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Joy for Beginners Paperback – June 5, 2012
In Twenty Years: A Novel
When five college roommates gather after twenty years, can the rifts between them be repaired? Learn More
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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.
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
“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.”
“Joy for Beginners is ultimately a celebration of life; a literary confirmation of the power of friendship.”
—Carol Cassella, author of Oxygen
Top Customer Reviews
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 ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Erica's second novel was beautiful. I loved all of these characters and enjoyed the journey. Her writing puts you exactly in the places she's describing. Love this novel.Published 1 month ago by Penelope Grey
The author did a wonderful job developing each person involved in the story. I loved the way their personalities and histories contributed to the whole story and the support each... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Kindle Customer
love the lyrical way she writes ... it forces you to slow down and appreciate her imageryPublished 5 months ago by Chris Schroeder
If you were dared, yes dared, to do something you are immensly afraid of
would you do it? If 3 of your BFF's had each sworn to take up a feared
challenge of their own,... Read more
Cancer survior Kate is challenged by her friends to embrace life and accept new challenges. She agrees to do it if they'll do it too. Beautifully written and inspiring.Published 14 months ago by bookwormbug
Great book! I enjoyed the book, but I was really disappointed in the condition of this book on arrival. Read morePublished 15 months ago by DalAngel