Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cornell West Visits Charlotte

New York Times best-selling author Dr. Cornell West will visit Charlotte next week. Before his trip, I had a chance to speak with this incredible philosopher, author and deep thinker.

Listen more by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I'm Reading Now: "Forever Lily"

Made in China
Author shares heartwarming story in ‘Forever Lily’

by Alison Woo

Every year, roughly 1 million girls are abandoned by their families in China. This staggering statistic is a direct result of the government’s one-child-per-family policy set by the communists in 1979 to limit the nation’s growing population, which is currently straining at the seams with 1 billion people. However, the culture’s predisposition to value male heirs over females has left a growing tragedy on China’s hands. In an effort to stem the tide, the government allowed parents to give up their unwanted babies for international adoption in the mid ’90s. American families adopted approximately 6,493 children by 2006, according to the U.S. State Department.

The numbers paint a broad picture. But first-time author Beth Nonte Russell puts it into personal perspective in her riveting and impossible-to-put-down memoir, “Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China.”

Unexpected mother, author
Russell was a 30-something psychologist living in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and three stepchildren when her neighbor, Alex, asked her to accompany her to China where Alex planned to adopt a child. The story takes a dramatic turn and soon Russell finds herself embroiled in the midst of an emotional roller coaster. Alex is ambivalent about wanting the baby and suffers a nervous breakdown, asking Russell to take the baby. Just when Russell warms to the idea, Alex wants the baby back. Set with the backdrop of the already cumbersome and heartbreaking adoption process where scores of babies are left to die and wither away unattended, the story ultimately has a happy ending.

Though the author wasn’t a working writer at the time she visited China, she’s a skillful narrator who displays elegant prose that is thoughtful and insightful, both into her mind’s own inner workings and the unfolding situation. “When I returned from China, I knew beyond a doubt that I would write this story and try to share it with others,” she said. “There was a strong urge to tell others about the abandoned children that I had seen in the orphanage there; I felt obligated to be their voice. Thoughts of those children would not let me go, and I began writing the book a year after I returned.”

“Forever Lily” raises real-life questions that prompt the reader to explore ideas of what constitutes a family, and how spiritual bonds can sometimes grow deeper than physical ties. The story sends strong messages of love, hope and inspiration that readers will find meaningful whether they’re considering adoption or not. It’s one of the finest nonfiction books I’ve read in a decade.

Sharing the experience
Russell’s psychological training gave her the necessary tools to break down the complex emotions that accompany adoptions, but it also gives her a unique way to approach the memoir. “With ‘Lily’ I did not set out to write a memoir to tell ‘about’ my life; instead, I hoped to give the reader a chance to share the experience and bridge the gap of subjectivity,” she said. “My primary intention was to let the reader enter my own internal psychological, emotional and spiritual process as it took place in the context of this particular event.”

Ultimately, Russell and her husband adopted the unwanted child and a few years later returned to China to adopt a second daughter. She sees herself not as their “adoptive” parent but as their mother, in a complete sense. But while she wants her children to know about where they came from, she is preparing them for their own unique futures. “In my view, I am raising two American daughters who happen to have been born in China,” Russell said.

“Forever Lily” is available at booksellers everywhere.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

January 2009 Book Club Selection: "Bridge of Sighs" by Richard Russo

I'm thrilled beyond measure to announce that our January book club selection will be famed American author Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs." Mr. Russo will be joining us via a phone chat on Monday, January 19, 2009 at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall.

Please RSVP by e-mailing

P.S. didn't miss December's pick. We're taking the month off to make sure everyone has a chance to read the 600+ page tome.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

November 2008 Book Club Selection: "The Glass Castle"

Join us Monday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. to discuss "The Glass Castle" at Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall. Please RSVP by e-mailing

Monday, October 06, 2008

Secret Life of Bees Trailer

Sue Monk Kidd's beautiful book "The Secret Life of Bees" is coming to a theater near you October 18! Be sure to see it. Take a gander at the trailer here.

October 2008 Selection: The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

This month's selection is The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden. Join us on Monday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Carolina Place Mall to chat with the author about her breakthrough novel. To RSVP, please e-mail me at

To read more about our selection, read the interview I did with McFadden when she visited Charlotte in July.

Breakthrough author
Self-published author turns story into mainstream success

Some authors put all their drama and intrigue on the page. But for Maryann McFadden, the author of “The Richest Season,” the story of how she became an author is worthy of its own book. This former public relations and marketing professional, who took a twenty year detour as a real estate agent, has written of the most unputdownable books of the season.

