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Joy for Beginners Paperback – June 5, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Moving, touching, wonderfully written, inspiring to read." -Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate's recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them. To celebrate her new lease on life, she'll do the one thing that's always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they'd never do-and Kate is going to choose their adventures.

Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight, Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life: unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying.

Author Q&A with Erica Bauermeister

Q: What compelled you to write Joy for Beginners?

A: A few years ago, my sister-in-law, who has been part of a band for years, told me that she was going to celebrate her 50th birthday by singing her first solo concert. There was something so bold and liberating in her declaration, especially as it came from someone who is actually quite shy. I loved the audacity of it, the courage behind it, and it gave me the idea for a book. In the end, a group of seven women characters showed up in my imagination, ranging in age and personality and facing an equally eclectic group of challenges, but that first idea of reaching beyond what is comfortable remained the same.

Q: When you gave readings from your previous book, The School of Essential Ingredients, you sometimes mentioned the idea for this new novel, and received a strong reaction from the women in your audiences. What did they say?

A: I think many of us want to stretch ourselves—try something new, face a fear, break out of a role or a rut we have fallen into. Sometimes we just need an excuse (or a good, firm shove) to get ourselves to do it. I see Joy for Beginners providing that inspiration, by showing readers ordinary, complicated people pushing themselves into new and different territories. I’ve talked with several book clubs that have decided to read the book and do their own set of challenges at the same time, and I think that’s a wonderful idea.

Q: The mysterious power of food to heal and to bring people back to their essential selves was a central theme of your first book. Your new book is not focused on food, yet you see a strong connection between the two books. What is it?

A: As with The School of Essential Ingredients—where the focus was food but the point was all the emotional and mental revelations that occurred before, during and because of cooking—the emotional center of Joy for Beginners lies in what the women learn through their challenges, even more than the challenges themselves. As a result, the challenges range from the overtly and physically demanding to ones that might seem simple on the surface. As I was writing, I was thinking—what are we truly afraid of? For some, it might mean climbing a mountain or sky diving, but my guess is that for many people fear is often contained within something far less obvious. As Eudora Welty said: “all serious daring starts from within.”

Q: Your books are in many ways a celebration of the senses. Why is there such a strong emphasis on the senses in your work?

A: I think our senses are one of the greatest gifts we have been given, and that our lives only become richer by paying attention to them. Most of us spend so much of our days facing a screen – computer, phone or television. What a delight to remember that we live in bodies with fingers that touch and tongues that taste and noses that have the power to take us, with one inhalation, back in time or into the presence of someone we once loved.

Q: Which of your characters are you most like?

A: I get asked that question a lot. The truth, as I think is the same for many authors, is that they are all me and none of them are me. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t write any character that I couldn’t feel empathy with—which meant I had to get into their heads and understand how they thought. What surprised me was that it was often the characters that were least like me who really surprised me into empathy.

Photo of Erica Bauermeister © Susan Doupe

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A joy to read. Bauermeister gives us characters who revel in the best of what life has to offer—loving relationships, fine food, good books, and travel—and she writes with keen observance and wry wit…Readers will be inspired to leap into their own lives with renewed gusto.”- Stephanie Kallos, author of Sing Them Home

Joy for Beginners takes us on the emotional journeys of seven women seeking to transform their lives, and proves that sometimes what we really need to inspire us to change is a good, firm shove. Erica Bauermeister’s prose is evocative and compelling.” –Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Bauermeister has created a cast of textured and nuanced characters who individually and as a group speak to what makes women interesting and enigmatic. Her prose is velvety smooth, revealing life at once mournful and auspicious. Joyful, indeed.”

–Library Journal (starred review) 

 “How transporting to live, even briefly, inside these women’s lives.”

—Laura Hansen, Bookin’ it

“Sensual…evocative…A book designed to fill you up and make you hungry for life.”

Publishers Weekly

Joy for Beginners is ultimately a celebration of life; a literary confirmation of the power of friendship.”

