Chicago Author Month Wrap-Up

This has been a fantastic month! I don’t think I’ve read a single book that has disappointed me, and I even got all gushy about three of them. I’ve had a great time learning about and meeting some Chicago-area authors, and I hope that you’ve found some books you are interested in as well, whether or not the Chicago connection means anything to you.

What I Reviewed:

Fiction
Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis
After the Workshop by John McNally
Divine Appointments by Charlene Baumbich
The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez
Currency by Zoe Zolbrod
According to Jane by Marilyn Brant
Not Ready for Mom Jeans by Maureen Lipinski

Mystery/Thrillers
Skating Around the Law by Joelle Charbonneau
The Hanging Tree by Bryan Gruley
Body Work by Sara Paretsky

Graphic Novel
Mr Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea

Chicago Publishers Spotlights:

Other Voices Books
Oasis Audio
Featherproof Books
Sourcebooks
Tyndale House

Sunday Spotlights:

Shel Silverstein
Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza
My Maasai Life by Robin Wiszowaty
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Bookstore Reviews:

Long Way Home by Laura Caldwell
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Guest Posts:

What’s in a Blog” by Libby Hellmann, Author and Founder of ‘The Outfit’
Haunted by Chicago History” by Kelly O’Connor McNees, Author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Confessions of a Chicago Lawyer” by David Ellis, Author of Breach of Trust
A Writer’s Life” by Melanie Benjamin, Author of Alice I Have Been
Richard Wright, Chicago’s Native Son” by Michelle from ‘That’s What She Read’

Pick(s) of the Month:

Note: Some of these books were provided to me for review.

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Chicago Publishers: Spotlight on… Tyndale House Publishers

Like suburban neighbor Sourcebooks, Tyndale House was originally based in the founder’s home. Now one of the largest Christian publishers, Tyndale actually has its roots in self-publishing. In the 1950s, Dr. Kenneth Taylor began paraphrasing the King James version of the Bible in order to help his children comprehend the family’s nightly Bible readings. When he finished, Taylor and his wife were so pleased with the result that they spent their own money to produce 2,000 copies of what they called “Living Letters,” what would eventually become the “The Living Bible” and would spend three years as the best selling book in America.

In addition to founding Tyndale House Publishers – named after William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake in the 16th century for translating the Bible into English – Taylor and his wife also established the Tyndale House Foundation in order to make grants to support Christian work around the world. The Foundation was initially funded by the royalties from the various iterations of “Living Letters,” and is now the owner of Tyndale House Publishers, thus funding it additionally with the profit from the publishing house. Tyndale House’s website has this to say about the Foundation:

Over the years, the Foundation has made thousands of grants to support Christian work across a wide variety of categories. Traditionally, the Foundation’s primary focus has been Christian literature work, including new translations of the Bible in languages around the world. But the Foundation also makes grants in areas as diverse as Christian higher education, evangelism, disaster relief, and Christian social services. From 1963 to 2008, the Foundation’s grants totaled $59 million. But after adjusting for inflation, this equates to $139 million in today’s dollars.

Continuing from the great success of “The Living Bible” in the 1970s, Tyndale House is home to some very well-regarded Christian writers like Beth Moore and Dinesh D’Souza. In addition, Tyndale House Publishers had 10 books on the New York Times Bestsellers list in 2010.

Check out Tyndale House online:

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Richard Wright, Chicago’s “Native Son” – Guest Post by Michelle from That’s What She Read

When Jen asked me if I wanted to help out with her Chicago Author Month, I jumped at the chance. Having spent the large majority of my formative years in the Chicago suburbs, I relished the chance to support authors from the area, as well as share my love for all things Chicago. Yet, when Jen showed me the list of authors she was hoping to highlight, I was shocked by one name that appeared on the list – Richard Wright. I had read his autobiography, “Black Boy,” in high school and do not remember anything about Chicago in there. Was this really true? Yes, Richard Wright is definitely a Chicago author.

He fled to Chicago after leaving Memphis in 1927. Even though he lived there for ten years, he made his mark on the city, and the city made its mark on him. It was there that he truly started writing, thanks to the Federal Writers’ Project. He joined the Communist Party and wrote articles and stories for both the New Masses and the Daily Worker. Both of these actions would influence his most seminal work, “Native Son,” published in 1940.

Set in Chicago, “Native Son” confronts the issue of race head-on with his stereotypical depiction of Bigger Thomas. Eventually made into both a Broadway play and a movie, experts believe “Native Son” to be one of the galvanizing forces behind black leaders and helped break a path for future protests. His portrayal of race relations literally changed the way Americans viewed them forever.

Never a city to shy away from a fight, or a scandal, Mr. Wright used Chicago as the backdrop for a novel that set in motion the racial conflicts and changes that shaped the nation in the 1950s and 60s. The experience he gathered writing for the Communist Party gave rise to his talent and comfort level at sharing the starkness of his experiences with the world. Without his time in Chicago, Mr. Wright might not have been able to accomplish nor influence generations as he did. Chicago should definitely be proud to consider Richard Wright on of its own.

Michelle is the blogger behind That’s What She Read and is always working at the balance between career, blog, and family. In addition to this post, she is also reviewing “Black Boy” today.

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Not Ready for Mom Jeans by Maureen Lipinski – Book Review

Not Ready for Mom Jeans by Maureen Lipinski
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of Macmillan

If you read “A Bump in the Road” (which you don’t need to understand and enjoy “Not Ready for Mom Jeans”), you already know that Clare Finnegan has a new baby after what was an unplanned pregnancy for herself and her husband. Not that they don’t both adore their daughter, but life with Sara is so different than life before Sara. One of the biggest differences is Clare’s newfound questioning of her career. Being an event planner is something that she has always loved, but when Clare’s maternity leave ends, she feels an intense amount of mom guilt leaving her precious little girl at daycare with strangers.

Although I couldn’t always identify with Clare and the old, single, pre-child ways she did not want to give up, like staying out for most of the night to go drinking with her friends, I think that most mothers will identify with Clare’s struggles with work-life balance. For Clare motherhood is a constant reinvention of self, and she has a lot of soul searching to do in order to determine what is best for her and her family.

A couple of minor continuity problems failed to dampen my enthusiasm for this funny and realistic look at the tough choices of modern motherhood. I think most moms – nay, parents – would be able to relate to the decisions Clare finds herself forced to make.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Maureen Lipinski’s website

Other Books by Maureen Lipinski:
“A Bump in the Road”

This review was done with a personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

A Writer’s Life – Guest Post by Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been

It’s a funny thing about being a writer. People often have the most romantic ideas about what your life must be like; they assume that it consists of long, soulful walks for inspiration, or days spent sitting dreamily at a desk, capturing genius on the page only whenever it happens to alight upon your shoulder. Movies and TV shows don’t help; they perpetuate these stereotypes, wrapping them up in Hollywood art direction to boot. Pottery Barn desks and flickering candlelight; exquisite views conveniently just outside the soulful writer’s window.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but—my life isn’t exactly like this.

My desk is a cast-off IKEA desk that neither son wanted to take to college. The view outside my office is that of a basement window well. And I rarely have time to sit dreamily at my desk, waiting for inspiration.

If you are lucky enough to be a full-time writer, that’s the thing. It’s a full-time job. Yes, there’s inspiration involved, but there’s a heck of a lot of perspiration, too. Multi-tasking. Prioritizing. Rushing to meet deadlines.

Take, well—now, for instance. Right now, I’m in a very blessed position. I have one book out (ALICE I HAVE BEEN); one book coming out in July (THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB); and one book due to my publisher in August.

So instead of having the luxury of just losing myself in the manuscript I’m writing—the one that’s due in August—I find myself having to switch gears between three different books. ALICE I HAVE BEEN comes out in paperback in December; I’m getting ready to go out and talk about it again, a year after its initial publication. I love this book, I love the story and I love meeting readers. But I’ve written another book since then that I’m itching to talk about—the book that’s coming out in July. I’m now starting to gear up for its hardcover publication, which means going through page proofs, approving jacket copy, answering questionnaires for my publicist & marketing team, clearing my schedule for July. Meanwhile, there’s that third book. The one that’s due in August. The one that I have to, you know—write.

Now, I am not complaining about any of this! I love every minute of it and know myself to be blessed. But I wanted to share a little insight into how the life of a writer is just like the life of every working person out there.

Like you, I have to prioritize. Someone wants to interview me for a blog? Great—but considering the deadline, the upcoming travel, do I have the time? Or how about that book club that wants me to meet with them for a couple of hours? And what about that Tweetchat I was asked to do? Sometimes, unfortunately, I have to say no.

Just as I’m hitting my stride with the new book, really getting into the story, there’s a knock on my door. It’s the UPS man delivering the page proofs for the July book, and they’re due back to my publisher by November 1st. Reluctantly, I close the file for the new manuscript, and sit down, instead, with a colored pencil to re-read, for the umpteenth time, my soon-to-be published book. It’s tough going, because by now I’m looking at it only for the mistakes; the typos, the inconsistencies that neither my editor, my proofreader or I have caught, but which, for sure, exist. And this is my last chance to find them before the book goes to press.

Bye-bye, inspiration! I will not be able to pursue you today. But next week I will have to summon you, no matter what, because I will have a window of opportunity, between the upcoming paperback release and the blog posts and the final look at the proofs for the next manuscript, in which to write. And so, somehow, I will simply have to.

So that’s what a writer’s life is like. My desk is messy, filled with paperwork that needs to be filled out, contracts to be mailed. I have an in box and an out box. I have a calendar that fills up at an alarming rate.

And I have little time to sit dreaming out the window; I can’t afford simply to sit and listen for my muse. Writing is my job. It’s what I do, and like any skill, I have to be able to summon it on my own command. Inspiration is part of the process but for me, it’s most important at the very beginning, when my initial idea for a book is forming. That’s the one time I get to sit and dream and think.

But soon enough, it’s back to work; to writing, and it’s a darn good thing I really love it, that I consider myself lucky to be able to do it. And that I’ve worked hard to master it so that it’s second nature to me now.

Because deadlines – and guest blog posts – don’t wait for inspiration.

Melanie Benjamin is the author of ALICE I HAVE BEEN, a novel about Alice Liddell, the muse for Lewis Carroll and the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Currently available in hardcover, it will be released in paperback December 21st. Her next novel, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB, will be published in July 2011. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two sons. Visit her at her website, www.melaniebenjamin.com. You can also read her previous guest post at Devourer of Books.