Quantcast

Interview with Beth Kephart, Juncture Workshops Co-Founder

In case you missed my review of this must have workbook — Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit — you must check out my review.

Today, Beth Kephart stops by to answer a few questions about her workbook and Juncture, memoir workshops and a newsletter.  Please give her a warm welcome.

After teaching memoir at Penn, what prompted you to create your own series of workshops focused on writing memoir?  Was the process from idea to launching your first workshop long? And what obstacles did you face and how did you deal with those?

Serena, I helplessly love memoir. I read it with real hunger, deep interest, open questions. I have been asked by many adult writers if I could work privately on individual manuscripts. I have given memoir talks across the country and run one day memoir workshops in communities and seen what can happen when adults gather to write about their lives. It felt like it was time to create something like Juncture. It took more than a year to roll this out. We wanted to make something beautiful. Find the right sites. Create a gorgeous web site and brochure series. Build a robust syllabi. It took a lot of time and love.

Juncture is a joint project with your equally talented husband; how has that journey been?  How do you find artistic balance when you’re working closely together?

Bill is enormously talented. I love his art, his eye, his interest in building meaningful and artful communities. We have collaborated on many projects throughout the years. The creation of Juncture, which involves an Illustrated newsletter, videos, and the workshops themselves, has been deeply engaging and very personal and something we talk about and plan together. We rarely disagree on any aspect of this initiative.

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook is a collection of exercises or more.  Are these the same exercises you use in your workshops?  What have been the reactions from participants to those exercises?

I actually never teach the same thing twice. I develop themes for each workshop and work towards them. I may teach some version of some of these exercises but mostly what is in the book was created for buyers of the book. The exercises are holistic. One thing builds to the next and the next. You can do each exercise as a singular experience or you can progressively build toward key elements of your memoir. I loved thinking about the accretive process.

While I never teach the same thing, while I build an intense curriculum that creates many opportunities to study memoir and to write multiple pieces, while I supplement all teaching with excerpts I have on hand and use to develop ideas that rise spontaneously … I always see incredible growth in the Juncture writers over the five days we have together. The kind of growth that makes me cry. And because these writers most often come back for another session months later, I see how they have continued to find their voices and stories in the meantime. It is hugely emotional to be a part of this. We memorialize the experience with a book each writer receives. Portraits Bill will take. Final pages published. Proof of our community and process.

You’ve included illustrations from your husband in this workbook. Did you give him the freedom to create anything he wanted or did you offer him guidance?  Are there plans to include photography in future editions (I know there will be second and third editions)?

Bill has absolute freedom with the art. I am surprised by each sketch he shows me. I love each sketch. His work makes me happy. No plans for another version, but yes, as I have established, I can’t stop thinking about memoir. 

For those interested in signing up for your workshop, what advice would you give about preparing for the workshop in advance? How should they approach the experience? Do you expect them to have a memoir project already in mind?

I prepare my workshop goers. Two months ahead of time the participants are sent PDF packages with excerpt readings, assignments, a guide to the one full book we all read as part of the process, and so much more. I run a workshop for those who have not yet defined their memoir project and one for those already deep into their book. They are entirely different and very respectful of where each writer is in the process.

Thank you, Beth, for sharing your thoughts with us.  If you’re looking for a great memoir teacher, Beth is your lady.

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 210 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit, is the perfect workbook for budding memoirists because it provides not only writing exercises but enough room to write inspirations down.  Users can even staple additional pages in the book if they need more room.

What I love about the workbook, other than that it is written by Beth Kephart, is that the illustrations could jog the brain into writing and the exercises vary from writing about a first memory to writing a poem about an event.  Born from her Juncture workshops, Kephart uses those experiences to offer writers exercises that will leave them inspired to tackle that memoir or other writing project they’ve been thinking about.  For example, in the writing about your first lie exercise, there are tips about finding the bigger story in the lie, as well as suggestions to think about the details to make them alluring and to think about who you were before the lie was told and who you were after it was told.