—Carol Cassella, author of Oxygen


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425247422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425247426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of the three novels. The School of Essential Ingredients (Putnam, 2009) follows the lives of eight students and their teacher in a cooking class held in a restaurant kitchen. Joy for Beginners (Putnam, June 2011) explores what happens to seven women who challenge one another to do one thing in the next year that is new or difficult or scary. The twist? - they don't get to choose their own challenges. The Lost Art of Mixing picks up four of the characters from the beloved School of Essential Ingredients, one year later, and brings four new ones into the mix, becoming a series of interconnected stories about food and ritual and family, in all the ways we find it. Erica Bauermeister is also the co-author of two nonfiction books: 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She lives in Seattle and loves to talk with book groups. For more personal insights, you can visit her at or at

"Erica Bauermeister writes prose delicious enough to devour." Tiffany Baker, NYT bestselling author

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Donovan on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Kate challenges a group of her friends to pursue their own joy in ways that each of them need.

The women are a loosely connected group who were first put together by Marion to be a "baby-holding" help to help Sara out with her newborn twins (and preschooler son). When Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer, Marion thought it only made sense for the group to morph from helping out Sara to being there for Kate, a divorced empty-nester, in her time of need.

When Kate beat breast cancer, she did something that she never thought she would. She agreed to accompany her adult daughter on a raft trip through the Grand Canyon. She figured that she had cheated death once -- why not expand her boundaries while pushing her luck a second time? At her celebration dinner, Marion thinks that each of them should make a pact to do something that is "scary or difficult or that we've always said we were going to do but haven't" (ARC page 8). Kate thought it was a great idea but added "I didn't get to choose mine, so I get to choose yours."

These women were all so different, and so readers will each relate to a different woman's struggles, which would probably make for a good book club chat.

I loved each of them in different ways:

*Hadley, a young widow, trying to push through her grief and figure out life on her own
*Caroline, bookstore owner (love her already!
Read more ›
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By emmejay VINE VOICE on July 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" -- Mary Oliver

That question from the epigraph is pertinent to Kate, who was hit hard by breast cancer and, now recovered, is reluctant to accept her daughter's celebratory challenge to go white-water rafting. But it's also pertinent to Kate's circle of close friends, who support her by agreeing that she also issue a challenge to each of them -- something that will ease a fear and increase the joy and living in their own lives.

I loved Bauermeister's debut novel (The School of Essential Ingredients, a collection of linked stories about the students in a series of cooking classes) and remember ending my review by wishing I could read another set of stories about the next year's class. Happily, JOY FOR BEGINNERS is nearly that, with writing as sensual and lush and stories as tender and hopeful. But here they're even sweeter, gentle to the point of lacking narrative tension, and they lack SCHOOL's sympathetic lead character and unifying story premise. Recommended for readers in the mood for comforting stories about women's friendships.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Beth Settje VINE VOICE on July 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
My book club chose Joy for Beginners (well named title, by the way) for our next selection. As I had not read her earlier book yet, I went and got that one first. (It is excellent.) I could not wait to read this book after finishing the first. Though completely different premises, the writing style was very similar, as well as the way the characters are presented. The author writes in a way that can best be described as lyrical. The prose flows and the conversations seem very real.

In this book, the reader is introduced to a number of women, friends for various periods of time (some just with one other woman) but all connected to one woman, Kate, who has survived breast cancer. Kate is a major common thread throughout the story, though each chapter focuses on an individual woman, one at a time.

I liked how the author made Kate very human, with both flaws and attributes that are easy to relate to. Though I have not had to deal with cancer personally, I could still connect to Kate's fears and concerns. The other women are also easy to consider as people we know on a daily basis. Each woman had a situation in her life that she needs to overcome and Kate is able to hone in on that one area in the form of a personal challenge. The only aspect of the book I did not like was that, for the most part, once a chapter was over, the other characters were not reintroduced. I happen to like closure and that lack of knowing what would happen next was difficult for me. However, that is a personal preference and many readers will likely enjoy the possibilities. I could see a sequel from this book, especially with the women whose stories were left hanging, such as Ava, Caroine, Hadley and Robin.

Overall, I expect our book club will have a rich conversation about women, choices, life and death, friendship and more. I am excited to have discovered this author and hope she continues to write more books.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Maizy on June 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really loved School of Essential Ingredients and anticipated this book. Although the book started out interesting, I became bored and started just skimming parts to try to get back to the story, which never happened. The chapters are short stories with details about each of the lives of the main character's friends. The story never brings the characters back together after each one accomplished the challenge that she requests they accomplish. Sometimes, there are large pieces of time that pass in each chapter, days even years, before a character accomplishes her challenge. It would have been nice if there had been periods where the characters came back together for encouragement and follow-up. The story just didn't flow very well. But, if you like books with a plethora of short stories, then you would like this. I think this author has fallen into a formula that just didn't work here.
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