“Season” tells the story of what happens when a dutiful wife whose husband works in corporate America dares to dreams about what her life could be now that her kids are grown up and have gone off to college. Faced with an empty nest, Joanna Harrison decides to leave her comfortable life in a New Jersey suburb to discover herself in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. There she discovers depths she had forgotten she had and her life, her husband’s life and the life of the woman she takes care of will never be the same again.

McFadden is clear; “Season” is not an autobiography. “I don’t think a woman has to leave her husband to find herself,” she said during a stop earlier this month at Park Road Books. “But I do think there is immense value in leaving the routine of your day-to-day life so you can pull back and get a grander vision of what your life could be.”

But it was McFadden’s life as a real estate agent that inspired her character’s dilemma. “I remember being with a client and their 4-year-old son was screaming and crying because he didn’t want to move,” McFadden said. “That what made me realize that there was a dynamic here that was worth exploring and a story we had not heard before.”

Rich back story
How the book came to be is another story worth telling. After her kids had grown up she decided to pursue her Master’s degree to teach but it was a writing course that rekindled her passion in the craft of putting words to paper. “Soon I wondered why I ever left writing to begin with,” she said. “I was back in love and had rediscovered a part of myself that I had closed off while I was raising a family.”

“Season” started off as a short story but turned into a 120-page thesis. She tried the traditional route of getting an agent to represent her work to a publishing house to no avail. Finally buoyed by questions of fellow book club members who asked her when she was going to publish and her 50th birthday looming in the near future, McFadden decided to self-publish her book. “Having been in PR I knew what it would take to build buzz around a book,” she said. After a self-financed book tour up and down the east coast, and events with bookstores and book clubs, within seven months an astonishing 2,000 books were sold.

Another key component in her success was getting independent booksellers on the “Season” bandwagon. “Once I read it, I knew I could hand sell it to anyone just based on the story,” said Frank Burlson, a 26-year veteran of Park Roads.
McFadden says she secretly hoped that having been denied the traditional publishing route, she could come in through the back door. “One night I was watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and I said, I’ve got to reach out to agents again’ so I put everything I had done – how many copies were sold, how I marketed the book, reviews from booksellers – everything!” she said. “I e-mailed it to a handful of agents. By the morning I was asked by a top agent for an exclusive.”

The agent asked her to pump up the first chapter and make Joanna’s husband a more prominent character earlier in the book, which was feedback readers had given as well. Soon many of the top houses were in a bidding war for the rights to her novel. McFadden signed a two-book deal with Hyperion Publishing, owned by Disney. McFadden is touring the country, selling the book which she calls “the expanded version” to many of the readers who loved the book the first time around. She’s also working on a second novel, tentatively titled “So Happy Together” which is a story about the sandwich generation.

After the entire struggle, McFadden is serene and sanguine. “After years of effort I can’t believe how lucky I am but this has always been my dream, and I can’t believe I get to live it.”

Want an autographed copy?
Park Road Books has a limited number of signed editions at their store at 4139 Park Road. For more information, visit Or buy your copy at booksellers everywhere and bring it with you on Oct. 20.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Elegy: The Movie

Ah, the controversy of the eternal question -- which is better? The book or the movie. My answer: it always varies. But I did have a chance to catch the movie Elegy this past weekend. And it was fantastic! Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruise and Dennis Hopper are at their finest. There's even a turn by Blondie's Debbie Harry that will take you by surprise. I found the movie to be thoughtful, thought provoking and brutally honest. If you are in Charlotte, run to Park Terrace -- they are now an art house! If you are anyplace else, visit Fandango and find it at a theater near you!

Seen it? What did you think?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Countdown to our new book: Marketing with New Media

It's pretty incredible that in seven days readers will be able to walk into any bookstore around the country and in 25 countries around the globe and pick up a copy of our book, "Marketing with New Media: A Guide to Promoting Your Small Business Using Websites, E-Zines, Blogs, and Podcasts" (Penguin/Prentice Hall Press).

Written with fellow book club member, business partner and friend, Lena Claxton, the book came as a natural outgrowth of seminars we did on technology. We realized that businesses were clammoring for information on technology and that we could help them.

I'll post more information here over the next couple of weeks but we'll be having two big kickoff events:

1. On Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. EST we will host a worldwide launch party online. For more information, visit

2. If you live in Charlotte, come see us in person! Queens University's McColl School of Business will be hosting our kickoff party on Friday, Sept. 12 at 6: 30 p.m. For more information, visit


Speaking Volumes Sneak Peek

The book for October will be Maryann McFadden's "The Richest Season." Details TBA.
The book for November will be "The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls.