The workbook is broken down in to finding your voice, finding the true you, hunting for memory, navigating your world, using photographs to job memory or inspire, and many other topics.  I love how the exercises help you tease out details for your writing, and by the end of the workbook, you should be prepared to tackle that memoir or other work you’re looking to finish.  Always remember that the truth matters and that your memoir is not just about you!  Very sage advice.

If you’re looking for a workbook full of exercises to get you thinking outside the box, Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit, is the one, especially if you’re writing a memoir.  Using your imagination, you could also adapt the exercises to suit your fiction writing needs or just get writing in general, if you’re a little rusty.  Kephart has done it again.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of twenty-two books, publishing memoir, young adult literature, a corporate fairytale, an autobiography of a river, and an essay/photography collection.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham), based in part on Kephart’s teaching at Penn (where she won the 2015 Beltran Teaching Award), won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (Motivational Category), was featured as a top writing book by O Magazine, and was named a Best Writing Book by Poets and Writers. Small Damages (Philomel) was named a 2013 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book and a best book of the year by many publications. Going Over (Chronicle) was the 2014 Parents’ Choice, Gold Medal Winner/Historical Fiction and a Booklist Editor’s Choice. One Thing Stolen (Chronicle) was a 2015 Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner. Kephart’s 2014 Shebooks e-memoir is Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss One Wing at a Time. Her 2013 middle grade historical novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent (Temple University Press), was named a top book of the year by Kirkus.

Kephart is a National Book Award nominee and a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She writes a monthly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune, has given keynote addresses on the state of literature and teaching, and served as a judge for the National Book Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts, and PEN. 

Kephart was one of 50 Philadelphia writers chosen for the year-long Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy, exhibited at the Philadelphia International Airport. Excerpts from her Love: A Philadelphia Affair were the subject of a six-month Airport exhibit. She is a Radnor High Hall of Fame.

Kephart’s most recent book—This Is the Story of You—was published by Chronicle and is a Junior Library Guild and Scholastic Book Club selection, on the 2017 TAYSHAS list, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a Top Ten New Jersey Book.

Kephart will release two middle grade books with Caitlyn Dlouhy of Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. She is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops, offering memoir workshops and resources to writers across the country.

Mailbox Monday #431

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog. To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Loving Robert Lowell by Sandra Hochman

Turner Publishing proudly presents the first of three new literary works by Sandra Hochman, author of Walking Papers. When asked in 1976 by a reporter from People Magazine if her first two novels were autobiographical, Sandra Hochman replied, “My real life is much more fabulous than the books. One day I plan to write about it–men, Paris and women’s liberation. It will probably be called Unreal Life.”

Hochman first met Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Robert Lowell in 1961 at the Russian Tea Room in New York. She was to interview him for Encounter magazine. Hochman was twenty-five and had recently returned from Paris where she had lived with her husband for four years. They were now separated. Lowell was forty-three with plans to leave his wife. Hochman remembers it as the day that changed her life. The two poets fell in love instantly, and before the night was over, they had vowed to stay together forever. In Hochman’s first literary work in almost forty years, she writes in startling detail about the torrid and ultimately doomed affair that would follow.

Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks, a giveaway win from Diary of an Eccentric.

Which would you pick: the person you love or your own dreams?
What would you do if given a second chance at that decision?

Eight years ago Emma Shaw picked her career and family over the man she loved, Fredrick Wentworth. Since then she has built a career in publishing and spends her free time making sure her father and sisters are taken care of. Fredrick has spent the same years building his career as a screenwriter under increasing public scrutiny as a celebrity. When the editor of Fredrick’s first book is injured, Emma is forced to travel with Fredrick on his book tour.

Tension builds for the two former lovers over the course of the tour. Emma and Fredrick must face their emotional baggage and their misunderstanding about how their break-up impacted the other. Will they be able to find their way back together for a second chance at love?

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, which I purchased the minute she announced it.

What are we supposed to do with that lovely, infuriating, instigating, mischievous blank page? Who are we, when we’re being uncommonly honest? Where do we stand, in the landscape of truth? How do we discover and profess the story of our life when lives are such strange and messy things? Frankly, why bother?

