Announcing our March book! Our next pick is Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt . As with all of our choices, this was one of my ABSOLUTE favorites of last year.
It’s 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default caretaker for most of their lives, Charlotte’s youth has been marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare.
Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, and explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot fix.
Caroline will be joining me live at my home – hooray – on March 15th at 8pm, where we will be chatting about the book, the writing life, and answering your questions.
She says about the book: When I was 17, a friend of mine was murdered by her much older, more controlling boyfriend–someone she had been with for five years. I never forgot it, but until I was in a controlling relationship of my own years later (Google my story “The Grief Diet,”) I couldn’t understand how someone could stay. I set the novel in 1969 and 1970, the time when the peace and love movement began to turn ugly, when Woodstock turned into Altamont and the Manson murders. The novel is so much about how we yearn to fix things and fix people, but sometimes we cannot, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes all you can do is step back and let life wash over you.
A little while ago, I had half a novel completed. I had thoroughly enjoyed the first half, but had reached a point where I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, and then life got in the way, and it started to feel more and more difficult to sit down and write.
I kept coming up with excuses. My life was so busy! There were columns for The Lady that needed to be written! The house was too cold to get out of bed! My hair was the wrong colour! Clearly, my excuses were no longer working, and I needed to make a change.
Years ago, before I started writing, I thought that my muse would strike on a daily basis. I imagined writing to be the most deeply romantic of professions, presuming I would leap out of bed from time to time, inspired, spending the rest of the night huddled in front of my computer, typing furiously as the words flowed through my fingertips.
There are, admittedly, some days like this, but after twenty three years of writing novels, they are few and far between. Also, it has never happened at night, probably because I like my bed far too much to leave it for anything other than a couple of barking dogs who some children have forgotten to lock inside for the night, and even then, I tend to lie there for at least ten minutes, praying that they will miraculously shut up all by themselves. I do keep a notebook next to my bed, just in case brilliance does strike, but usually, when I read it in the cold light of day, it is nonsensical. Truly. The kind of gobbledegook you can only write when you are actually still half-asleep.
What I have learned, after all these years, is that the only way a novel gets written, even when (perhaps especially when) you feel stuck, is to sit down and write it. And so, a few weeks ago I left my house every morning, drove to my office, left my phone (the distraction to end all distractions) in the car, and wrote.
I wrote even when I had no idea what I wanted to say. I wrote when I thought my characters had run out of steam. I wrote because writing is my job, and couldn’t procrastinate any longer, and I needed to feel the high of having written, rather than the constant guilt at putting it off.
And, as always, the magic happened. The characters woke up, as did I. Their lives got busy, and it became a pleasure, coming in to the office every day, looking forward to seeing what they would do next.
Towards the end, I started tearing up, which is when I know I have something good. When I get emotional at something my characters are going through, I know my readers will too, and last Friday, when I finally typed The End, I felt enormously proud of myself for finishing my twentieth novel, even when, at times, it felt like I didn’t know what to say.
Of course, the work is only beginning now. I am taking a week away from the manuscript so I can return with slightly fresher eyes, and then the edits will begin. I will read through and check the rhythm of the words, build up one of the characters, move a dramatic plot point to earlier in the book.
But I am almost there, and the having written, even after twenty novels, is just as sweet today as it was all those years ago.
Part of my adjusting to my new hair color has involved me changing my make-up, which I am realizing is far easier said than done.
I once knew a woman who continued wearing her brunette hair down to her waist, with heavy dark eyes and pale lips, into her seventies. It looked absolutely terrible, but no one had the heart to tell her how dated she looked.
I realize I have essentially been doing my make-up (and my hair) in exactly the same way for years. I will happily adjust my hair color, and I am worried that I am reaching the age where I am beginning to consider going short. Not short short, but shorter. Perhaps a style rather than boring old long hair. I’m reaching an age where a fringe seems like an awfully good idea. Far less expensive than Botox, and surely just as effective?
My eyebrows were plucked into submission some years ago, and of course have never grown back in quite the same way. I now spend hours with an eyebrow pencil every day. Some days, they look magnificent. On others, I look like Liz Taylor on overdrive, and this is not a good look.
I regularly find myself poring over pictures of the Kardashians, wondering how their eyebrows look like that, and after I dyed my hair back to dark, when everyone told me I needed darker make-up, I found a make-up tutorial on YouTube which promised me that I would look like Kylie Jenner.
Oh reader, this was fun. I spent an hour contouring (the contouring! So much contouring!), blending, dabbing, brushing. I put brown eyeshadow under my cheekbones (one must make do with what one has), and pale above, then blended furiously so I didn’t look like I had been rolling around in a muddy field.
I lightly sketched in my eyebrows so they were perfectly arched, with actual sides (that was the weird bit with the over-plucking – the sides were the only bits that never grew back at all). I added gold sparkly stuff to my eyelids, and drew my lips on with lip liner in a way that made them look bigger and poutier than ever before.
