Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 9 months ago

S1E4: Kristin & Patti with Katherine Reay & Janet Skeslien

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Kristin Harmel and Patti Callahan Henry discuss Books about Books with author Katherine Reay and her novel The Printed Letter Bookshop, and author Janet Skeslien Charles’ upcoming novel The Paris Bookshop.

Welcome to Friends and fiction, fivebest selling authors and the stories Novelists Mary Kay Andrews, ChristineHarmel, Christie Woodson, Harvey, Patty Callahan Henry and Mary Alice Munro arefive longtime friends with more than 80 published books to their credit. In2020 they created friends and fiction to provide author interviews andfascinating insider talk about publishing and writing and to highlightindependent bookstores. These friends discuss the books they've written, thebooks they're reading now and the art of storytelling. If you love books andyou're curious about the writing world, you're in the right place. France and Fiction is sponsored by MamaGeraldine's Bodacious Foods, the company that makes Mama Geraldine'sCheese Straws, which come in six varieties and are the best sellingcheese straws in the United States. Founded by former radio executive CathyCunningham and named for her mother, they have melt in your mouth cookies todelicious treats and a woman owned empire. Now that is something thatfriends and fiction can really get behind. Try them. You'll be so glad youdid get 20% off on your online order at Mama Geraldine's dot com with the codeFab five snack on y'all. We'd also like to thank our other sponsor, Page Onebooks who offer a book subscription package that we love the hand selectbooks for you each month based on your preferences in their book knowledge.And because the reeds are being chosen by actual independent booksellers, youknow you're more than just an algorithm. The subscription package, which can run36 or 12 months, is a perfect gift for...

...a book lover, even if that book loveris you. Page one books The Personal Touch Oven Indie bookstore with theDelight and Surprise Oven online subscription service curated just foryou. First time subscribers get 10% off with the code Fab Five at page onebooks dot com Don't forget to visit Mama Geraldine's dot com for America'sfavorite Cheese Straws and page one books dot com for unique, personallymatched book subscriptions. Three. Code Fab Five will get you a discount forboth of our friends and fiction sponsors. Welcome to the Friends and Fictionpodcast. Today we're talking about writing books about books. I'm PattyCallahan today we're privileged to have with us both. Catherine Ray, the authorof the printed Letter Bookshop and Janet Skacel in Charles, the author ofThe Paris Library. If all authors love books, I think it's part of what drawsus to this life of words. But only a handful of us have written books aboutbooks or books about libraries and bookstores. Patty and I both have withPatties, the Bookshop Waters Ends and My The Book of Lost Names. And so we'reare especially interested to dive into this today with Catherine and Janet. So let's start today with you.Katherine Katherine Raise, the national best selling author and award winningauthor of Dear Mr Knightley, Lizzie and Jane, the Bronte plot. Ah, Portrait ofEmily Price, The Austin Escape and the Printed Letter Bookshop. Katherine'snovels are Love letters to books with the B A and M s from NorthwesternUniversity. Katherine has lived from Texas to Ireland. Color Me Jealous toEngland to now Chicago. Her novels...

...examine the past as a way to find one'sbest way forward, in the words of the Bronte plots. Lucy Alling. She writesoff that time when you don't know where you'll be, but you can't stay as youare. So welcome. Katherine, happy to talk to you about. This is fun.So you and I are both C S Lewis readers, and we bonded over this and the factthat you lived in Ireland for a bit. And like Kristen, I'm exceedinglyjealous. And that was beautiful. It was a beautiful conversation I made her. Imade you tell me every single moment and what you wore and you had yourfirst child there in Ireland. That's a story for another day. But that is anentire podcast. It is So Lizzie and Jane was inspired by C. S. Lewis's bookThe Four Loves. The Bronte plot was inspired by his three great divorce. Ah,portrait of Emily Price by that final heart wrenching and amazing pain untilwe have faces. And the inspiration for the printed letter bookshop came from aline in the Screwtape letters. So I want you to talk to us about that. Youhave just revealed all my secrets. Um, that's my goal, Ugo. So, yes, you'vecaptured that for me. C. S Lewis is incredibly powerful, you know. I mean,just think about this one line from Narnia. He is not safe. But he is good.Six words and you have incredible depth of theology and me, and it's alsocoming from a fawn talking about a lion. It's remarkable, but a lot of a lot ofwhat C. S Lewis says just stops me in my tracks. And so, yes, in theScrewtape letters, I read that line, and the line is and I've just said it.The present is the point at which time...