In Tell the Truth. Make It Matter. Beth Kephart offers an insider’s look at the making of true tales-and an illustrated workbook to guide the wild ride. Combining smartly selected samples with abundantly fresh ideas, dozens of original exercises with cautions, questions with answers, Kephart inspires, encourages, and persistently believes in those with a story to tell. Write this, Truth says. Read this. Consider this. Discover who you are. Have some honest fun with words.

Truth could not come from a more authoritative source-Beth Kephart, who, as an award-winning writer of 22 books, an award-winning teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, a winner of the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (motivational category) for Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, a nationally renowned speaker, and a partner in Juncture Writing Workshops, has mastered the art of leading readers and writers toward the stories of themselves. Truth should find a home among high school teachers, college professors, workshop leaders, autodidacts, secret writers and public ones. It is the perfect (graduation, birthday, holiday, friendship) gift-to others, and to oneself.

Dunkirk by Joshua Levine for review for TLC Book Tours.

The epic history of Dunkirk, May 1940: when more than 300,000 trapped Allied troops were dramatically rescued from destruction at the hands of Nazi Germany by an extraordinary seaborne evacuation.

The true history of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians involved in the evacuation during the nine days from 27 May–4 June 1940 has passed into legend.

Now the subject of an epic motion picture from director Christopher Nolan, starring Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance – the story Winston Churchill described as a ‘miracle’ is narrated by bestselling author Joshua Levine in its full, sweeping context.

Including new interviews with veterans and survivors, this book goes behind the scenes to explore the real lives of those soldiers, bombed and strafed on the beaches for days on end, without food and ammunition; the civilians whose boats were overloaded; the airmen who risked their lives to buy their companions on the ground precious time; and those who did not escape.

Told from the viewpoints of land, sea and air, Joshua Levine’s Dunkirk is a dramatic account of this glorious defeat.

What did you receive?

Best Books of 2016

2016 had a great many books that thrilled me, and others that delighted. The rest of the year I could have done without —  so many deaths and a horribly long election and a range of backlash to terrify anyone.

For those interested, these are the best books I read in 2016, though not all were published in 2016.

Best Series:

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell (March: Book One, March: Book Two, March: Book Three)

Best Photography:


Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Best Memoir:

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Best Children’s Book:


Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

Best Young Adult Fiction:


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Best Short Story Collection: (I only read 3 and these 2 tied)


Heirlooms: Stories by Rachel Hall (this one has remained on my mind more than expected)


Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

Best Jane Austen Fiction: (this is a three-way tie)


A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner


Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette


The Courtship of Edward Gardiner by Nicole Clarkston

Best Poetry: (another tie)


Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey


Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Best Fiction: (a three-way tie)


The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler


My Last Continent by Midge Raymond


This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

What books were your favorites this year?

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 264 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart has the slow build-up of a weather front across thousands of miles of ocean, and when it hits, you are still unprepared because you’re in denial that you’ll be blown away and that your life could be upended by one wisp of wind, let alone a hurricane.  Invincibility is something many of us have in common at one point or another in our lives, whether it is in our teen years or later in life.  Eventually, that illusion is shattered — by a death in the family, a near miss, an unexpected circumstance.

Mira Banul and her friends are from those families that live on Haven year-round, and they are not like the tourists who visit for the beach and sun in the summer months.  Although their livelihoods can be dependent upon those summer tourists, their lives are more than just them.  Mira is an observer, while her friends Deni and Eva are the fixer and optimist, respectively.  Their personalities are big on the page as Kephart fully fleshes out these young ladies in description and in terms of their passions and quirks.  Mira and her skates, Deni and her aviators (“walked around with two pools of reflected sky on her head”), and Eva and her stories about lost civilizations.

“‘Weather’s bigger than the rest of us.’
‘I wanted to stop it.’
‘No, Deni.  All of us. None of us could stop it.'” (pg. 145)

As graduation nears for these ladies, it is hard for them to see past the current moment or the current projects.  When Shift comes to town and breaks up their merry threesome, Mira and Deni are left wondering what the draw is to this mysterious boy who comes to Haven in the middle of the school year.  Has Eva allowed herself to fall head-over-heels as she has done in the past, or is she merely being overly generous to the new kid in town?  Deni wants to protect her, Mira wants to see how it all shakes out.  In the background another storm is brewing, as nature decides its time to shake the trees.

