Bonus Book Content

Good for Book Clubs

You know that feeling when you finish a book and you’re desperately wanting more? We’ve collected Author Essays, Author Q&As, and Reader Guides from many of our featured books to continue your reading journey — and to start a lively book club discussion!

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

The Music I Listen To While Writing

I love all kinds of music. I’m kind of a music nerd. I began my writing career, if that’s what you’d call it, as a music journalist, albeit a half-assed one. But I never used to listen to music while writing. That is, until a few years ago.

Chalk that change up to loosening up a bit, unbuttoning my proverbial collar. My regular go-to stuff, like The Fall and Spoon, is off the table, since I can’t listen to versus-chorus-verse songs with lyrics while writing. Too distracting. The rhythms have to be more freeform and organic.

Classical and jazz…I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t listen to too much classical or jazz. They leave me cold. I’m a philistine, I guess. Specific bands and artists I can listen to? Aphex Twin. Boards of Canada. Can. Fela Kuti. Emeralds. The Field. Kolsch. Stars of the Lid. Angelo Badalamenti’s work with David Lynch. The Bladerunner soundtrack. Some of the soundtracky records from the Italians Do It Better label.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

A Writer’s Journey

All my life, I’ve wanted to live and work as a writer, and now as I prepare for the publication of my fourth novel, White Collar Girl, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to see my dream realized. Like most authors I know, my road to publication was a pretty bumpy ride. I did just about everything wrong before I learned to do a few things right. I’m writing this today in hopes that someone out there will benefit from my experience.

But before I delve into that, let me back up and come clean on a few things: 1) I’m a painfully slow reader. 2) I seriously can’t spell my way out of a paper bag. 3) I believe I’m an undiagnosed dyslexic. 4) On top of all that, as a young girl and even as a teenager, I didn’t like to read. As you can see, these are all exceptional criteria for someone who wants to be a writer. And yet, from as far back as I can remember, that’s what I knew I wanted to be when I grew up.

So even though I wasn’t reading Dr. Seuss and Nancy Drew, I was playing on my grandfather’s typewriter—an old 1930s model that I still have today. And in first or second grade, I had mastered four cursive letters—Es and Ls, Ms and Ns—and I wrote them over and over again on a chalkboard in our basement. Turns out that’s not sufficient training for a wannabe writer. But that didn’t stop me from diving in.

Meet the Author Good for Book Clubs

Reading With Anthony Marra

Anthony Marra’s new book, The Tsar of Love and Techno is, without a doubt, one of our favorite reads of 2015. Marra’s latest is an interwoven collection of short stories that reads like a novel; as each seemingly disparate chapter unfurls, you find its relation to the last through interlocking people, objects, and places.

Spanning decades in tumultuous Russia, the book tells stories of the resiliency of the human spirit and the ability to create and appreciate art, even in the most dire circumstances. Anthony Marra paints a picture of humanity with honesty, grace, and humor (you’ll definitely laugh out loud in parts). We might love this book even more than his smash-hit debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, but it’s a close call.

You can imagine how excited we were to sit down with Anthony Marra, talk to him about his book, and ultimately convince him to read us a passage from the title story, “The Tsar of Love and Techno.” (If you’d like to read along, it’s on page 193.) Here’s Marra’s introduction to the passage:

“This describes the first date that a character named Kolya has with Galina. Both of them are main characters that weave through some of these stories. It describes their first date and I love it because they’re walking around this place called Lake Mercury. This lake is in a town that is big on nickel mining, and Lake Mercury is so polluted with exotic chemicals that it doesn’t freeze, even in the middle of February. It’s surrounded by smokestacks called the twelve apostles. It seems like one of the grimmer places on earth. I love this little scene because Kolya invites Galina for a walk around this lake for their first date, and despite being in this rather unromantic climate, there’s an ethereal moment they have together.”