Want to suggest a future book club pick? E-mail me at

Happy reading!

Favorite cookbook of the moment

Run, don't walk to pick up a copy of "Two Dudes, One Pan" by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. These guys are the real deal and honed their skills in Hollywood cooking for the likes of George Clooney and friends. What I love is that this is the kind of book you can curl up on the sofa and dream about making such mouth-watering delights. It's real food that's really good. Simple stuff like roasted chicken and lemon bars and Sunday specials such as braised roasts.

Read more about why I call them the cookbook for the season in this week's Charlotte Weekly and Union County Weekly.

September Speaking Volumes Selection: The Dying Animal by Philip Roth

Love and loss are familiar themes in life and literature. But National Book Award winner and literary legendary author Philip Roth takes a new look at the topic in “The Dying Animal,” Charlotte Weekly’s book club selection for September. Hollywood producers revived interest in the novella and currently Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruise play the central characters in “Elegy” the movie inspired by the book.

The story follows cultural critic and star lecturer David Kepesh at a New York college who hopes to rediscover himself through his relationships his students. But into his life comes Consuela Castillo, a Cuban exile, who turns the table on him. In the book Roth examines the themes of eros and mortality, license and repression, selfishness and sacrifice.

Since his first book, “Goodbye, Columbus,” which won the National Book Award, Roth has been a darling of the literary scene. Numerous other best-selling books followed including “American Pastoral,” “I Married a Comunist” and “The Plot Against America.” He has made a career looking at the dissolution of relationships, the absurdity of neuroses, and the downside of his own literary fame. So much of his work draws on his roots born in New Jersey, the son of immigrant parents. Many of his readers believe that Roth has been writing his own story for nearly fifty years.

Roth’s twenty-ninth book, “Indignation” comes out on September 16 and Charlotte Weekly has won an exclusive interactive webinar with the author. Join us on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall in Pineville where we will discuss his book, “The Dying Animal” and hear from the author himself about his latest work. Please RSVP by e-mailing

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hear Author Barbara Kingsolver discuss "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"

Summer Book Club Selection: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

This summer, my dad decided he wanted to grow cucumbers in his garden. This is my dad’s first foray into growing “serious” vegetables. His first was last summer when he grew some miniature chilies, tomatoes and some scallions on pots on his deck. Now that my parents bought a house, his first thought was “Now I can grow some real vegetables.” I neglected to remind him that a decade ago my mom and I grew cucumbers in another house we had on Long Island and they completely took over the yard. The creeping vine strangled all the other vegetables we put in the same area but I figured planting seeds is like planting hope. You optimistically hope for the best. And grow the next vegetable at least 20 feet away.

Watching the tiny yellow flowers turn into giant cukes brings one much closer to the miracles of daily life. It’s crazy to think that just outside the kitchen window the magic happens, and even I find myself rushing out to check on the plant’s progress each day. With food prices rising more than 30 percent since the beginning of the year, it seems like growing your own food is a much more economical idea and one that could catch on. For the reasons mentioned above, we’ve chosen best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver’s novel “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” as our summer book club selection.

Kingsolver, who is mostly known for her 11 novels (including “The Poisonwood Bible”), decided to devote one year of her and her family’s life and only eat things that she could grow, trade with her neighbors or buy from local farms. This idea of sustainable living is often encouraged to subsidize trips to one’s local grocery store but very few people have done it to such depths and heights.

“This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air,” Kingsolver writes as the book’s central narrator. Also adding their perspectives in the form of sidebars are Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, a professor of environmental sciences, and her daughter Camille offers brief essays on her then- nineteen-year-old’s perspective on the local-food project.

The author was born in Maryland, and grew up in rural Kentucky. In 2004, after more than 25 years in Tucson, Arizona, she left the southwest and now lives with her family on “a farm in southwestern Virginia where they raise free-range chickens, turkeys, Icelandic sheep, and an enormous vegetable garden.”

We're meeting Monday, August 18 at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall. To R.S.V.P., e-mail me at

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lisa See chats with CW

Lisa See, our first guest was magnificent. Her insights into Peony in Love makes you want to read the book all over again. To listen, click on the radio player.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

'Speaking Volumes' launches online radio show

OK, book club fans, get ready for the online version of our book club.

Each month we chat with wonderful authors but now we've decided to let all our readers get involved. This Tuesday we'll be interviewing June Book Club author Lisa See to chat about "Peony in Love."