If you’ve read other books by Kephart, you’ll see the birds in the trees and skies, and you may even perceive a nod to her previous work (at least, I thought of the one where the Schuylkill River is personified when Mira and her classmates talk about their Project Flows — or perhaps I read too many Kephart books, though I doubt that).  Her prose is poetic and requires attention, but it is worth the extra time, falling into the worlds she creates and the realistic characters she crafts, though I suspect they guide her hand.

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart will astonish you with the resilience of young people, their drive to make things right, and their ability to withstand more than expected, but it is in the final pages that the true mystery is resolved.  I will say this, I’m not often surprised by book endings or mysteries, but Kephart exceeded my detective skills for the first time in a long while.  (I had suspicions, but not a fully formed conclusion.)  Readers who love to immerse themselves in realistic places and explore humanity won’t be disappointed.  Kephart is a talent at creating places that come alive and characters that grab hold of us emotionally.

**You’ve probably already suspected this is a contender for the best of 2016 list at the end of the year!**

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Following the publication of five memoirs and FLOW, the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, I’ve had the great pleasure of turning my attention to young adult fiction. UNDERCOVER and HOUSE OF DANCE were both named a best of the year by Kirkus and Bank Street. NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, A HEART IS NOT A SIZE, and DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS were critically acclaimed. In October YOU ARE MY ONLY will be released by Egmont USA. Next summer, Philomel will release SMALL DAMAGES. I am at work on a prequel to DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, a novel for adults, and a memoir about teaching.

Other Books Reviewed:

Mailbox Monday #372

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

The Tao of Book Publicity: A Beginner’s Guide to Book Promotion by Paula Margulies for review from Paula Margulies Communications.

In The Tao of Book Publicity, publicist Paula Margulies outlines the basics of book promotion and explains how the business of publicizing a book works. Designed for beginning authors but also useful for those with some experience in book publishing, The Tao of Book Publicity provides information on the importance of writing a good book and the need for developing a platform, as well as how-to explanations for developing publicity material, including front and back cover text, press releases, Q&As, media and blog tour queries, and newsletter and media lists.

The Tao of Book Publicity also covers social media, book pricing and sales, book tours and media interviews, and author websites. In addition to explaining how book publicity works, this valuable handbook explores practical topics such as publicity costs, timing, and considerations when hiring a publicist.

Simple, straightforward, and informative, The Tao of Book Publicity includes expert advice on all aspects of book promotion and is a go-to reference guide for beginning and experienced authors alike.

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart, which is my pre-order and finally arrived.

On Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But then a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, upending all logic and stranding Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland. Nothing will ever be the same. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing disappears. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future. Gripping and poetic, This Is the Story of You is about the beauty of nature and the power of family, about finding hope in the wake of tragedy and recovery in the face of overwhelming loss.

The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton for review from NetGalley.

The collected works of Anne Sexton showcase the astonishing career of one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets

For Anne Sexton, writing served as both a means of expressing the inner turmoil she experienced for most of her life and as a therapeutic force through which she exorcised her demons. Some of the richest poetic descriptions of depression, anxiety, and desperate hope can be found within Sexton’s work. The Complete Poems, which includes the eight collections published during her life, two posthumously published books, and other poems collected after her death, brings together her remarkable body of work with all of its range of emotion.

With her first collection, the haunting To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Sexton stunned critics with her frank treatment of subjects like masturbation, incest, and abortion, blazing a trail for representations of the body, particularly the female body, in poetry. She documented four years of mental illness in her moving Pulitzer Prize–winning collection Live or Die, and reimagined classic fairy tales as macabre and sardonic poems in Transformations. The Awful Rowing Toward God, the last book finished in her lifetime, is an earnest and affecting meditation on the existence of God. As a whole, The Complete Poems reveals a brilliant yet tormented poet who bared her deepest urges, fears, and desires in order to create extraordinarily striking and enduring art.