...touches eternity, and it got me tothinking about how we live our lives. Um, if you are looking back behind yourshoulder, you are not living your best present. It is. It is taintingeverything you're doing. You're not stepping forward. You're stuck. Ifyou're living too far into the future to that day, when your kids are happyand healthy or your mortgage is paid off or you know every word you write isNew York Times bestselling gold. You're not living your best present either.And so when I kind of expanded that line, I envisioned these three women,none of whom are living their best present for a variety of differentreasons. And what would force them, you know, internally, externally, all thosedifferent forces to live and focus on their best present, their best livesand that sort of cracking open time. I got to show through plot, but I loved Iplayed around with point of view in this book to it's told from the threewomen's point of view, one is path past. Press tense because she has been livingher life on a false premise alive from her family 20 years ago has shaped herdecisions. Another actually starts her story in third person because shestepped away from her life and she needs to step back. Not only, you know,claim her voice but step into her present, and the third says, Well, Ilive in the present because the past is too painful and the future holds nohope. But she is there for all the wrong reasons. And so it's manipulatingboth point of view and circumstance to get these women to kind of findthemselves and each other in the present. And I got really talking oftheir No, that's amazing. And I got to tell you that that might have been onpurpose, and I obviously it was. But when you're reading it, it's seamless.I never noticed that until you just...

...told me and I read the book. I blurbedthe book. I loved the book, and I did not notice that. That's astounding.That's astounding. I One of my favorite parts of the book is when the thirdperson character steps into her voice. She quotes a line from Dostoyevsky'sThe Brother Care Moz off and she says, You know, I think it's the line is loveand action is a terrible thing compared to love it awful, terrible thing,something like that compared to love in dreams. And her next line is it's timeto wake up. And then, you know, the next moment your reader, she's in firstperson and she's claiming her story. So it's really fun. It was fun. All I canthink is Katherine is so much deeper and smarter than that. That's what I amthinking the entire time. She's E. Booth. Thank you So, Catherine, sincesince we're talking about books about books today, I'm realizing the booksinspire you in ways that we don't always expect from a character'sjourney, as we were just talking about to a coffee table. So for its todo caein the Bronx plot, yeah, so Lucy and the bronze plot takes books to form thelegs of the table. So books are everywhere in your stories, not justthe inspiration. So you've said reading a book is a unique experience, but itforms a common language. I love that. Can you tell us? Can you tell us alittle bit about that? And why so many of your books are about books? Yeah. Sosome books really, our relationship. I mean I mean, take, take. You know, JaneEyre. You know that scene where she's standing with Rochester and she says,You know, I have a soul. I am equal to you and each of us have a relationshipwithout emotion. Yet collectively, when one alludes to it, we all come to thatcommonplace, and we all know each other a little better. So I love the languagebooks create, but that individuality...

