Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 1 year 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, five best selling authors and the stories Novelists Mary Kay Andrews, Christine Harmel, Christie Woodson, Harvey, Patty Callahan Henry and Mary Alice Munro are five longtime friends with more than 80 published books to their credit. In 2020 they created friends and fiction to provide author interviews and fascinating insider talk about publishing and writing and to highlight independent bookstores. These friends discuss the books they've written, the books they're reading now and the art of storytelling. If you love books and you're curious about the writing world, you're in the right place. France and Fiction is sponsored by Mama Geraldine's Bodacious Foods, the company that makes Mama Geraldine's Cheese Straws, which come in six varieties and are the best selling cheese straws in the United States. Founded by former radio executive Cathy Cunningham and named for her mother, they have melt in your mouth cookies to delicious treats and a woman owned empire. Now that is something that friends and fiction can really get behind. Try them. You'll be so glad you did get 20% off on your online order at Mama Geraldine's dot com with the code Fab five snack on y'all. We'd also like to thank our other sponsor, Page One books who offer a book subscription package that we love the hand select books for you each month based on your preferences in their book knowledge. And because the reeds are being chosen by actual independent booksellers, you know you're more than just an algorithm. The subscription package, which can run 36 or 12 months, is a perfect gift for...

...a book lover, even if that book lover is you. Page one books The Personal Touch Oven Indie bookstore with the Delight and Surprise Oven online subscription service curated just for you. First time subscribers get 10% off with the code Fab Five at page one books dot com Don't forget to visit Mama Geraldine's dot com for America's favorite Cheese Straws and page one books dot com for unique, personally matched book subscriptions. Three. Code Fab Five will get you a discount for both of our friends and fiction sponsors. Welcome to the Friends and Fiction podcast. Today we're talking about writing books about books. I'm Patty Callahan today we're privileged to have with us both. Catherine Ray, the author of the printed Letter Bookshop and Janet Skacel in Charles, the author of The Paris Library. If all authors love books, I think it's part of what draws us to this life of words. But only a handful of us have written books about books or books about libraries and bookstores. Patty and I both have with Patties, the Bookshop Waters Ends and My The Book of Lost Names. And so we're are 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 winning author of Dear Mr Knightley, Lizzie and Jane, the Bronte plot. Ah, Portrait of Emily Price, The Austin Escape and the Printed Letter Bookshop. Katherine's novels are Love letters to books with the B A and M s from Northwestern University. Katherine has lived from Texas to Ireland. Color Me Jealous to England to now Chicago. Her novels...

...examine the past as a way to find one's best way forward, in the words of the Bronte plots. Lucy Alling. She writes off that time when you don't know where you'll be, but you can't stay as you are. 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 fact that you lived in Ireland for a bit. And like Kristen, I'm exceedingly jealous. And that was beautiful. It was a beautiful conversation I made her. I made you tell me every single moment and what you wore and you had your first child there in Ireland. That's a story for another day. But that is an entire podcast. It is So Lizzie and Jane was inspired by C. S. Lewis's book The 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 until we have faces. And the inspiration for the printed letter bookshop came from a line in the Screwtape letters. So I want you to talk to us about that. You have just revealed all my secrets. Um, that's my goal, Ugo. So, yes, you've captured 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 also coming from a fawn talking about a lion. It's remarkable, but a lot of a lot of what C. S Lewis says just stops me in my tracks. And so, yes, in the Screwtape 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 to thinking about how we live our lives. Um, if you are looking back behind your shoulder, you are not living your best present. It is. It is tainting everything you're doing. You're not stepping forward. You're stuck. If you're living too far into the future to that day, when your kids are happy and healthy or your mortgage is paid off or you know every word you write is New 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 different reasons. And what would force them, you know, internally, externally, all those different forces to live and focus on their best present, their best lives and that sort of cracking open time. I got to show through plot, but I loved I played around with point of view in this book to it's told from the three women's point of view, one is path past. Press tense because she has been living her life on a false premise alive from her family 20 years ago has shaped her decisions. Another actually starts her story in third person because she stepped 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, I live in the present because the past is too painful and the future holds no hope. But she is there for all the wrong reasons. And so it's manipulating both point of view and circumstance to get these women to kind of find themselves and each other in the present. And I got really talking of their No, that's amazing. And I got to tell you that that might have been on purpose, 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 blurbed the 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 third person character steps into her voice. She quotes a line from Dostoyevsky's The Brother Care Moz off and she says, You know, I think it's the line is love and 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 time to wake up. And then, you know, the next moment your reader, she's in first person and she's claiming her story. So it's really fun. It was fun. All I can think is Katherine is so much deeper and smarter than that. That's what I am thinking the entire time. She's E. Booth. Thank you So, Catherine, since since we're talking about books about books today, I'm realizing the books inspire you in ways that we don't always expect from a character's journey, as we were just talking about to a coffee table. So for its todo cae in the Bronx plot, yeah, so Lucy and the bronze plot takes books to form the legs of the table. So books are everywhere in your stories, not just the inspiration. So you've said reading a book is a unique experience, but it forms a common language. I love that. Can you tell us? Can you tell us a little bit about that? And why so many of your books are about books? Yeah. So some books really, our relationship. I mean I mean, take, take. You know, Jane Eyre. 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 relationship without emotion. Yet collectively, when one alludes to it, we all come to that commonplace, and we all know each other a little better. So I love the language books create, but that individuality...