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna for review with TLC Book Tours in May.

With the threat of the First World War looming, tension simmers under the surface of Ireland.

Growing up in the privileged confines of Dublin’s leafy Rathmines, the bright, beautiful Gifford sisters Grace, Muriel and Nellie kick against the conventions of their wealthy Anglo-Irish background and their mother Isabella’s expectations. Soon, as war erupts across Europe, the spirited sisters find themselves caught up in their country’s struggle for freedom.

Muriel falls deeply in love with writer Thomas MacDonagh, artist Grace meets the enigmatic Joe Plunkett – both leaders of ‘The Rising’ – while Nellie joins the Citizen Army and bravely takes up arms, fighting alongside Countess Constance Markievicz in the rebellion.

What did you receive?

Mailbox Monday #358

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love, a win from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The first meeting between Antonio and Olivia at the Paradise Ballroom is brief, but electric.  Years later, on the dawn of World War II, when struggling Italian singer Antonio meets the wife of his wealthy new patron, he recognizes her instantly: it is Olivia, the captivating dance hostess he once encountered in the seedy Paradise Ballroom. Olivia fears Antonio will betray the secrets of her past, but little by little they are drawn together, outsiders in a glittering world to which they do not belong. At last, with conflict looming across Europe, the attraction between them becomes impossible to resist–but when Italy declares war on England, the impact threatens to separate them forever.

The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb for a TLC Book Tour in February.

Spanning seventy years and several continents—from a refugee’s shattered dreams in 1938 Berlin, to a discontented American couple in the 1950s, to a young woman’s life in modern-day Jerusalem—this epic, enthralling novel tells the braided love story of three unforgettable characters. In 1946, Walter Westhaus, a German Jew who spent the war years at Tagore’s ashram in India, arrives at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he meets Sol Kerem, a promising rabbinical student.

A brilliant nonbeliever, Walter is the perfect foil for Sol’s spiritual questions—and their extraordinary connection is too wonderful not to share with Sol’s free-spirited fiancée Rosalie. Soon Walter and Rosalie are exchanging notes, sketches, and secrets, and begin a transcendent love affair in his attic room, a temple of dusty tomes and whispered poetry.

Months later they shatter their impossible bond, retreating to opposite sides of the country—Walter to pursue an academic career in Berkeley and Rosalie and Sol to lead a congregation in suburban New York. A chance meeting years later reconnects Walter, Sol, and Rosalie—catching three hearts and minds in a complex web of desire, heartbreak, and redemption. With extraordinary empathy and virtuosic skill, The Beautiful Possible considers the hidden boundaries of marriage and faith, and the mysterious ways we negotiate our desires.

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart, a happy unexpected surprise that comes out officially in April.

On Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But then a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, upending all logic and stranding Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland. Nothing will ever be the same. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing disappears. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future. Gripping and poetic, This Is the Story of You is about the beauty of nature and the power of family, about finding hope in the wake of tragedy and recovery in the face of overwhelming loss.

What did you receive?

In 2016, the Most Anticipated Book…

First things first!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Out of the 178 books I read in 2015, nearly 50 of them were 5 star reads for me, which I think is unprecedented.

My one caveat about that is that some of those books were children’s books, for which the ratings are based on both my viewpoint and my daughter’s reaction to them.

For 2016, there are so many books published each year, which can be tough to keep up with.

However, there is always that one book that everyone wants to read, and then there is the book I’m most looking forward to.

My most anticipated book in 2016 is:

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart, which publishes in April (so far away!), and I’ve already pre-ordered it.  Kephart’s books rarely receive less than 4 stars from me, and I cannot sing her poetic praises enough.  Her books range from memoir to young adult and adult fiction.

While I still hope for a poetry collection from her someday, I’ll keep reading her books no matter what they are.

