Saturday, March 03, 2007

March 2007: Eat, Pray, Love

Every story of finding one’s self starts with a quest. It’s enmeshed in all great tales from the sacred – Moses’ search in the desert – to the secular – Luke in “Star Wars.” The outer journey mirrors the inner journey; it is as if placing one foot in front of another helps one delve deeper into the heart, mind and soul.

When faced with a devastating divorce and a life that just wasn’t working, author Elizabeth Gilbert decided to plunge into new possibilities. The book, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” is Gilbert’s bold pursuit for herself; it is also Charlotte Weekly’s book pick for March.

After trying unsuccessfully to conceive, Gilbert realized that there was a huge chasm between the idyllic life she fantasized about and the reality she lived. Following a divorce, she decided to trek to foreign lands where she hoped to be imbued by each chosen city’s unique offering to salve her soul. She chooses Rome to teach her about pleasure, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to inspire her spiritual longings, and Bali to find balance.

What makes the book sing is Gilbert’s fresh voice, which transcends the “somebody done somebody wrong song” tone which self-help books can sometimes take, and vaults it into true introspective territory. During the yearlong journey, Gilbert learns about herself, and her quest may even inspire readers to begin a journey, even if from the safety of an armchair.

Gilbert is an accomplished writer and memoirist. Her story for GQ magazine about her early bartending days was made into the movie “Coyote Ugly” and it appears that lightning has struck twice: In November, Paramount Pictures announced plans to turn “Eat, Pray, Love” into a movie starring Julia Roberts.

Join CW’s book club as we meet to discuss “Eat, Pray, Love” on Monday, Mar. 19, at 7 p.m., at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in SouthPark. R.S.V.P by visiting

February 2007: In the Company of the Courtesan

Finding the inspiration to spark creativity is a perpetual challenge that faces many artists. For Sarah Dunant that spark came after a walk through Florence’s Uffizi gallery led her to a painting from legendary Renaissance painter Titian. The book cover of ‘In the Company of the Courtesan" is not just beautiful art that draws you in; it evoked and inspired the book’s central character, Fiametta. “It is the first painting of a woman where the woman is actually looking at you,” Dunant said from her home in London. “Before the Renaissance, the only time you saw women was through religious figures. After that period, suddenly there are all these Venuses on the wall; it was a major change in perspective. But (the look on this woman’s face) says ‘I see that you are looking at me and you’re interested, so let’s carry on a conversation to talk about what you are interested in.’”

Dunant said that she realized that the only woman who would pose for a portrait like this would have to be a courtesan. Like geishas, courtesans are often misunderstood throughout history. Their sexual relationships with men were only a small part of what they were about. They were often well-educated, well-dressed women who were consorts to kings, wealthy businessmen and the elite. “They had some kind of independence but they were not going to be romantic about it,” said Dunant. “You cannot read a lot about women in this period, but one thing we do know is that 500 years ago, it was very, very tough for women.”

Writing the book proved to be a labor of love for Dunant who says she spent nine months burying herself in research in Italy to get the details right. The result is a book where you feel immersed in the sights and smells of 16th century Rome and Venice. “There is a satirist who wrote a whole series of letters that were being published at the time and (I read them) to get into his head,” she said. “But it’s much harder to penetrate the minds and hearts of women (at that time). One realizes they must have been very smart and sharp, but at the same time they had to be quite calculating and shrewd. For that reason I’m not sure if I had written in the first person and in her voice that we would have necessarily liked her. That’s why the book is narrated from the voice of the dwarf. It’s her companion; someone who could admire her and give her applause.”

Dunant said that writing both “The Birth of Venus” and “Courtesan” changed the way she viewed women of the past. “As modern women, we look at how women were treated and how they suffered and we want to write down the injustice of it all,” she said. “But actually I’ve become more interested in how they really did cope and get on with it. I suppose that’s what women do best, we get on with the business of living no matter what the adversity.”

Meet the author
“In the Company of the Courtesan” is CW’s book club selection for February. Join us on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark mall. Please R.S.V.P. by visiting,

January 2007: Pride and Predjudice

A new year and an old book!

January we read one of my all-time favorites: Pride and Predjudice by Jane Austen.

The story of love found, lost and won is a classic that rings true to every romantic. If you don't have time to read the book, run, don't walk, to Blockbuster or Netflix the A & E version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Don't even bother with last year's remake with Kiera Knightly. The six-hour miniseries captures Austen's light and beauty and I think Jane, herself, would approve greatly!

