Online Issue 18: Happy Thanksgiving

TSP OI18 cover

It isn’t the turkey or the stuffing or the pumpkin pie that will make your Thanksgiving truly great. It’s the books you can buy on Black Friday, and we’ve got you covered with tons of recommendations! First, Jenn Stroud Rossmann talks about what engineers read, then Susanna Beard shares what she has lined up and Rusty Barnes talks about what’s overloading his Kindle. Barbara Winkes also drops in to talk about the books she’s reading and ones she hopes to get to soon (such as Vox, which sounds fascinating). Who’s reading Gary Philips? Who has Max Ellendale’s latest on their nightstand? Who is anxious for Nicole Chung’s memoir? Check out those TBR piles to find out.

In my latest review I look at Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh. Lots of great insights about family, life and identity here, with appeal for teens and adults alike.

Need to escape all the family togetherness? Rusty Barnes talks about his latest novel, The Last Danger, and cross-border crime. (What could be a better gift for the wall supporter on your shopping list?)

And in case your family Thanksgiving is nothing but political squabbles and family drama, Susanna Beard has cuteness on tap with her two trusty author assistants, Cookie and Tipsy. Pictures here.

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Miss our latest issues? Issue 17 contents  – featuring Tom Leins, Paul Brazill, Kelli Owen, JL Abrama, JJ Hensley, Terrence McCauley, Barbara Winkes and more – can be found here.

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We’ll be back next week with CJ Lyons, Ovidia Yu, Wendy Webb and more.

Plus, December 1 I’ll kick off my Advent Calendar, covering a book, movie, TV series or something else I enjoyed from this past year and recommend.

(Not a ‘best of’ list, because I haven’t consumed everything so I couldn’t possibly say what’s best. And not a ‘best of stuff by my friends’ list either. Most or all come from people I have never met.)

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Review: The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh by Jenn Stroud Rossmann

512d1j1jarl14-year-old Chad Loudermilk is at the center of The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh. Although he is only one of a number of point of view characters that we follow, he is like the hub of a bicycle wheel, and all of the other characters are like the spokes that intersect there. They include his father, mother, and aunt. Like many teens his age, he’s trying to figure out who he is. This is complicated by several factors:

1. His best friend has transferred to a different school.

2. His parents are teetering on the edge of divorce.

3. He is adopted.

 

Oh, and an extra complication? He is black and his adoptive parents are white.

A lot of things unfold around Chad. They touch his life, and they affect him, although they are not usually incidents he’s been directly involved in. One of the trickiest things about this book is describing it without giving major reveals away. There are stories that involve smacking the reader on the nose straight out of the gate with action or a situation that’s clearly significant for the reader. Although Chad’s journey begins with him being driven to jail to pick up his dad, this book starts quietly. Each point of view character is established and they start their own journey, and at the center Chad is what connects them all. How they interact with him, how their choices impact his life and how they affect his journey is at the core of the story.

You could say this is a story about figuring out who you are. You could say this is a story about forgiveness. You could say this is a story about acceptance. All of those statements would be true. In many respects, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh will mean different things to different readers, because it touches on so many different issues affecting teens, parents, mothers, fathers and friends.

This is, for me, what I call a thinking book. It isn’t about the events so much as it is a way of making people think about their own choices and their understanding or lack of understanding of the significant people in their life. I never realized forgiveness weighed so much. Jenn Stroud Rossmann infuses the story with profound insights gleaned from everyday things, like hummingbirds eating from a feeder and water flowing around rocks in a stream, and holds these insights up like a mirror to the reader, letting us see something of ourselves we perhaps had not previously defined or understood. Stroud Rossmann weaves the strands of the story together patiently and sets the stage for the way Chad’s life is reshaped, and how the lives of those he’s closest to are changed forever.

Now, I often start books without reading a description, so I go in cold and have to figure a story out on its own merits instead of seeing if it meets my expectations. In this case, it felt a little slow in the beginning, but it was well worth the pay off. I was at once both happy and sad for Chad, and disappointed and hopeful. Stroud Rossmann has eloquently expressed an understanding of identity that informs the choices the characters make, and ultimately who they will become as a result of those choices.

Stroud Rossmann doesn’t try to gloss over complex issues with easy answers and there are some things the reader will have to make up their own mind about, but that’s part of the magic of this novel. The characters are living beyond the page for me as I weigh whether or not X did this or that. Some things are left to our imaginations and for each of us, each outcome may differ.