During a most-devastating event, reminiscent of Superstorm Sandy that swept away much of the Northeast’s coastline — changing it forever — Mira Banul and her friends, who live on barrier island Haven year round, are forced to deal with the unknown.  A friend obsessed with vanishing disappears and Mira’s mother and brother become stranded.  I expect nature to become a force to be reckoned with here, and I expect Mira’s strength to become a rival, if not champion, over this force of nature that has turned her world upside down.

I want to know about the books you are most excited about.  Please leave the titles and a little bit about why you want to read them in the comments.

The Best Books of 2015

Bestof2015

I hope everyone’s 2015 ended with some great reading, family, friends, and fantastic food.

Of those I read in the year 2015 — those published in 2015 and before — these are the best in these categories:

Best Series:

Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue)

Best Children’s Book: (TIE)

Best Memoir:

Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Best Nonfiction:

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart

Best Short Story Collection:

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War 

Best Young Adult Fiction:

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Best Reference:

How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids by Matthew Jervis

Best Women’s Fiction:

French Coast by Anita Hughes

Best Historical Fiction: (TIE)

Best Fiction:

Best Poetry: (TIE)

Here is the list of BEST BOOKS PUBLISHED in 2015:


  1. Wet Silence by Sweta Vikram
  2. The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
  3. Vessel by Parneshia Jones
  4. LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart
  5. The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck
  6. The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
  7. Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor
  8. One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart
  9. The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson
  10. The Sound of Glass by Karen White
  11. Mistaking Her Character by Maria Grace
  12. Earth Joy Writing by Cassie Premo Steele, PhD


What were your favorites in 2015?

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 176 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart (this has a gorgeous cover) is a collection of essays, many of which were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that read not like essays but mini-memoirs. It has been a pleasure to read about Philadelphia — a city I was fortunate to visit briefly and not spend enough time in — through the eyes of someone who loves it dearly. All of its nooks and crannies, its alleys, its rivers, its art, its history — it is all laid bare with Kephart’s fondest memories and recollections. The city comes alive in her hands — it breathes.

The graffiti, the artisans, the food markets, and the University of Pennsylvania are moving through these pages like the Schuylkill River, leaving its gleaming beauty behind in its wake.  She says in the preface, “Love: A Philadelphia Affair is about the intersection of memory and place.  It’s about how I’ve seen and what I’ve hoped for, what ‘home’ has come to mean to me.  It’s about train rides, rough stones, brave birds, rule breakers, resurrectionists, unguided and mostly solo meanderings.  It is experiential, not encyclopedic.  Reflective, not comprehensive.” (pg. x)  In this way, Kephart has enabled readers to ruminate on their own memories, which may or may not be of Philadelphia and only tangentially related to her own.  I’ve remembered train journeys to NYC, ice cream I loved as a kid made in a small Massachusetts town, and a journey to Valley Forge that was at once solemn and beautiful.

“There’s something about standing on the platform watching the curve for the Silverliner.  Something about feeling the rumble in the sole’s of one’s feet.  Something about the rituals of travel.  Leaving and returning — that’s where I’ve lived.  I’m sympathetic to the crossties of the tracks.” (pg. 7-8; “Time In, Time Out”)

Kephart establishes the tone for these essays in these lines, telling her readers that she will straddle the past and present, the before and the after, and the moment and the remembering of the moment.  Many of us do this as our minds wander between where we are and where we have been, noting the connections that are only apparent to us until we voice them aloud.  And in “Psychylustro,” we, like the train, become museums — a collection of our own artifacts, memories, and temporal importance.

One minor thing readers may notice, there are only a few photos at the start of each essay, and more photos would have been a lovely addition.  However, LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart is a love story involving a city, but it’s also a testament to the love we hold and can freely give through art and action — so long as we can check our ego and greed at the door.  We all want recognition and love, but we need to also realize that these do not come without our own generosity.  It is not just the generosity that we show toward others, but also to ourselves and the world around us.

About the author:

Following the publication of five memoirs and FLOW, the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, I’ve had the great pleasure of turning my attention to young adult fiction. UNDERCOVER and HOUSE OF DANCE were both named a best of the year by Kirkus and Bank Street. NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, A HEART IS NOT A SIZE, and DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS were critically acclaimed. In October YOU ARE MY ONLY will be released by Egmont USA. Next summer, Philomel will release SMALL DAMAGES. I am at work on a prequel to DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, a novel for adults, and a memoir about teaching.