...they seep into us, always say they seepinto a sideways. We are that little bit vulnerable. We let our guard down. Welet the stories in we appropriate journeys. We dip our toes into newexperiences, and that's very individual. But yet there is this collective callto experience this call to greater understanding and humanity when we liedto them in the in the collective larger sense. So with Lucy, you know, booksabsolutely call something from us, and her childhood wasn't wasn't all thatgreat. So it's very telling when she takes those stories and she squishesthem under a big piece of glass and put stuff on them on DSO. It's telling yousomething about Lucy and about her childhood and about those books whosestories she wants to compress. She doesn't want them talking anymore. Esothat just says something. It really does. That's incredible. And as youwere talking, I was just thinking about the way that books connect us all. Andthat being readers makes us part of such a broader, bigger communitybecause we're reading thes shared words, but experiencing them in such differentways, I'm Oh, my gosh, I cannot wait to read every single one of your, you know.Well, I appreciate that. You're amazing. So, Captain, you have not only beeninspired by Lewis, but also by Jane Austen. I have she, dear Mr Knightley,Lizzie and Jane Austen escape. Yes, that is so true. Eso you said that Janepinpoints human nature with unerring accuracy and that she gets to themeasure of a person in a single line. So tell us why and how Jane Austen hasalso inspired your stories. Well, Janus, we may. We may not relate to, you know,life 200 years ago. But we certainly...

...can relate Thio making mistakes andlearning and saying things wrong. I mean, the book is titled Pride andPrejudice. Those are two massive mistakes these characters make and thedevelopment she never says. This is about pride, and this is aboutprejudice. She pinpoints these characters, you know, it kind of likein the 19th century, and they take bugs and they pin them on a wall. She hasgot the measure of every single character, and she reveals them in waysthat we don't even recognize. So, for instance, Emma, I mean, you name thewhole book about a character. It's so self centered and then focused Emma.And yet it's a novel about humility. I mean, it's incredible how she unfolds,Emma, And so, by the end, she's putting others first, whom she introduced witha very spoiled child. You know, at the beginning that nobody really liked butJane Austen herself, she said. And yet by then we love Emma, and she's puttingothers first, and she's learned that lesson of humility. But Jane Austen hasnever said That is what I'm going to teach you and it's brilliant. And soshe's still so relevant because we haven't changed. No, we haven't. And Ilove that. It's not that the storyline has inspired you, although it has. Buther ability to nail a character through dialogue and action also inspires you.It's not just plot. I know it's It's never It's never plotted like that's achallenge. Mint. You name something The Austin Escape. And everybody doesexpect that that plot of some sort or dear Mr Knightley, they do expect Emma,and part of my challenge is to to offer an authentically different story, anoriginal story that alludes to some of those universal aspect of her orwhatever book I'm alluding to, but not to parallel its journey. Because I doright until the next book I'm writing,...

...which will dip into historical fiction.I do write contemporary stories, and I want them to have relevance tosomeone's journey today. Oh wow, that is fascinating. So you've tapped intosuch profound stories and famous stories is inspiration, and in suchclever ways, it sounds like so for you. What's the biggest challenge and alsothe biggest benefit in doing this? Does tapping into those stories help you'replotting? Does it help your character development? Or how are you using thatthose types of stories as your inspiration and is the core. I thinkyou know you hit upon it with plot. I think one of the biggest challenges isplot because I don't want to follow their plots. The Onley story thatreally, very purposely hinged on the structure of another was Dear MrKnightley. It hinged on Jean Webster's 1912 novel, Daddy Long Legs, and thatwas very purposeful. Um, Sam hid behind literary characters. I wanted the bookto hide within the structure of another book, but that's sad. The Austin escapethe Bronte plot. I wanted to stay very far from those plotlines, and I reallywanted to use those books toe to bring out character and bring out aspects ofcharacter. So that so in a way, you've got the biggest challenge in thebiggest benefit I have this lead on character, but but really trying tostay away from plotlines? Eso that doesn't feel derivative of that work?Um, the biggest benefit is you know, there's a warm intro there. If you seethe title, The Austin Escape, the Bronte plot a portion of Emily Price,which, which is James Joyce is Porch of the young young man is as an artist.It's a little harder to discern, but the others, you know, that's a warmintro. You know, I'm gonna get a little Austin here, and that was kind of fun.And then the last benefit is I just had...