My Top 10 Books of 2006

What's a year in review if you can't have lists?

This past year was a banner one for books. From series endings to noteworthy
nonfiction to brilliant literary debuts, 2006 offered it all and then some.

Here’s Charlotte Weekly/Union County Weekly’s list of this year’s

10. “A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler” by Frances Mayes. Broadway Books, $26.

Mayes, also the author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” uses her venerable talent on other exotic locales and captures the nuances and subtleties that make travel books such enchanting reads.

9. “The End: Book the Thirteenth (A Series of Unfortunate Events)” by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist. HarperCollins Children’s Books, $12.99.

Fans of the famed Lemony Snicket series found that all good things do come to an end. And in this last book, aptly named “The End,” the book found its just desserts. Too delicious to put down, even for adults!

8. “The Audrey Hepburn Treasures: Pictures and Mementos from a Life of Style and Purpose” by Ellen Erwin and Jessica Diamond. Atria Books, $49.95.

Before Angelina Jolie made caring for the world’s forgotten children a cause célèbre, Hepburn raised awareness of humanitarian causes. The proceeds from this incredibly inventive and well-designed book go directly to her UNICEF fund.

7. “State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III” by Bob Woodward. Simon & Schuster, $30.

The journalist who wrote so eloquently for the Washington Post and broke the story of Watergate continues his series on another president. This book looks at the first days George W. Bush thought seriously about running for president through the recruitment of his national security team, the war in Afghanistan, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the struggle for political survival in the second term.

6. “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Viking, $24.95.

Gilbert tries to mend a broken heart, induced by divorce and love gone awry, by traveling to three centers that offer rejuvenation for her spirit, mind and body. Ultimately on her search for both pleasure and passion, she finds romance, but that’s the bonus of this earthy read.

5. “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany” by Bill Buford. Knopf, $25.95.

Love The Food Network? Wonder what it takes to become a world-famous chef? Journalist Buford takes readers into the kitchen of chef extraordinaire Mario Batali and acclaimed New York restaurant “Babbo.” The drama and great characters in this book alone are worth it for
even nonfoodies.

4. “Brothers” by Da Chen. Crown, $25.

At the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, a powerful general fathered
two sons. Tan was born to the general’s wife and into a life of comfort and luxury.
His half brother, Shento, was born to the general’s mistress, who threw herself off a
cliff in the mountains only moments after delivering her child. The brothers end up
falling in love with the same woman and move toward the explosive moment when
their paths converge.

3. “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Pessl. Viking,

North Carolina native Pessl’s first literary work – one of the most inventive books of
the year – made her a best-selling author. In this murder mystery set at a boarding
school, each chapter is named for a literary classic. Read this mostly for Pessl’s stylistic
writing and quick wit.

2. “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. Crown, $25.
This sobering and visionary view on how the nation might tackle some of its most serious challenges comes from potential presidential candidate and current U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

1. “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill,

This beautiful love story takes place during the Depression. Gruen said she
felt compelled to write “Water for Elephants” after seeing a photograph of circus performers during that era. “This is an era that’s disappearing from memory and it’s an important part of American history,” she said. The book is a delightful read with characters that remain on the mind long after the last page is read.

December 2006: The return of Adriana Trigiani

Turns out you can go home again.

Best-selling author Adriana Trigiani revisited her most succesful series with a great book, "Home to Big Stone Gap." The ever-gracious Adriana was a phone guest and is much beloved to our book club as she helped launch it in June 2006. Welcome home!

November 2006: The Mermaid Chair

This is an amazing book from the author of "The Secret Life of Bees," It was a true favorite of mine and we even had a chance to meet author Sue Monk Kidd at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. She was awesome! Sadly she wasn't able to join us at book club but Nancy Horn, our guest book club editor did a smashing job.

The Return of The Book Blogger

The hallmark of a great blog is many, many postings!

Hello blog readers!

I've returned. It's been a very busy few months. But without further adieu, let me catch everyone up with all that we've read.

Thanks for e-mailing and asking about our whereabouts. Our book club has been going on stronger than ever but many have missed our blog component. I've learned that people are somewhat shy in cyberspace. While they won't post, they will e-mail. Please feel free to do either and contact me directly at or at

Happy reading everyone!