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Joy for Beginners Paperback – June 5, 2012
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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"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.
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
Praise for Joy for Beginners
“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
“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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I have loved the men in my life, couldn't do without it, but the caring friendship of women is a special thing. This book is a great reminder of beautiful power of friendship.
Of course it is well written, good plot, etc., which is vital to make a readable book. What is important to me is the quiet power of women.
I would love to meet Erica Bauermeister to find out how she gained so much wisdom and insight into the human heart, mind and spirit!!!!
After reading this I was inspired to cross off my list some things I was afraid to do but did it anyway!
Joyce Norman, Author
The main protagonist, Kate, has just finished a year long bout with breast cancer. To be honest, I have been steering far away from cancer-themed stories these days after having cancer hit much too close to home in my family. However, I read this book anyway, hoping for an engrossing story that would enchant me in spite of the big C, and I found it. Rather than focus on cancer itself, this book focuses on friendship and personal challenges instead. In a gathering surrounded by her friends, Kate is challenged to a river rafting trip by her daughter. They all encourage her to go on the trip (of course, after all, what are friends for???). She in turn individually challenges each of her friends to do something that is very difficult to face. Each woman faces her challenge in unique ways, and Bauermeister resists the temptation to ‘tie every shoelace’ in their stories. Rather, the real read is in how each woman greets her task and goes about facing it.
As you read each of these incredible women’s stories, I hope that you will be as moved as I was at the insights and truths that Bauermeister voices around every turn. There is something so validating and healing about hearing your inner thoughts echoed through another person’s thoughts (fictional or otherwise). I found myself underlining many passages to re-read later, and know that this will be a book I will read at least once more before I put it away in the bookshelf. I recommend it as an engrossing read, and can hardly wait for Bauermeister’s next book.