...they seep into us, always say they seep into a sideways. We are that little bit vulnerable. We let our guard down. We let the stories in we appropriate journeys. We dip our toes into new experiences, and that's very individual. But yet there is this collective call to experience this call to greater understanding and humanity when we lied to them in the in the collective larger sense. So with Lucy, you know, books absolutely call something from us, and her childhood wasn't wasn't all that great. So it's very telling when she takes those stories and she squishes them under a big piece of glass and put stuff on them on DSO. It's telling you something about Lucy and about her childhood and about those books whose stories she wants to compress. She doesn't want them talking anymore. Eso that just says something. It really does. That's incredible. And as you were talking, I was just thinking about the way that books connect us all. And that being readers makes us part of such a broader, bigger community because we're reading thes shared words, but experiencing them in such different ways, 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 been inspired 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 Jane pinpoints human nature with unerring accuracy and that she gets to the measure of a person in a single line. So tell us why and how Jane Austen has also 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 and learning and saying things wrong. I mean, the book is titled Pride and Prejudice. Those are two massive mistakes these characters make and the development she never says. This is about pride, and this is about prejudice. She pinpoints these characters, you know, it kind of like in the 19th century, and they take bugs and they pin them on a wall. She has got the measure of every single character, and she reveals them in ways that we don't even recognize. So, for instance, Emma, I mean, you name the whole 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 with a very spoiled child. You know, at the beginning that nobody really liked but Jane Austen herself, she said. And yet by then we love Emma, and she's putting others first, and she's learned that lesson of humility. But Jane Austen has never said That is what I'm going to teach you and it's brilliant. And so she's still so relevant because we haven't changed. No, we haven't. And I love that. It's not that the storyline has inspired you, although it has. But her 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 a challenge. Mint. You name something The Austin Escape. And everybody does expect 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, an original story that alludes to some of those universal aspect of her or whatever book I'm alluding to, but not to parallel its journey. Because I do right 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 to someone's journey today. Oh wow, that is fascinating. So you've tapped into such profound stories and famous stories is inspiration, and in such clever ways, it sounds like so for you. What's the biggest challenge and also the biggest benefit in doing this? Does tapping into those stories help you're plotting? Does it help your character development? Or how are you using that those types of stories as your inspiration and is the core. I think you know you hit upon it with plot. I think one of the biggest challenges is plot because I don't want to follow their plots. The Onley story that really, very purposely hinged on the structure of another was Dear Mr Knightley. It hinged on Jean Webster's 1912 novel, Daddy Long Legs, and that was very purposeful. Um, Sam hid behind literary characters. I wanted the book to hide within the structure of another book, but that's sad. The Austin escape the Bronte plot. I wanted to stay very far from those plotlines, and I really wanted to use those books toe to bring out character and bring out aspects of character. So that so in a way, you've got the biggest challenge in the biggest benefit I have this lead on character, but but really trying to stay 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 see the 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 warm intro. 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 dip into my favorite works with my favorite characters and mess them around, like in a big bowl of soup. And it really was fun. I love that. Does this make you a different kind of reader when you're reading books? Um pretty. That's an interesting question. I don't know that it does. Yes and no. I'm always very interested when authors cite other books or they bring up other books, and so 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 that when a beautiful sentence comes across the page, you have to ponder it and break 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 just being a writer, I look at everything differently. I was reading Ah, review a book review yesterday and somebody said about another book. They said, If if you're looking for the Sun was setting, This isn't your book. And it was describing how the character never just said the sun was setting, but gave this beautiful imagery and and that's what you're doing. But you're using these inspirational books without saying this is about C. S. Lewis is the Screwtape Letters. This is about the great divorce, Catherine. It is always such a pleasure talking to you. I am so glad you came to talk to us about writing books about books. Thanks for coming. Well, thank you for inviting me. There's been absolute delight. Thank you. And now we welcome Janet schedule in Charles, the award winning author of...