Join us by clicking on the button:

Listen to Book Club Editor on internet talk radio

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Watch Lisa See discuss "Peony in Love"

Sneak Preview for July 2008

Faithful blog readers,

You are ahead of the curve!
For July, we'll be reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food."

We're working on details for a very special event! Stay tuned!


CW Celebrates Third Anniversary with Lisa See

Next month with will mark the third year of Charlotte Weekly/Union County Weekly's book club, Speaking Volumes. It's been an honor leading the club for these three years. And to celebrate we have a wonderful evening planned.

Best-selling author Lisa See's own life story is as interesting as the books she pens. And when she puts pen to paper it’s easy to see amazing results. Her latest novel, “Peony in Love” is Charlotte Weekly’s book club selection for June.

Ms. See was born in Paris but grew up in Los Angeles, spending much of her time in Chinatown. Her first book, "On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family" traced the journey of Lisa’s great-grandfather, Fong See, who overcame obstacles at every step to become the 100-year-old godfather of Los Angeles’s Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family. That book not only hit the top of the best-seller’s lists, it also became an opera, for which See wrote the libretto and it debuted in June 2000 at the Los Angeles Opera.

Following her nonfiction success, See, who was a journalist and book reviewer, decided to write novels including two mystery thrillers and the smashing hit “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” With “Peony” See continues her historical fiction trip to China. This book takes place in 17th-century China in the Yangtzi River delta. It’s based on the true story of three "lovesick maidens," who were married to the same man – one right after the other, not one reaching age twenty. Together they wrote the first book of its kind to have been written and published anywhere in the world by women. Interestingly enough, the lovesick maidens were part of a much larger phenomenon. In the 17th century, there were more women writers in China who were being published than altogether in the rest of the world at that time. Ultimately, Peony in Love about the bonds of female friendship, the power of words, the desire that all women have to be heard, and finally those emotions that are so strong that they transcend time, place, and perhaps even death.

Join us as we discuss “Peony” with author Lisa See via a phone conference and celebrate CW’s third anniversary with wine and Chinese appetizers on Monday, June 23 at 7 p.m. Please R.S.V.P. by e-mailing alison@thecharlotteweekly.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What I'm reading right now...

OK, it's official. My love affair with Anthony Bourdain continues. Following Kitchen Confidential, I headed head first into HEAT by Bill Buford. The swaggering story about Mario Batali (star of Food Network's Molto Mario and owner of Babbo and a number of other fabulous eateries in NY) is charming. But despite the somewhat interesting banter of a journalist who takes to the kitchen, I seriously missed Bourdain's "voice."

So heading to my neighborhood library (one of the handful of exceptional things about non-NY living is the amazing libraries there are out here) on Rea Road, I loaded up on all things Bourdain. Not the fiction. I have to pace myself. But I walked away with Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook, No Reservations and The Nasty Bits.

The Les Halles cookbook may be one of my all-time favorite cookbooks ever. Not because I'm going to make pot au feu anytime soon. But more because it's what I would think it would be like having the man himself standing over my shoulder guiding my every step. Be warned. This cookbook is not for the meek of heart. His commentary is on target and hilarious. When discussing the preparation and right temperature for grilling steak, he writes, "F*** the health department. The meat needs to be room temperature." Though it may seem hard-core and uncaring the truth is he does care. Passionately. About the food. And that shines throughout each page.

No Reservations was OK but not a must-read. It's mostly tidbits of the behind-the-scenes action of his show on the Travel Channel. Your time might be better off reading his blog. But the pictures are phenomenal and colorful. And if you're a fan of the show (like me!) you get to see some of the most memorable photos and bits of the stories that didn't make the show. My all-time favorite episode is the one he did on Hong Kong (where I was born) and the incredible food culture that exists there. It's like no where else on the planet.

But The Nasty Bits is a delight. Treading the material similar to Kitchen Confidential, it's more from the life and times of bad-boy chef Bourdain. I'm reading it very slowly, savoritng it like a nine-course meal. It's the first time I can truthfully, Nasty is lovely. It's well worth the read and should be savored.

Friday, May 02, 2008

CW Book Selection for May 2008 "Then We Came to An End" by Joshua Ferris

If you’ve ever worked in an office, then you are keenly aware of the interesting blend of personalities and family unit that forms when individuals are thrown together for a common purpose. As Americans we spend more than 80 percent of our lives at work. The resulting formula means that most of our live we are engaged with behavior ranging from madcap comedy, high drama, peculiar personalities and friends we will bond with for life—sometimes all in one setting. Author Joshua Ferris offers the most modern and insightful look at our workplace relationships, which are rich for examination in his novel, “Then We Came to An End,” Charlotte Weekly’s book club selection for May.