“But in the end, Kara said, it was okay painting and packing, and it was really fun picturing their new house, imagining all the new people they’d meet in the new place. A fresh start. You could be anyone; you didn’t have to be the girl who used to wear a retainer and whose Mom gave her a spiral perm. You could start over, with a clean slate.”

Check out the books on Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s To Be Read pile!

Jenn Stroud Rossmann shares the galleys she’s reading for a feature called ‘An Engineer Reads a Novel’ and other titles that are teetering on her TBR pile

Fun fact:

“I have been (1) a competitive skateboarder, (2) a Nordstrom piano player, and (3) an expert in Wiffle ball aerodynamics, but not all at the same time.” – Jenn Stroud Rossmann

 

What are some of the titles in your current TBR pile?

TBR pileMy TBR pile contains some books I’m lucky to be the first to read, galleys I’ll get to review for Public Books in a feature called An engineer reads a novel; and some books for which I feel like the last party guest to arrive. In the first category, I’m thrilled to have an advance copy of Elizabeth McCracken’s 2019 novel Bowlaway – which had me at Elizabeth McCracken, and the fact that it’s about candlepin bowling just sweetened the deal. I do feel late to arrive at Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko and Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks. At some point I decided that letting the hype die down a little would help me come fresh to these novels, without the freight of Expectations of Greatness. Alas, life gets busy, and some of the books in my stack began life in the first category, and have now slid into the second: Tommy Orange’s There There, and Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room, for example. R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries is a special case: it’s so extraordinary and she’s cast such magic spells with her language that as soon as I finished, I placed it back in the pile so I could read it again, and try to figure out how she did it.

 

What book are you currently reading?

As is pretty typical, I’m reading two books at the moment. Mohammed Hanif’s subversive, darkly funny Red Birds — I chose this to review based on an early description that was enticing, but which frankly did not do it justice. It’s wild and weird and funny about geopolitical catastrophe of war. For my book group, I’m reading Fortunata and Jacinta, Benito Perez Galdos’s classic novel. Alas, unlike one of my book group pals, I must read it in translation. My book group reads widely and so thoughtfully, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from and with my friends. This particular novel is dense and long and takes its time getting started, with the kind of leisurely description of a world that contemporary authors are discouraged from indulging in. It’s not unpleasant, given the current state of the world and the pace of our lives, to be forced to slow down and look around at 1880s Madrid.

 

What do you hope to add to your TBR pile soon and why?

512d1j1jarlI cannot wait to read Nicole Chung’s memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Her experience as an adoptee with white parents is similar to the situation my main character Chad is in, although Chad’s just 14 and pretty confused, and I know from Nicole’s essays that she is erudite and thoughtful and sage, with real empathy for adoptees and parents. As I write this, Jill Lepore has a new book called These Truths that sounds wonderful in a typically Leporean way. I feel like I want to be Jill Lepore when I grow up; she just embodies this all-embracing curiosity and desire to understand and contextualize our history. (Let’s not concern ourselves with how much growing-up that would require of me in a relatively short time.) I’m also very much looking forward to Morgan Parker’s new collection Magical Negro. I love her poetry’s energy and candor, and the way she shows that life—especially, life as a black woman in America—is both beautiful and harrowing. Hearing her read “Now more than ever,” in 2017, I felt called to a kind of prayer.

Bonus: Which author do you want to see have a new book out soon?

I am eager to read anything by my good friend Nami Mun, who wrote a searing novel in stories, Miles from Nowhere that was so excellent I’m willing to wait. “Patience is a virtue,” as my mother reminded me once or twice (a day). Oh, and Danielle Evans, whose Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is amazing; I hope she is working on another collection!

Check out a review of Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s novel,

The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh

 

Jenn Stroud Rossmann is a fiction writer and an engineer. Her first novel, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh, is forthcoming in Fall 2018 from 7.13 Books. She writes the essay series An Engineer Reads a Novel at Public Books. Stories have appeared recently in Cheap POP, JMWW Journal, Literary Orphans, Jellyfish Review, and failbetter, and have garnered multiple Pushcart nominations. Rossmann earned her BS and PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette College, and previously taught at Harvey Mudd College. She throws right, bats left.