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 240 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch is carnal and grotesque in ways that are vastly unsettling and may be tough to read for many.  Told from a variety of artistic points of view, the story begins with a young girl whose world is literally atomized in war-torn Eastern Europe and the photograph of her that makes the career of one narrator.  While the girl and the photo play a major role in the story, they are not the crux of Yuknavitch’s story.  They are merely a vehicle through which she explores the selfish need for artistic expression and the distortions that emerge.

“We are who we imagine we are.
Every self is a novel in progress.
Every novel a lie that hides the self.
This, reader, is a mother-daughter story.” (pg. 11)

The narration is urgent, like a slapshot in the gut at nearly every turn. While the writer’s friends and family seek to save the girl from the life she has been thrown into after the death of her family, it is clear that a birth has happened. It is the birth of art within the gruesome world the girl inhabits, and it is the birth of connection beyond art and family ties.  The girl reaches from within and from without to recreate her life to be reborn — not as a victim, but as a warrior.

Pity the small backs of children, he heard her saying.  They carry death for us the second they are born.” (pg. 59)

The stories that begin at the heart of this girl, like the spokes in a wheel, turn and turn, spiraling out of control on a wagon that is hurtling toward a cliff, unless someone can stop it or redirect it. Will these players be destroyed? Will they be saved? Can this “blast particle … looking for form” endure the weight of these stories and their implications?

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch pushed the envelope repeatedly, searching for the edge and spilling over it with its haunting images, desperate characters, and narcissistic art-making. It is the crucible of pain and suffering that molds us and pushes us to become, to move beyond the child of mere potential into something more tangible that can be criticized and critical. This crucible does not define us, however, unless we allow it to, and Yuknavitch is shoving readers toward a greater understanding of art and themselves.

**Beth Kephart reviewed this book, and I just had to get it from the library.***

About the Author:

Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of the widely acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water and the novel Dora: A Headcase. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, the Iowa Review, Mother Jones, Ms., the Sun, the Rumpus, PANK, Zyzzyva, Fiction International, and other publications. She writes, teaches and lives in Portland, Oregon with the filmmaker Andy Mingo and their renaissance man son Miles. She is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award – Reader’s Choice, a PNBA award, and was a finalist for the 2012 Pen Center creative nonfiction award. She is a very good swimmer.

 

 

 

 

Mailbox Monday #339

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1. The Witch’s Market by Mingmei Yip for review from the author.

Chinese-American assistant professor Eileen Chen specializes in folk religion at her San Francisco college. Though her grandmother made her living as a shamaness, Eileen publicly dismisses witchcraft as mere superstition. Yet privately, the subject intrigues her.

When a research project takes her to the Canary Islands—long rumored to be home to real witches—Eileen is struck by the lush beauty of Tenerife and its blend of Spanish and Moroccan culture. A stranger invites her to a local market where women sell amulets, charms, and love spells. Gradually Eileen immerses herself in her exotic surroundings, finding romance with a handsome young furniture maker. But as she learns more about the lives of these self-proclaimed witches, Eileen must choose how much trust to place in this new and seductive world, where love, greed, and vengeance can be as powerful, or as destructive, as any magic.

2. LOVE by Beth Kephart, which I purchased.

This volume of personal essays and photographs celebrates the intersection of memory and place. Kephart writes lovingly, reflectively about what Philadelphia means to her. She muses about meandering on SEPTA trains, spending hours among the armor in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and taking shelter at Independence Mall during a downpour.

In Love, Kephart shares her loveof Reading Terminal Market at Thanksgiving: “This abundant, bristling market is, in November, the most unlonesome place around.” She waxes poetic about the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, the mustard in a Salumeria sandwich, and the “coins slipped between the lips of Philbert the pig.”

3. The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris for review from the author.

On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard’s only daughter—one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island—has gone missing. Tending the warden’s greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl’s whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search’s outcome.

Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

What did you receive?