Moonlight in Odessa, which was published in 10 languages. Her shorter work has appeared in reviews Such a Slice and Montana Noir and Color US Jealous Again, Janet splits her time between Montana and Paris. My very Favorite Place in the World. Her latest novel, The Paris Library Out February 9th, has been named a most anticipated book of the year by Library Journal and Good Reads. It's based on the true World War two story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, and the novel goes back and forth in time and place between World War Two, Paris and Montana and the 19 eighties. Welcome, Jan, it's thank you I'm thrilled to be here. We're so happy. The Paris Library was due to come out last year, right in 2020? Yes, with Cove it. I think everything was delayed a little bit. So it's coming out now, and I'm very excited. So how did the pandemic affect your plans? Did it change the way you are talking about the book or the way you plan for it to be out or just the pub day? I think it just may be changed. The public date on. I couldn't feel too bad about it. Just with everything else going on in the world, there were so many bigger problems. So I have to pop in here and say that I have read and loved your book. Janet and I have a very personal connection to it. When I was in my early twenties, I actually lived in Paris in the same building as the American 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 me in Paris eight years ago, right outside that building by getting down on one knee and proposing. So, needless to say, it means a lot to me. When I heard you were 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, but I'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 of the library and have that amazing coincidence. And I'm so glad that you enjoyed the book. And I hope it brought back good memories of being in the library. Yes, well, I had just finished my first book and was, and that book had been published. And I live in Paris where facades of buildings have to be cleaned every so many years. And so workers had started cleaning the facades. And so it is just a constant with, you know, with workers tramping over metal scaffolding, and so it's not really conducive for writing. And so I couldn't work from home, And I was a volunteer at the American Library in Paris and I heard about the job opening and they knew me there. Um, it was the job of programs manager, and Ma terrific writer held it before me. So I feel like there's a great tradition of programmer programs, managers, publishing novels. I know she left when she when her book, uh, pidgin Chinese came out and eso I took over that job and just really enjoyed it. It was. It was 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 library members and the authors. It just was the perfect job. How lucky and eso. Now we have another thing in common to cause an ma is a friend of mine. So how completely 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'm feeling a tad bit left out. Of course, today we're talking about books about books and in the Paris Library. Your main character. Oh, deal. It's a beautiful name realizes early on that for the libraries, patrons and even for soldiers at the front books as they do for us sometimes mean freedom. Can you tell us a bit about what went on at the library during World War Two? How that inspired you and why it even means something today? Well, during World War two, right before war broke out in September of 1939 the American ambassador advised all Americans to leave France and the librarians at the American Library in Paris remained three days after war broke out in September 1939. These librarians started the soldiers service, and they sent books and care packages of books to, uh, British and French soldiers. And the British and French soldiers wrote back with words of thanks with water colors that they did, uh, stationed at the Maginot Line. They even sent cigarettes and asked if there were any young women who might correspond with them. And so that program lasted from September of 1939 to May of 1940 when they had to stop the program because the Nazis were approaching. But they sent 100,000 books, which is just amazing to me on Day asked the soldiers, You know, do you want what you want to? The soldiers would respond. I like I like Westerns or I prefer memoirs or National Geographic 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 Nazis went to the Polish Library, which sits in the shadow of Notre Dam and the Nazis confiscated all of the archives...

...and the books and sent them back to Germany. So you can understand why the librarians that the American Library in Paris were concerned. He was really a scary time for librarians because the the Nazis also to call the books from the Russian Library in Paris, which is close to Shakespearean company. They took the Ukrainian library and the Ukrainian Library in. So it was It was it was very scary, very scary. And, of course, 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 been colleagues who had met together at International library conferences, and now they were on opposing sides of the war. And so he said that the library could 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 directors of the library and one of the trustees, uh, the Countess Clarence Chandran, decided that the librarians would handle their books to their Jewish leaders. Wow, thes lost stories. Give me chill bumps, right? We think about the bigger stories of of the war ending and of the soldiers and these everyday heroes that both you and Kristen right about who who saved people in the small ways 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 women were doing because so often we've been erased from the pages of history. And here are these incredible women keeping the library open. Uh, so many people fled Paris when the Nazis were...

