Archive | Featured Book Club Selection

Three Sentences – Guest Post by Charlotte Rogan

When I began writing at the relatively advanced age of 33, I was no longer innocent about many things, but I was still innocent about reading. Sure, I had learned in school to find the themes in Jane Eyre and to read for detail: What book is Jane reading as the novel opens?

But the latter question was designed for the teacher’s purposes more than for mine (Had I read the book?) and the former, while slightly more useful, was aimed at getting me to write something that no one but the teacher would ever read. No one would ever want to.

How did one go about writing something that was worth another person’s time? John Barthe told his writing students that they had to read, “no longer innocently, and preferably massively. ” I stopped reading innocently. This included re-reading and trying to tease out the elements of plot development and character arc. But it also included excising sentences and looking at them freed from the camouflage of their context.

From The Mountain Lion by Jane Stafford:

“Now, in the shade of the summery tree, they felt doomed to failure. “

From The Victim by Saul Bellow:

“The fear that Leventhal felt, though deep, lasted only a second, a single thrust. “

Here are two sentences, chosen almost randomly—I opened the books and took them from the first page I came to—from novels that were important to me in my development as a writer. These books are packed with sentences that are evocative, poetic, tense, sentences that hint at complex and changeable characters who are somehow out of synch with their surroundings. But I don’t have to tell you all that—you get it in far fewer words from the sentences themselves. Well, that is the kind of effect I was now trying to create.

I love many kinds of books, but when I am writing, I try to read books that will help me with my work. This includes non-fiction, since most novels necessitate some sort of research, but what really inspire me are books that I can read at the sentence level. A recent book with astonishing sentences is Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. Don’t read it if you insist on plot, for there isn’t any. But if you like superhuman powers of observation and startling juxtapositions, give it a try.

Here is one of my own sentences from something I am still working on:

“She couldn’t protect her children from growing up and having to provide the illusion of warmth for someone else. “

I like it because it tells you something about the character and her circumstances without a lot of exposition. I tend to like hints and implications rather than explanations and descriptions, but getting across everything you need to in this way is a huge challenge. For the past 25 years I have struggled with this—and I am struggling still.

 

Charlotte Rogan

Charlotte Rogan  graduated from Princeton University in 1975. She worked at various jobs, mostly in the fields of architecture and engineering, before teaching herself to write and staying home to bring up triplets. An old criminal law text and her childhood experiences among a family of sailors provided inspiration for  The Lifeboat, her first novel. After many years in Dallas and a year in Johannesburg, she and her husband now live in Westport, Connecticut.

Charlotte’s debut novel, THE LIFEBOAT, is this month’s book club selection.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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April Book Club Selection

It is rare that I read a novel I can’t shake. But his month’s book club selection took root in my mind in a way that few novels can. I woke up thinking about it. I pondered the story and characters as I went about my day. And now, over a month later, it is still present with me.

I give you THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Rogan:

 

It is the summer of 1914 and Europe is on the brink of war, but Grace Winter’s future finally seems secure as she and her new husband set sail for New York, where she hopes to win over a disapproving and status-conscious mother-in-law. When a mysterious explosion sinks their ship, Grace is thrust into a  lifeboat by a quick-witted crew member, who climbs in after her even though the boat is already filled beyond capacity.

As the weather deteriorates and the passengers are forced to choose sides in a brewing power struggle, Grace realizes that her survival could depend on whether she backs the ruthless but experienced John Hardie or the enigmatic but increasingly forceful Ursula Grant. Over the course of three perilous weeks, the lifeboat passengers plot, scheme, gossip and console one another while questioning their deepest assumptions about goodness, humanity and God.

Grace is finally rescued, only to be put on trial for her life. Unsure what to make of their client, Grace’s attorneys suggest she write her story down. The result is a page-turning tale of moral dilemmas, and also a haunting portrait of a woman as unforgettable and complicated as the events she describes.

Click here to read an excerpt.

 Stay tuned for further details about this month’s giveaway

What I loved most about this book is that Grace Winter is an unreliable narrator. She may not be who she leads us to believe and the story may not have really happened the way she tells it. To me there is nothing more delicious than a mystery buried within a narrative, especially when the characters are so unforgettable.

Three times while reading THE LIFEBOAT I woke up in the middle of the night after dreaming that I had been aboard Lifeboat 14 with Grace Winter, the other passengers…and my children. And I had to wonder (still am do a matter of fact) what lengths I would go to in order to keep my family alive in such a situation. This is a can’t-put-down-novel. And one that will inspire vigorous debate within your book club.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Charlotte Rogan graduated from Princeton University in 1975. She worked at various jobs, mostly in the fields of architecture and engineering, before teaching herself to write and staying home to bring up triplets. An old criminal law text and her childhood experiences among a family of sailors provided inspiration for  The Lifeboat, her first novel. After many years in Dallas and a year in Johannesburg, she and her husband now live in Westport, Connecticut.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE LIFEBOAT:
The Lifeboat traps the reader in a story that is exciting at the literal level and brutally moving at the existential. I read it in one go. ”  –Emma Donoghue, author of New York Times bestseller of ROOM
Charlotte Rogan uses a deceptively simple narrative of shipwreck and survival to explore our all-too-human capacity for self-deception. ”  –JM Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of Waiting for the Barbarians
What a splendid book. It rivets the reader’s attention, and at the same time it seethes with layered ambiguity. ”  –Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links. ” This means if you click on the link and purchase the book, She Reads will receive an affiliate commission. These commissions help us pay for the site and the services we offer. Regardless, we only recommend books that we have read and loved.  

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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