Daily Archives: October 27, 2008

The San Jose Book Group Expo – Day One

October 25-26, 2008

My husband and I spent the weekend in San Jose at the third annual (Third Chapter) of the Book Group Expo and had a wonderful time. Not only were there some great booths in the marketplace, but the planners of this event brought in some big name authors and provided two days of author panels. For each hour (except the first one), attendees could choose between three different author panels (or salons). Here was what Day One was like for me:

10:00-11:00AM Opening Salon

Write or Wrong: The Unreliable Narrator Defines Virtue with authors Andre Dubus III, Diana Spechler, and Susanne Pari.

This was a fascinating panel. I especially enjoyed listening to Andre Dubus, who is darkly humorous. He talked about how he writes and thinks (he says he does NOT think when he writes, but is in a “dream state” of sorts).  When someone asked how he writes female characters he said “Basically I have to castrate myself…not literally of course!”

Diane Spechler and Andre Dubus III

Andre Dubus III; me getting my book signed by him

*Click on above photos to enlarge

11:15AM – 12:15PM

Come Together: Self-Discovery Through Friendship with authors Annie Barrows, Ron Carlson, Kate Jacobs, Deborah Copaken Kogan, and Frances Dinkelspiel

This was a really fun panel. I was looking forward to hearing Annie Barrows talk about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society … and she did not disappoint. She was interesting and sweet and told the audience that her aunt was a fabulous story-teller who never finished anything (sadly for us!). I also discovered a new author in Deborah Copaken Kogan who began her writing life as a journalist and has just written her first novel: Between Here and April…which I bought at the Expo.

Ron Carlson and Annie Barrows

Me getting my books signed by Annie Barrows (top) and Deborah Copaken Kogan (bottom)

*click on photos to enlarge

1:45PM – 2:45PM

Which Witch is Which: Covens and Other Cliques with authors Brunonia Barry, Kathleen Kent, Erika Mailman, and Michelle Gagnon

I loved this panel. Michelle Gagnon moderated and was engaging and kept things moving along (she is also a really fascinating person to talk to…she writes crime fiction and I am kicking myself that I did not buy one of her books there and get her to sign it!). Brunonia Barry is very talkative. She talked a lot about what Salem is like now-a-days. Kathleen Kent and Erika Mailman have both written historical fiction novels (Kent’s is set in New England, while Mailman’s is set in medieval Germany) and their research into the books was fascinating.

Michelle Gagnon, Erika Mailman, Kathleen Kent (top) AND Kathleen Kent and Brunonia Barry (bottom)

(far left) Me getting my book signed by Brunonia Barry

(middle) Kathleen Kent

(far right) Me getting my book signed by Kathleen Kent

*click on photos to enlarge

3:00PM – 4:00PM

Now That You’re  Gone: Grief Seeks Solace with authors Julia Glass, Ann Packer, Irvin Yalom and Lauren John

I enjoyed the deep, personal insights of Julia Glass and Ann Packer during this panel. I have not yet read a book by Julia Glass, but I immediately felt I somehow knew her. She was dressed in this fabulous, very colorful outfit and was just really dynamic. Side note: Although I did not attend the panel where Marisa de los Santos spoke, I was able to meet her during the book signings.

(left and center) Julia Glass; (far right) me having Marisa de los Santos sign my books…to her left is Ann Packer

*click on photos to enlarge

Books I bought on Day One:

House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III

Between Here and April, by Deborah Copaken Kogan

Tomorrow, I will post Day Two of the Expo!

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination – Book Review

A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don’t have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 6-

Author Elizabeth McCracken lived briefly in France, with her husband, in her early thirties. It is there she conceives her first child – a son named Pudding – and begins to dream of his life and how it will enrich her life. And then the unthinkable happens. In her ninth month of pregnancy, the child she and her husband have been anticipating dies. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is the story of loss and how one woman moved through it.