...a blast doing it. I mean, I got to dipinto my favorite works with my favorite characters and mess them around, likein a big bowl of soup. And it really was fun. I love that. Does this makeyou a different kind of reader when you're reading books? Um pretty. That'san interesting question. I don't know that it does. Yes and no. I'm alwaysvery interested when authors cite other books or they bring up other books, andso that how they use books in their books. Absolutely. I'm attuned to that,but Just as you all know, just writing makes you a different reader in thatwhen a beautiful sentence comes across the page, you have to ponder it andbreak it down and say, How did she do that? Because you want to do that to,you know, create truth and beauty in a single line. And so, yes, I think justbeing a writer, I look at everything differently. I was reading Ah, review abook review yesterday and somebody said about another book. They said, If ifyou're looking for the Sun was setting, This isn't your book. And it wasdescribing how the character never just said the sun was setting, but gave thisbeautiful imagery and and that's what you're doing. But you're using theseinspirational books without saying this is about C. S. Lewis is the ScrewtapeLetters. This is about the great divorce, Catherine. It is always such apleasure talking to you. I am so glad you came to talk to us about writingbooks about books. Thanks for coming. Well, thank you for inviting me.There's been absolute delight. Thank you. And now we welcome Janet schedule inCharles, the award winning author of...

Moonlight in Odessa, which waspublished in 10 languages. Her shorter work has appeared in reviews Such aSlice and Montana Noir and Color US Jealous Again, Janet splits her timebetween Montana and Paris. My very Favorite Place in the World. Her latestnovel, The Paris Library Out February 9th, has been named a most anticipatedbook of the year by Library Journal and Good Reads. It's based on the trueWorld War two story of the heroic librarians at the American Library inParis, and the novel goes back and forth in time and place between WorldWar Two, Paris and Montana and the 19 eighties. Welcome, Jan, it's thank youI'm thrilled to be here. We're so happy. The Paris Library was due to come outlast year, right in 2020? Yes, with Cove it. I think everything was delayeda little bit. So it's coming out now, and I'm very excited. So how did thepandemic affect your plans? Did it change the way you are talking aboutthe book or the way you plan for it to be out or just the pub day? I think itjust may be changed. The public date on. I couldn't feel too bad about it. Justwith everything else going on in the world, there were so many biggerproblems. So I have to pop in here and say that I have read and loved yourbook. Janet and I have a very personal connection to it. When I was in myearly twenties, I actually lived in Paris in the same building as theAmerican Library in Paris, right there on the Rue de General Camus. In fact,that very apartment plays an important role in my 2012 book, The Sweetness,Forgetting and in my Life. My husband, before he was my husband, surprised mein Paris eight years ago, right outside that building by getting down on oneknee and proposing. So, needless to say, it means a lot to me. When I heard youwere writing about it, I was like, Oh,...

...my gosh, this is my book. So of course,that's not where the library was actually located during the war, butI've always been so curious about it. So how did you wind up working there?And what was it like? Well, I have to say your story is absolutely incredible.That is just so amazing that you lived on that street just in the building ofthe library and have that amazing coincidence. And I'm so glad that youenjoyed the book. And I hope it brought back good memories of being in thelibrary. Yes, well, I had just finished my first book and was, and that bookhad been published. And I live in Paris where facades of buildings have to becleaned every so many years. And so workers had started cleaning thefacades. And so it is just a constant with, you know, with workers trampingover metal scaffolding, and so it's not really conducive for writing. And so Icouldn't work from home, And I was a volunteer at the American Library inParis and I heard about the job opening and they knew me there. Um, it was thejob of programs manager, and Ma terrific writer held it before me. So Ifeel like there's a great tradition of programmer programs, managers,publishing novels. I know she left when she when her book, uh, pidgin Chinesecame out and eso I took over that job and just really enjoyed it. It was. Itwas the first part. I felt really part of the huge Parisian literary community.I loved inviting authors every week. I loved the exchange between the librarymembers and the authors. It just was the perfect job. How lucky and eso. Nowwe have another thing in common to cause an ma is a friend of mine. So howcompletely bizarre, Janet you and I were clearly intended to be friends on.I'm clearly intended to go to Paris s...

