March 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm , by Lauren Piro
Did you fall in love reading Haley Tanner’s Vaclav & Lena this month with us? We hope all of our fellow book clubbers swooned together while reading this work of romantic literary fiction, and that you were dazzled by its themes of magic and illusions. We invited Tanner to take over our Facebook wall one afternoon, and we couldn’t peel our eyes away from her candid accounts of her life as a writer and behind-the-scenes secrets about working on V&L, her first novel. Missed out? You can read the chat here, and listen up for info on more author chats to come—all you have to do is like us on Facebook to stay in the loop.
Now that our April issue is on newsstands, we’re ready to reveal our next pick! A first for the LHJ Book Club, we’ve chosen a truly mesmerizing memoir this month, Signs of Life, by Natalie Taylor. When Taylor was 24, she was newly married, pregnant, and on top of the world. Then, the worst thing happened: her husband died in a freak accident. Signs of Life is the story of the year-and-a-half that followed, and trust us when we say it is as hilarious as it is harrowing. Visit our book club page to read a letter from Taylor to get you started. And, as always, stay with us on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on our blog to join the conversation as we chat about the book all month long.
March 9, 2012 at 11:04 am , by Lauren Piro
Have you picked up this month’s book club pick, Vaclav & Lena? It’s a touching love story (Aren’t you a sucker for a good love story? We are!), by Haley Tanner. We have a penchant for reading literature here at LHJ, so I was eager to chat with this young debut novelist about her writing process and the books she’s curled up with recently. Read on for the inside scoop, and check out a preview to Vaclav & Lena and the rest of the LHJ Book Club bookshelf on our books page.
What have you read recently and loved?
I just read The Adults, by Alison Espach, which was amazing. It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in Connecticut, and it’s full of dramatic tension. There’s some really heavy, serious subject matter, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.
Do you find it hard to read other stories while you are writing?
I do get to a point where I can’t read other writing, because I start to sound like JD Salinger or Muriel Spark. But sometimes I’ll intentionally read other writers while I’m writing. If, say, I feel like my setting is falling flat, I’ll read someone who’s really good with setting. Or if I feel like I’m forgetting to have fun, I’ll read Tom Robbins for a little while. It’s like a prescription.
Where did the germ of the idea for Vaclav & Lena originate? Did you always have the story in the back of your mind?
I was writing an assignment for a class, procrastinating at midnight. I had class the next day, and I’d written nothing. I finally just sat down and I started writing, and the first thing I wrote is still the first page of the book, Vaclav’s introduction to his magic act. Once I had the characters, I watched what they would do. It was incredibly fun, and I never had a larger plan for them. Even when I was on page 45, I didn’t know what page 46 would look like.
February 17, 2012 at 11:35 am , by Lauren Piro
Today’s post is by Neely Kennedy of Reading Group Choices, a leading online resource for book club tips and discussible selections.
In the LHJ book club pick, Vaclav & Lena, author Haley Tanner tells the story of a young Russian immigrant boy’s obsession with becoming a great magician. While Vaclav studies and practices his magic, his best friend, love interest and assistant, Lena, hides behind the illusions of her horrific home life. It’s a delight to read how Tanner skillfully marries the literal theme of magic with a deeper metaphor and exploration of illusions.
When discussing the book with your club, ask members to identify examples of the use of illusions. What are the tricks behind them? How might we be using illusions in our own lives to hide or protect ourselves? What magic in life is worthwhile? Here are some brief excerpts from the book that illuminate the theme to get your conversation going.
When Vaclav and Lena are reunited as teenagers, they both reveal more self-awareness in trying to control the unmanageable parts of their lives.
“’Same thing’, he says, meaning same thing as when you left, meaning still magic, still trying to take care of you with my mind, still trying to control events using supernatural powers.”
When Lena finally settles into a relatively normal life with her new mother, she has a hard time maintaining the mirage of happiness, as she is haunted by her past.
“This is especially difficult when she must lead a meeting of the student council or the art club, or rally her teammates at soccer practice, but she gets through it, one minute at a time, by pretending.”
During a moment of introspection and clarity while escaping to a bathroom stall in her school, Lena realizes how she uses the illusion of different personas as a coping mechanism.
“She decides that the spots are keys to living a life as a complete person, not as a disjointed puzzle person made up of many different people trying to masquerade as one person.”
This leads Lena to another observation. She’s not the only one masquerading—everyone around her is projecting an ideal self-image to hide behind, an illusion to mask their perceived inadequacies.
“Everyone wants to go about as if they were a fantastic superhero, born into the world complete; no one wants to acknowledge that they are self-consciously creating themselves, but everyone is. Everyone is, Lena thinks.”
February 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm , by Lauren Piro
Last month, we pored over kooky characters, relished dark humor, and were shocked by a surprise ending (you’ll flip for it!) reading The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady. We hope you got the chance to spend time with Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s addicting novel, and if you haven’t picked it up, we know her letter to readers will whet your appetite. And then, since we’re sure your book club will want to adopt it as your next pick, we’ve got discussion questions and an exclusive Q&A with the author as well.
But now, with the beautiful new LHJ on newsstands everywhere, it’s time to introduce our next pick! This month we’ll be digging into Vaclav & Lena, by debut novelist Haley Tanner. It’s love story–you’ll swoon over every page–that has quite the magical theme. We’re also happy to announce a terrific giveaway! Throughout the month, you can enter to win one of five LHJ Book Club libraries—all of our picks so far, signed by the authors! Visit our book club page to enter, and to learn more about Vaclav & Lena! And, as always, stay with us on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on our blog to join the conversation as we chat about the book all month long.