Janzen currently teaches English and creative writing and has a previously published collection of poems titled Babel’s Stair.

If you haven’t yet read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, you can catch my NLR review Mennonites and Potheads? which I posted back in November. Rhoda Janzen’s next book is in the works and you can read more about her anticipated Backslider in my post Michigan’s Mennonite is at it Again.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

‘Someone Like Me’ at Nicola’s Books Tonight

Someone Like Me by John W. Quinn: Book CoverNative Detroiter John W. Quinn was born with cerebral palsy. Yet despite his disabilities Mr. Quinn was determined to make his lifelong dream of joining the military come true. After much hard work and determination, Mr. Quinn now boasts a successful and decorated twenty-year career in the United States Navy.

Written to “give hope to the millions of people struggling with muscular disorders who fight to make it through every day,” this is Quinn’s tale of how he kept his condition a secret and managed to make his vision of becoming a military man a reality.

Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor will host author John W. Quinn for a discussion and signing of his book Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy tonight, June 8, 2010 at 7:00 PM. As always, call and confirm date and time before heading out the door.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer