Excerpt Good for Book Clubs

A Walk In The Woods

It started with Benton MacKaye, a mild, kindly, infinitely well-meaning visionary who in the summer of 1921 unveiled an ambitious plan for a long-distance hiking trail to his friend Charles Harris Whitaker, editor of a leading architectural journal. To say that MacKaye’s life at this point was not going well would be to engage in careless understatement. In the previous decade he had been let go from jobs at Harvard and the National Forest Service and eventually, for want of a better place to stick him, given a desk at the U.S. Labor Department with a vague assignment to come up with ideas to improve efficiency and morale. There, he dutifully produced ambitious, unworkable proposals that were read with amused tolerance and promptly binned. In April 1921 his wife, a well-known pacifist and suffragette named Jessie Hardy Stubbs, flung herself off a bridge over the East River in New York and drowned.

It was against this background, just ten weeks later, that MacKaye offered Whitaker his idea for an Appalachian Trail, and the proposal was published in the somewhat unlikely forum of Whitaker’s Journal of the American Institute of Architects the following October. A hiking trail was only part of MacKaye’s grand vision. He saw the AT as a thread connecting a network of mountaintop work camps where pale, depleted urban workers in the thousands would come and engage in healthful toil in a selfless spirit and refresh themselves on nature. There were to be hostels and inns and seasonal study centers, and eventually permanent woodland villages—”self-owning” communities whose inhabitants would support themselves with cooperative “non-industrial activity” based on forestry, farming, and crafts. The whole would be, as MacKaye ecstatically described it, “a retreat from profit”—a notion that others saw as “smacking of Bolshevism,” in the words of one biographer.

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

Julia Pierpont’s Favorite Places to Read in NYC

Julia Pierpont’s debut novel Among The Ten Thousand Things, set in New York City, tells of a family coming to grips with a newly-revealed secret that fractures and frays their bonds and changes them all in the process. Pierpont, a New York City native herself, tells Read It Forward her favorite places in the city to get lost in a book. If you happen to visit Manhattan, we highly suggest bringing a copy of Among The Ten Thousand Things to any of these locales and letting the book’s setting be your backdrop as you read Pierpont’s sharply observed and articulated work of fiction.

Giveaways Good for Book Clubs

Enter to Win X by Sue Grafton

X: The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

X: The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.

X: The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

When You Share a Name With a Literary Character

What’s in a name? Well, if you share one with a famous literary character…a lot! When you read a book where the protagonist shares your name, it’s easy to get invested in the character.

Most of my friends and family call me by my nickname, Nora. As a kid, I was thrilled when my parents gave me a picture book titled Nora and the Bear, about—you guessed it—a girl and a bear. Nora gets lost in the snowy woods, and the bear she was supposed to be hunting helps guide her back to her village. For my reading level at the time, it was an action-packed thriller. I felt a frission of excitement whenever I saw my name on the page, and it was like reading about an adventure I could have in the future. I’m sure the enjoyment of reading that book is one of the (many) reasons I became a bookworm.

I felt a similar sense of kinship when I read A Doll’s House in high school. Written in the late nineteenth century, the play was ahead of its time in its portrayal of an independent woman. Nora, the protagonist, challenges societal norms and leaves her husband so she can discover herself. I found myself feeling protective and proud of the character, as though we had a special connection.

Giveaways Good for Book Clubs

Literary Fiction Giveaway: Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation. A dazzling examination of a marriage, it is also a portrait of creative partnership written by one of the best writers of her generation.

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

Bonus Book Content Good for Book Clubs

The Gates of Evangeline

Start Reading The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young. (One of our favorite picks for fall!)

I can’t pinpoint the moment I cross over. It comes slowly: the seductive darkness, my face and limbs dissolving into something weightless and fuzzy. Then consciousness spreads through me like caffeine. My senses come alive.

This time there is water. A soft shhh, on either side of me.

I wait. Try to orient myself. Am I in a boat?

The darkness lifts, and a picture forms. Swamp. I’m on a rowboat, a canoe maybe, drifting through brown water and swirls of green scum. Around me I see dead leaves, rotted branches curling like fingers, partially submerged trees clawing their way upward. On my right, I catch a flash of movement. Watchful green eyes peer up at me. An alligator.

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

How to Make a Book Gift Still Special

We love books, but receiving one as a gift is an entirely different matter. Often it can seem like an impersonal gift, making the recipient believe that his/her friend, family member, or significant other expended no more effort than walking into a bookstore and snatching up the closest title on the New and Popular table. It takes a very special set of circumstances to make a book a truly exceptional present, superseding all other gift options. Here’s how:

Figure out his/her tastes. You wouldn’t buy an unathletic friend workout gear, or flashy jewelry or clothes for a significant other whose tastes run more minimal. Similarly, you have to consider what your recipient would actually like to read, not just what you want him/her to read. Is he your horror-movie buddy? Recreate that experience with a page-turning thriller. Does she work a drudging office job? That’s an entire subgenre!

Do your research! Did she love Gone Girl or Station Eleven? You’ve got resources like Read It Forward and GoodReads to find the new and classic books that will hit those same emotional and thematic beats. There are readers everywhere eager to share what they loved (and didn’t), so consider them a litmus test.

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

I Said I Read This Book, But I Lied

A few years back, I bought a one-way ticket to a small Pacific island called Yap, packing only a few t-shirts and the hundred books I was most embarrassed not to have read. The books were the usual suspects: War and Peace, The Bible, and Dave Barry Turns 40. Since writing my own vaguely humorous book (A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise) about reading all those books, I’ve been asked on occasion, “Did you really read all hundred books?”

“Oh sure,” I usually say.

“All of them?” a few of the incredulous have asked.

“Well, yeah. Basically.” To me, basically, was a kind of hedge, a moat around the truth that few would want to cross. Because to get beyond “basically,” by definition means to get more complex and few people want that. I try not to start sentences with ‘to be honest,’ but to be honest, I didn’t read one book in its entirety: Moby-Dick. And I may have quickly skimmed a few parts of The Bible.

I know Moby-Dick is a pillar of literature, a pillar supporting the roof of…I don’t know…much easier-to-read literature. And at 208,773 words in length, it’s 40% shorter than The Brothers Karamazov. But still, to me, Moby-Dick feels at least several hundred words too long.

And this is coming from someone who has a high tolerance for plodding. Everyone has a hidden talent, and—not to brag—but I have two: the ability to make turkey sandwiches (including sliced tomato) with only my toes, and extreme patience when it comes to the less-than-zesty. How patient?

When I was a kid, I used to watch televised city council meetings for hours. Proposed changes to pension plan funding schedules for municipal workers? Tell me more! Street-repair bond packages? Bring it! So when I brought Moby-Dick to Yap, I thought; I got this. It turns out, however, I didn’t have this.