...approaching. I, you know, I would have. And yet these people stayed at their posts and were really concerned about their library members. It is amazing. Which is kind of a segue into the next question. 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, including you, me and Patty, have been drawn to writing about books, libraries, bookstores and the people. You mentioned the people who protect those words and those institutions and our right to have books. I think that book people are the best people. I mean, I just when someone loves books, I just can't help but love them. So I I think there's something to that. And so for so many of us, books are our escape, and there are way of making sense of the world. And so when books are threatened, its it's really our imaginations that are threatened. It's our possibilities that are threatened. Our history that has threatened so it is so important is so important for people. Thio understand the importance of books. You're absolutely right, and I think you're right. Books means so much to all of us. That was really one of the things that that inspired for me, that the book of lost names and just that idea that that, you know, toward the end of the war and and even at the beginning of the war, as you mentioned with the Polish library, so many books were taken and that in taking books, you're taking this window into another world. You're taking this freedom, you're taking something that has more than just tangible value. So, um, it's it's wonderful to have this book as another contribution. Thio This sort of, I don't know portion of the genre when I'm traveling, I like to visit the libraries, you know, huge amazing library in London, for example. And when you see manuscript piled up and you see leather bound novels piled up...

...and you see whether it's Ah, Dead Sea Scroll they found in a cave. Whenever we see the written word archived in the library and kept for safekeeping, we know that it's about way more than what's written on those pages, but what they represent at the same time. And in the Paris Library, books have power during World War Two, but they also have power a world away in 19 eighties Montana for a lonely girl named Lily whose mother has just died and is having trouble finding her place in the world. What inspired you to include this 1980 storyline? And how does it we've with our underscore your World War two storyline? Well, to me, the whole point of the book is transmission of our stories and e feel like the way we keep loved ones alive is we remember things about them. We tell stories about them. We do things the way they did things. And without Lily in Montana, there's really no point of the story in Paris because Lily, on the one hand, she learns from that story. She learns from Odile's corrosive jealousy and and vows to do better herself. But also Lily is the one who will save all of Odile's stories. She's the one who will transmit words of Mr Pryce, Jones and Paul and Virginie. And so, to me, that's really what books are. And that's really what friends and family are. They keep us alive and they keep us going so true. You know, Janet, going into this book, I knew I would love the insights into the American...

Library in Paris, but I wasn't prepared for just how moved I would be for that latter day storyline. Lily story. I connected it. I connected to it so deeply this'll idea of being saved by books and being saved by the people who love them. And as you just said in a way, saved by those stories that air passed forward that you could learn from, Was there an element of the personal there for you did you find salvation in books during your childhood, too? Oh, I absolutely did. My grandmother never learned to drive and saw my mother took my grandmother to places each week, the grocery store in the library. And so from that I understood that books are just is nourishing his food. And, uh, someone in the 19 fifties called the American Library in Paris the window to the world. 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 girls who want out and who equate the city with bigger and better. Of course, I if anything, to go back to Montana right now. I'm missing my family so much and missing Montana so much. But at the time, you know, when you're a team like that, 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 Montana to Paris? And what what keeps you there right now? Well, I came as a nasty stomach along Viven. So that's a teaching assistant in a local high school. And so That was the French government who offered one year teaching contracts, uh, to to young people who had just finished their degrees. And so I signed up to do that. And I went to Al's ask for a year and absolutely loved it. I met my husband and I renewed my work contract. We got married. That's a long term contract.

So that happened. And 20 years later, I never would have guessed. I just Ah, lot of people come for one year or six months and then 2030 years later still here. What we expect in what we get are rarely the same thing. Tenant. Well, thank you so much for talking to us and joining us today on friends and fiction and talking to us about the world behind the Paris Library. Thank you so much for inviting me. It was a thrill to talk to you both and thank you to Marcus. Well, well, thank you. Thank you to everyone out there for joining us today. And thank you to Catherine Ray, who joined us in the first half of half of the episode. So keep your ears out for more fascinating friends and fiction interviews coming up. And don't forget, 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 every week on Facebook or YouTube, where our live show airs every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Eastern time. And please subscribe to our podcast and follow us on Instagram. We're so glad you're here.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (194)