No longer was Cher staring back at me in the mirror. Nor, it has to be said, was a Kardashian. It was me, only much, much more glamorous. My cheekbones were so pronounced I was worried I might cut myself on them. My lips were positively pillow-y, and my eyes were dark and smouldering (helped somewhat by the magnetic lashes that I have now decided are genius).
If only I had the time to do this every day! I almost didn’t wash it all off because I’m quite sure my cheekbones may never look like this again, but I took the obligatory selfie, so I can always remember that I too can look Kardashianesque, with a few spare hours and an awful lot of make-up.
In the meantime, I shall be going back to the make-up I’ve always had, and the hair I’ve always done, and I will pray that it all stays on trend for just a while longer.
And now, we are announcing our February pick. We will be reading The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, and Chloe will be joining us live on www.facebook.com/janegreenbookclub on February 15th at 8pm.
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.
The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.
I am very happy as an English woman living in America, and there are many things that are truly wonderful about this country (clue: but the loos aint one of them). When I moved here, having been brought up on a diet of American films and television shows, I presumed that everything in America was bigger, better, and glossier.
It’s true, some things are. New York, for example, remains one of the most vibrant cities in the world. The service industry here is truly an industry, and people leap to help (which is still something of a pleasure, seventeen years on). Hamburgers and pizza are excellent, as are chips (and when I say chips, I mean French fries, which are invariably better than anything I ate on the other side of the pond).
The roads are wide and easy to navigate, especially in California. Admittedly, the traffic is terrible, but with six huge lanes, who cares? Also, there are three million satellite radio channels to while away the hours you spend sitting in traffic, so it’s all rather enjoyable.
Speaking of cars, the cars are enormous, and luxurious! I’m sure the UK is catching up, but everyone here drives monster cars (including me), which aren’t really cars, they’re more like our own private universes.
But there are a few things that continue to puzzle me, even after seventeen years. You can’t find a decent cup of tea to save your life. Also, herbal tea does not count as tea, which should be PG Tips or Tetley’s, and come with copious amounts of milk and sugar. Americans also do not say please and thank you as much as we do, and often, I have noticed that instead of saying “you’re welcome”, or “it’s a pleasure,” they say, “uh huh”. Which is just odd. But the thing that worries me most, is the gap in the public loos.
All the bathroom stalls in this country seem to have not only gaps top and bottom (understandable, and not terrible – on cop shows they can always look underneath to see if someone has overdosed), but, and this is the bit that continues to bother me, they also have huge gaps on the side. THE SIDE. What are they thinking?
I’m not talking about a sliver through which daylight can shine, I’m talking, in many cases, about a good three quarters of an inch, which doesn’t sound like a lot, until you are minding your own business in what you assume is the privacy of your cubicle, and you find yourself making eye contact with someone standing by the sinks.
The people at Buzzfeed are also confused, and I don’t blame them.
I don’t understand it. There seems little point in even having a door. I always heave a sigh of relief when there’s a hook at the top and I’m wearing a drapey scarf that I can expertly drape to cover the gap.
Once upon a time, I was able to avoid public loos entirely. Now, as a middle-aged woman, I find it is not so easy. I shall just have to make sure I bring my scarves, and fill my bag with double-sided sellotape.
Jane Green tells the story of being middle-aged, and having her head ever so slightly turned by a young, handsome author for The Moth on public radio. Will she be able to resist temptation or will she succumb, and what does her husband have to say about all of this…
Spoiler alert: she didn’t have an affair. But she did use the experience to inspire the novel, Tempting Fate.
Listen to the background story that inspired the novel, Promises to Keep. The New York Times bestselling author wrote this momentous novel about a family coming together in the hardest of times for one unforgettable – and ultimately life-changing – year. Inspired by Jane Green’s real life and taking care of one of her best friends after she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, this is one of her most moving novels.
Two more days to go until Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs Fletcher, joins the Jane Green Book Club for its inaugural book!
Don’t forget, Tom Perrotta will be live on this facebook page: www.facebook.com/janegreenbookclub on Thursday November 16th at 8pm, EST, and you will be able to ask him questions then.
If you’re joining our book club and live chat by yourself, welcome, and all you have to do is log in to www.facebook.com/janegreenbookclub at 8pm EST on November 16th.
If you’re gathering friends to form a book club, or bringing an existing book club, we’ve put together a few guidelines on how to run your book club. Feel free to follow them, or abandon them completely! The important thing is you gather together good people, and have fun.
• We suggest you ask people to arrive at your home for your book club for 6.30 or 7pm, and bring their questions with them! Ensure you, as host, check your wifi connection beforehand. You will need a computer, laptop or ipad to join
the live chat with the author.
• 7pm – 8pm – Meet and greet in your home, and share your thoughts about the book with the group, and prepare questions.
• 8pm Log in to Facebook, and go to this page here:
• 8pm-9pm – Listen to Tom Perrotta talk about the book, and type in your questions. He may not be able to get to all of them, but will do his best.
• 9pm-10pm Continue talking about the book, with us online or amongst yourselves.
We hope you have a wonderful night, and can’t wait to hear about it. If you’re gathering friends, post photographs of your bookclub on instagram, twitter and facebook with the hashtags #janegreenbookclub #tomperrotta