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Sophie Kinsella Reveals The Shopaholic’s Favorite Reads

After a long hiatus, everyone’s favorite Shopaholic is back! Sophie Kinsella, the author of the ten titles in the wildly popular Shopaholic series—as well as fourteen other standalone novels—re-introduces fans to hilarious heroine Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) in her latest: “Shopaholic to the Rescue.” Here, we find Becky on a road trip, headed from Hollywood to Las Vegas, determined to locate her missing father. Along for the ride are beloved characters like her best friend Suze, daughter Minnie and husband Luke, her nemesis Alicia and of course, the notorious Derek Smeath. Gutsy as ever, Becky has found a new sense of maturity in her eleventh adventure, though she still—of course—loves to shop. Here, author Sophie Kinsella interviews her main character Becky Bloomwood Brandon about the books she loves to buy. (Psst: Click on the book jacket to shop the Shopaholic’s picks.)

Sophie Kinsella: So, Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood), are you a book lover?

Becky Brandon: Oh I love books! I especially I love bookshops. We have a campaign where I live: ‘Support your local bookshop’, and honestly, I’ve been so supportive of that. The lovely thing about buying books is, you don’t feel guilty at all, however much you spend.

And that’s what I always point out to Luke, when my pile of bedside ‘to read’ books crashes down on the floor. (Which it does quite often.) Before he can even suggest that I tidy them away or don’t buy so many, I just give him a calm, even stare, and I say, ‘Luke, these are books. OK? Books.’

Also, books are amazingly good value for money, in my opinion. Because they give you hours of enjoyment. Hours. I mean, if you compare them to DVDs or film tickets, or theatre tickets, or, practically anything, then they totally win.

(OK, maybe they don’t win against handbags. But they win against everything else.)

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

The Muse of Music

Bestselling author Taylor Stevens on the music she listens to while writing.

There have been times that music didn’t feature heavily in my creative process, but those have been rare and far between. For the most part, music has been both a muse and a signal to my brain that playtime is over. Flip that music switch and the psyche knows it’s time to go to work.

Unfortunately, music has also been a double-edged sword because, while it has been integral to getting the writing done, it can also be very distracting. When I first started writing, I learned quickly that almost anything I loved to listen to throughout the day was disastrous when putting words on the page. For example, with a few exceptions, songs with lyrics had to get cut from the playlists. Movie soundtracks and classical music—which both seem like plausible alternatives—got the ax, too.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Why Bradstreet Gate?

Author Robin Kirman reveals the meaning of the title of her crime mystery novel.

A gate is a passage: it takes people from one place and lets them out, in an orderly fashion, in another; in some cases it also serves as a means of selection. The gates of heaven only open for the virtuous, the saved, and permit them into eternal paradise; the gates of our elite universities – and we can think of the whole college admission process as a metaphorical gate — select our nation’s most talented and hardworking youth for positions at the highest levels of society. So we like to think, at least, and the frenzy that accompanies that admission process suggests this is an idea we Americans take very seriously. If our faith in heaven’s gates has wavered, our faith in Harvard’s remains strong — maybe because we need to believe in some sort of system in a time when the path to prosperity feels especially uncertain.

Bradstreet Gate, the title of my debut novel, is also the actual name for the newest gate on Harvard Yard. Commemorated in ‘97, it was named after America’s first published female poet in honor of twenty-five years of women living on the old yard.

Bonus Book Content Good for Book Clubs

Reading Guide for The Gracekeepers

For readers of The Night Circus and Station Eleven, a lyrical and absorbing debut set in a world covered by water.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Reader's Guide Good for Book Clubs

Reader’s Guide for The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

“A fierce, page-turning, exposé of a would-be/could-be bright star. –Marie Claire

Told in a chorus of voices belonging to those who knew Sophie best, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is an intimate portrait of an elusive woman whose monumental talent and relentless pursuit of truth reveal the cost of producing great art. It is “not only a dissection of genius and the havoc it can wreak, but also a thunderously good story” (Emma Donoghue, author of Room).

It’s a perfect book for book groups, and we’ve gathered some questions that will inspire a lively conversation. We’ve also asked the author to answer some of the questions we had after reading this wonderful novel.