Elizabeth McCracken has written a stunning memoir from the heart – a love letter of sorts to her first son and her husband. Her writing is never maudlin, yet is profoundly moving – and despite the bleak subject matter, it even manages to be funny at times. But it is McCracken’s honesty which makes the memoir powerful. She never pads the emotions or avoids the uncomfortable – instead she takes the reader through one of the most devastating years of her life with candor and grace. Lest the reader shy away from the book because a baby dies, it would be remiss of me not to mention that a child is also born and lives in this book…an event that is at the same time joyous, healing and bittersweet.

I will admit that this book hit me like a sledgehammer. It sent me reeling. I felt blindsided by the intense emotions it stirred up for me…because I lost a child too. No, I have never been pregnant. My loss arrived through infertility. And McCracken’s prose resonated with me. She writes about other women’s pregnancies after her unbearable loss:

Still, I wouldn’t have minded a pause in the whole business. A sudden harmless moratorium on babies being born. Doctors would have to tell the unfortunate pregnant, “I’m sorry. It happens sometimes. Tidal, we think. For everyone else, nine months, but for you, eleven months, maybe a year, maybe more. Don’t go outside. Don’t leave your house. Stroke your stomach, fine, but only in your own living room. Keep your lullabies to yourself. We’ll let you know when it’s time.” -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 43-


No, I insist: other people’s children did not make me sad. But pregnant women did. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 111-

She writes of that horribly destructive behavior called Blame which threatens to stand in the way of moving forward through grief:

Blame is a compulsive behavior, the emotional version of obsessive hand washing, until all you can do is hold your palms out till your hands are full of it, and rub, and rub, and accomplish nothing at all. And so we grieved but looked straight ahead. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 143-

I found myself nodding in agreement when McCracken spoke of the pain of answering those innocent questions about children posed by unsuspecting strangers. She wishes for a stack of cards she can hand out which say ‘My first child was stillborn‘ whenever a person coos over her second son and asks, “Is this your first?” How I wish I had a similar stack of cards reading “I am infertile” for every time someone asks if I have children.

McCracken writes:

I want people to know but I don’t want to say it aloud. people don’t like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 73-

Yes. I agree.

McCracken’s great gift is that she reveals to her reader her deepest sadness, and her greatest hope. And in the end, she leaves us with a message which can sustain those who have experienced intolerable loss:

It’s a happy life, but someone is missing. It’s a happy life, and someone is missing. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 184-

This memoir is highly recommended, but with a cautionary note. I believed I had accepted my childlessness until I began reading McCracken’s words. I found myself closing the book often to weep, and yet I kept going back to read again. For women who have either lost a child or have never been able to conceive, this is a difficult book to read – but, it is also a hopeful book and one which reminds us we are not alone in our grief.

Mailbox Monday – October 27, 2008

Another Monday and more books! Here is what arrived at my house this week:

Alpine Americas: An Odyssey Along the Crest of Two Continents with essays by Don Mellor and photography by Olaf Soot. This stunning, hard cover edition arrived through my connection with Lisa Roe, Online Publicist. It is a gorgeous book with amazing photographs. I can’t wait to sit down, read through it and immerse myself in its beauty. Thank you, Lisa!

Now the Drum of War, by Robert Roper arrived from Bloomsbury. It looks like a fascinating historical read…and my husband has already browsed the jacket and announced he wants to read it too!

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker has been getting great early reviews. It is due for release in January. This Advance Readers Edition arrived from Miriam at Hatchette Book group. Thank you, Miriam!

Finally, I went to the San Jose Book Club Expo this weekend (stay tuned for another post about that later this morning), and ended up with more free books! The Expo gave each participant a bag with two books…and since I dragged my husband along, this meant I got two of each of those books…they are:

The Year of Fog, by Michelle Richmond. I already owned a copy of this book, so here is the deal. I plan to read Richmond’s book before the year is out and then give away TWO, signed copies of the novel. Keep an eye on my blog for more details!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. These are Advance Readers Edition (the book is due for release in January). I’ll be reading this one in January and then giving away my second copy here on my blog.

I also spent some time talking to Hachette representative Mindy Im and she generously gave me a copy of:

Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell. This novel is due for release in January, so I’ll be reading it before then!

So what did YOU get this week? Visit Marcia at The Printed Page and read today’s Mailbox Monday post…then check the comments for links to other readers!