...so I can see the buildings because I'mfeeling a tad bit left out. Of course, today we're talking about books aboutbooks and in the Paris Library. Your main character. Oh, deal. It's abeautiful name realizes early on that for the libraries, patrons and even forsoldiers at the front books as they do for us sometimes mean freedom. Can youtell us a bit about what went on at the library during World War Two? How thatinspired you and why it even means something today? Well, during World Wartwo, right before war broke out in September of 1939 the Americanambassador advised all Americans to leave France and the librarians at theAmerican Library in Paris remained three days after war broke out inSeptember 1939. These librarians started the soldiers service, and theysent books and care packages of books to, uh, British and French soldiers.And the British and French soldiers wrote back with words of thanks withwater colors that they did, uh, stationed at the Maginot Line. Theyeven sent cigarettes and asked if there were any young women who mightcorrespond with them. And so that program lasted from September of 1939to May of 1940 when they had to stop the program because the Nazis wereapproaching. But they sent 100,000 books, which is just amazing to me onDay asked the soldiers, You know, do you want what you want to? The soldierswould respond. I like I like Westerns or I prefer memoirs or NationalGeographic magazine. So there was really some nice correspondents there,and and I think the soldiers really appreciated it. And then, of course,when the Nazis arrived in Paris on Day three of the occupation, that the Naziswent to the Polish Library, which sits in the shadow of Notre Dam and theNazis confiscated all of the archives...

...and the books and sent them back toGermany. So you can understand why the librarians that the American Library inParis were concerned. He was really a scary time for librarians because thethe Nazis also to call the books from the Russian Library in Paris, which isclose to Shakespearean company. They took the Ukrainian library and theUkrainian Library in. So it was It was it was very scary, very scary. And, ofcourse, the Nazi library protector did go to the American Library in Paris.And, uh, he knew the directors Dorothy Leader. Before the war, they had beencolleagues who had met together at International library conferences, andnow they were on opposing sides of the war. And so he said that the librarycould remain open, but certain people were not allowed to enter. And by that,of course, he meant Jewish readers. So Dorothy Reader, who was the directorsof the library and one of the trustees, uh, the Countess Clarence Chandran,decided that the librarians would handle their books to their Jewishleaders. Wow, thes lost stories. Give me chill bumps, right? We think aboutthe bigger stories of of the war ending and of the soldiers and these everydayheroes that both you and Kristen right about who who saved people in the smallways and that it has to do with the library is is chill bumps. Delicious.Thank you for telling us about it. Oh, I'm thrilled. And I You know, I'll say,it's really wonderful to hear about women during the war and what womenwere doing because so often we've been erased from the pages of history. Andhere are these incredible women keeping the library open. Uh, so many peoplefled Paris when the Nazis were...

...approaching. I, you know, I would have.And yet these people stayed at their posts and were really concerned abouttheir library members. It is amazing. Which is kind of a segue into the nextquestion. We talked a little bit about this in the first half of the podcast,too, but I would love to know why you think that so many authors, includingyou, me and Patty, have been drawn to writing about books, libraries,bookstores and the people. You mentioned the people who protect thosewords and those institutions and our right to have books. I think that bookpeople are the best people. I mean, I just when someone loves books, I justcan't help but love them. So I I think there's something to that. And so forso many of us, books are our escape, and there are way of making sense ofthe world. And so when books are threatened, its it's really ourimaginations that are threatened. It's our possibilities that are threatened.Our history that has threatened so it is so important is so important forpeople. Thio understand the importance of books. You're absolutely right, andI think you're right. Books means so much to all of us. That was really oneof the things that that inspired for me, that the book of lost names and justthat idea that that, you know, toward the end of the war and and even at thebeginning of the war, as you mentioned with the Polish library, so many bookswere taken and that in taking books, you're taking this window into anotherworld. You're taking this freedom, you're taking something that has morethan just tangible value. So, um, it's it's wonderful to have this book asanother contribution. Thio This sort of, I don't know portion of the genre whenI'm traveling, I like to visit the libraries, you know, huge amazinglibrary in London, for example. And when you see manuscript piled up andyou see leather bound novels piled up...