Ferris’ novel is set at an advertising agency in Chicago just after the dot com bust. Be warned: this book is not for the meek. Be prepared to laugh hard. Really hard. You will see yourself and everyone you’ve ever worked with in this novel. People either get fired or die – the former being worse because they keep hanging around the office and finding reasons to return. The workers lament about the infrequent appearance of free bagels and the office worker who is always happy and sees goodness in everyone and everything (you know who you are). The pointless meetings are lambasted with equal measure to the coworkers who e-mail the entire group about personal trivialities.

My best advice: Don’t read this book in public. The continual outpouring of rip-roaring laughter may send people scurrying away. Join us on Tuesday, May 20 at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at 11025 Carolina Place in Pineville. Please R.S.V.P. at

Monday, April 07, 2008

What I'm reading right now...

Having a blog means never having to say...I'm lacking for things to say. I've been so immersed in some great books recently. Although I'm usually juggling at least 6-8 great reads at time, the one I take with me to bed has been Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential".

If you've seen his show on the Travel Channel, you'll know that Bourdain is no lightweight. Condeming of so-called chefs such as Rachel Ray, he is tough, abraisive and sometimes crude. But what he always is is true.

Agents and publishers talk about the need for books to have a "strong voice." If you've ever wondered what that is, run, don't walk to pick up his book.

His tales of woe and wow in the kitchen are revelational. I shall never look at a Sunday brunch the same way again. As someone whose father owned several succesful restaurants, this is the stuff I never heard of. And as someone who frequents great restaurants quite often, I can honestly say I never look at anything in them -- from the bread to the waiters -- quite the same way. If you like to eat, read this book!

CW April 2008 Pick: "The 13th Tale by Diane Setterfield

One of the joys of reading an unforgettable book is the passion that comes in sharing what the reader has read and learned. When Diane Setterfield’s “The Thirteenth Tale” was published in hardcover in 2006, many of my book-loving friends called and e-mailed to say how amazing it was and how I needed to race to the bookstore to get it. But sometimes life gets in the way of a great read, and the novel remained on my list of books to read in the not-too-distant future.
After discussions with our passionate book club members, it’s clear this is indeed the perfect time. Charlotte Weekly’s Speaking Volumes book club selection for April is “The Thirteenth Tale.”

Borrowing from literary classics such as “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre,” the story is set in the mists of England, where glamorous, well-known author Vida Winter asks Lea’s Antiquarian Bookshop owner Margaret Lea to come to her estate and write her life story. While living in the stately Gothic home, Lea tries to untangle fact from fiction as family secrets, lost loves and a mystery that keeps you guessing until the last page entwine her and her subject. Setterfield’s first novel may be one of the most well-written books of the decade. She possesses incomparable storytelling skills; the result is a book you won’t want to put down.

New book, new location

To reach out to more book club members and see more of Charlotte, our well-established book club of three years will visit several bookstores in the months to come. Join us to discuss this riveting tale on Monday, April 21, at 7 p.m., at Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall, 11025 Carolina Place Parkway, Pineville. Please RSVP at

Monday, March 03, 2008

Oprah launches a Webinar

It was great. For 10 minutes. The best part was author Eckhard Tolle and Oprah chatting amongst themselves. It tanked when they took questions. Oprah, ditch the questions. Stick to what you do best. The information is great. Keep it comin'!

March 2008 Book Club Selection: "The Friday Night Knitting Club"

Knitting is hot! We chose the best of the literary bunch for our March pick. Join us Monday, March 17 at 7 p.m. to talk to author Kate Jacobs and find out more about this delightful book.

Februrary 2008 Book Club Pick " One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd"

Our February pick, suggested by book club member Audrey Li, is the entrancing tale that asks "What if?" duing America in the 1850s.

January 2008 Book Pick "Like Water for Chocolate"

This is my dream book! And our January selection. If you have time, read Laura Esquivel's other books, such as "Law of Love," "Swift as Desire" and "Malinche."

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Year, New Posts

Hello all!

It's happened to me: life!

I'm sorry I haven't posted in awhile. Life took its tool.

But the most important news is that we're meeting tonight to discuss my all-time favorite book, "Like Water for Chocolate."

Join us at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark Mall.

Be there or be square!