...and you see whether it's Ah, Dead SeaScroll they found in a cave. Whenever we see the written word archived in thelibrary and kept for safekeeping, we know that it's about way more thanwhat's written on those pages, but what they represent at the same time. And inthe Paris Library, books have power during World War Two, but they alsohave power a world away in 19 eighties Montana for a lonely girl named Lilywhose mother has just died and is having trouble finding her place in theworld. What inspired you to include this 1980 storyline? And how does itwe've with our underscore your World War two storyline? Well, to me, the whole point of thebook is transmission of our stories and e feel like the way we keep loved onesalive is we remember things about them. We tell stories about them. We dothings the way they did things. And without Lily in Montana, there's reallyno point of the story in Paris because Lily, on the one hand, she learns fromthat story. She learns from Odile's corrosive jealousy and and vows to dobetter herself. But also Lily is the one who will save all of Odile'sstories. She's the one who will transmit words of Mr Pryce, Jones andPaul and Virginie. And so, to me, that's really what books are. Andthat's really what friends and family are. They keep us alive and they keepus going so true. You know, Janet, going into this book, I knew I wouldlove the insights into the American...

Library in Paris, but I wasn't preparedfor just how moved I would be for that latter day storyline. Lily story. Iconnected it. I connected to it so deeply this'll idea of being saved bybooks and being saved by the people who love them. And as you just said in away, saved by those stories that air passed forward that you could learnfrom, Was there an element of the personal there for you did you findsalvation in books during your childhood, too? Oh, I absolutely did.My grandmother never learned to drive and saw my mother took my grandmotherto places each week, the grocery store in the library. And so from that Iunderstood that books are just is nourishing his food. And, uh, someonein the 19 fifties called the American Library in Paris the window to theworld. And I feel like libraries are the window to our world. So absolutely.And I think there's this. There's always a notion of small account girlswho want out and who equate the city with bigger and better. Of course, I ifanything, to go back to Montana right now. I'm missing my family so much andmissing Montana so much. But at the time, you know, when you're a team likethat, you just want out. So true, you're recording from Paris right now.Am I right? Yes. Yes. Is how did you get out of total curiosity from Montanato Paris? And what what keeps you there right now? Well, I came as a nastystomach along Viven. So that's a teaching assistant in a local highschool. And so That was the French government who offered one yearteaching contracts, uh, to to young people who had just finished theirdegrees. And so I signed up to do that. And I went to Al's ask for a year andabsolutely loved it. I met my husband and I renewed my work contract. We gotmarried. That's a long term contract.

So that happened. And 20 years later, Inever would have guessed. I just Ah, lot of people come for one year or sixmonths and then 2030 years later still here. What we expect in what we get arerarely the same thing. Tenant. Well, thank you so much for talking to us andjoining us today on friends and fiction and talking to us about the worldbehind the Paris Library. Thank you so much for inviting me. It was a thrillto talk to you both and thank you to Marcus. Well, well, thank you. Thankyou to everyone out there for joining us today. And thank you to CatherineRay, who joined us in the first half of half of the episode. So keep your earsout for more fascinating friends and fiction interviews coming up. And don'tforget, Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Eastern Time for our Facebook live show,too. In the meantime, stay safe and well and keep reading. Thank you for tuning in. Join us everyweek on Facebook or YouTube, where our live show airs every Wednesday night at7 p.m. Eastern time. And please subscribe to our podcast and follow uson Instagram. We're so glad you're here.

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