Local Author Spotlight

Our community is home to a large number of outstanding authors. To celebrate them, we will offer – every two months – an introduction to a different children's or adult author who resides in one of the four towns in our school district and who has published a new book within the past year. The selection shall be made by a vote of our librarians. Happy reading!

Authors previously spotlighted in this series include: William Taubman, Rich Michelson, Madeleine Blais, and Cammie McGovern
See more books by local authors
January – February 2018

David Hyde Costello



Interview



What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The bike path is the hands-down winner there. I notice this is becoming a popular answer in the author profiles, and I am not surprised. I am not great at sitting still and relaxing, so a place where I can be in motion and spend time with my thoughts in a quiet forest setting is ideal.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

At the moment my favorite library memory is discovering Beyoncé’s Lemonade album on the new CDs shelf at the Jones Library just this past fall. That was my first time hearing the album (which tells you something about my relationship to social media and popular culture — I’m an analog kind of guy trying to keep up in a digital world).

A more general answer is that libraries are my favorite venue for doing author/illustrator programs.

Photo of David Hyde Costello by Jeanne Birdsall
Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your work?

At one time David Milgrim, Jeff Mack, Aaron Becker and I would meet about once a month for a picture book writers’ critique group (till David Milgrim moved closer to Boston). Each of them is insightful in a different way about picture books, so there are any number of ways their comments — and just hanging out in that group and hearing what they had to say to each other — influenced my work. Here are two specific examples that are easy to point to. There’s a line in Little Pig Joins the Band where Little Pig asks if there are any piccolos among the musical instruments on hand, and his sister Sally tells him to look in the refrigerator. That joke was written by David Milgrim. So was the last line in that book: “You can call me Little Pig!”

Do you have a favorite book that is set in, or is about, the Pioneer Valley or New England?

That would have to be the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.

Why did you write your new book?

One reason was that I was interested in making a book in which the problem was low-stakes in the grand scheme of things, but mattered a lot to the central character. The climactic crisis in Little Pig Saves the Ship is that the toy ship he and his grandfather made together might be lost in the current of the stream. In the big picture, the worst outcome wouldn’t really be that bad, but it mattered a lot to Little Pig. I was interested in the scale-model grand adventure that children experience with their toys.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

Do audiobooks count? I listen to a lot of them in my studio — I’ve noticed that’s true of many illustrators — and in the car on long drives to the schools I visit. I recently enjoyed listening to The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, read by Patricia Connolly, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, read by LaVar Burton.

What was your favorite book growing up?

Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel

Recent Books by David

  (see all his books)

David's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

Frog and Toad All Year
by Arnold Lobel


"It’s still one of my favorites! And I can also appreciate it now from the point of view of craft. 'Christmas Eve,' the last story in the book is among the best seven pages in children’s literature."
The Birchbark House
by Louise Erdrich


"A recent discovery for me. How can I describe my love for this book? I bought a stack of copies so that I could give one to anyone I know who hasn’t read it yet. Want one?"
The Arrival
by Shaun Tan


"I don’t know a better example of the marriage of form and content."
Guns, Germs, and Steel
by Jared Diamond


"Well-reasoned, logical, and rational, but also imaginative. It asks the question, 'Why is the world the way it is?'"
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen


"What could be better on a rainy day?"

November – December 2017

William Taubman



Interview



How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

Although Amherst is a wonderful place to live and write, it is Amherst College that has had the greatest impact on my writing. It has allowed me to teach what I want when I want to, to write at a pace that suits my projects rather than to produce publications according to some rigid schedule, and to let me test my ideas out on talented undergraduates who approximate the general readers I try to write for.

What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The bike path in Amherst and Hadley. I try to ride it every other day, sometimes stopping to view the meadows and smell the flowers, often just pedaling down to Station Road and back.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

I’ve written all my books in a small faculty study in Amherst College’s Frost Library. I love being able to wander in the stacks outside my study looking for books I need and, when they're not available, I can obtain them quickly either from one of the other four college libraries in the Valley or via inter-library loan.

Local Author Spotlight - Taubman - Photo with Credit
Why did you write your new book?

Although I am by training a political scientist specializing on the USSR/Russia, and political scientists don’t often write biographies, I found my way in the 1980’s and 1990’s to writing a biography of Nikita Khrushchev, which turned out to be the most satisfying project I had ever undertaken. I settled on Mikhail Gorbachev as my next subject because other Soviet leaders were already “taken” by other biographers (Lenin and Stalin), or didn’t seem fascinating enough (Leonid Brezhnev), and because Gorbachev continued and vastly extended Khrushchev’s reforms by seeking (against overwhelming odds it turned out) to change his country and the world for the better.

Learn more about William Taubman and his books at williamtaubmanbooks.com.

Recent Books by William

  (see all his books)

William's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

"Anatoly Chernyaev was Mikhail Gorbachev’s closest aide both when Gorbachev was in power and afterward. Chernyaev’s diary, covering the period from 1972 to 1991, is both an extraordinary inside account of Kremlin politics and a pleasure to read. Excerpts from the diary are available in English in his book, My Six Years with Gorbachev. [NOTE: This book is not currently available in the C/W MARS consortium.]

Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel taught me much and made me weep.

Isaac Deutscher’s Stalin: A Political Biography was the book that, more than any other, inspired me to major in Russian history in college, to concentrate on Soviet politics in graduate school, to embark on a career as a teacher/scholar of Soviet/Russian affairs, and to end up writing biographies.

I don’t read enough fiction, but recently I read and particularly liked Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See — for its simple, almost minimalist approach to the violence and war."

September – October 2017

Rich Michelson



Interview



How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

The literary atmosphere that suffuses Amherst can’t help but be inspiring; being surrounded by so many writers (at various times I have been handed poetry chapbooks from the person bagging my groceries, the person writing me a parking ticket, and the person picking up my recyclables) can keep the competitive juices flowing, while at the same time being totally nurturing.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

I used to regularly get detention in my high school library after various misdemeanors — and it is there I became intrigued with literature. I even used that memory in my book Busing Brewster, where Brewster is introduced to the world of reading by the librarian, after his own hallway fight.
Rich Michelson
Do you have a favorite book that is set in or about the Pioneer Valley or New England?

So many, but since I just loaned my copy of Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky, I will mention that one. I’ve also loaned Julius Lester’s Lovesong on numerous occasions (and I’ll note both authors were Jones Library Sammy Awardees).

Why did you write your new book?

I have 3 “recent books,” all written for different reasons. More Money than God, because poetry serves my soul. Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy, because Leonard was a dear friend, and I wanted people to know who he was beyond the Spock persona. And most recently, The Language of Angels: A Story about the Reinvention of Hebrew, because it is an incredible tale; a dead language, unused for over 2000 years (aside from prayer), brought back to daily use within a generation by one man with a dream. Imagine having to invent words for everything that didn’t exist — bicycles, ice cream, libraries — when Hebrew stopped being in daily use. This book combined so many of my interests — politics, history, Judaism, and most of all, a love of language.

What was your favorite book growing up?

As a child, I looked forward to the Sunday comics (I didn’t fall in love with picture books till I was well into “adulthood"). As an older teen and young man, Crime and Punishment.

Recent Books by Rich

  (see all his books)

Rich's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

"Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was the first “serious” book that I could not put down, and it opened up my world, appealing to my young man’s conflicted thoughts of invisibility and grandeur. The psychological and moral considerations remain absorbing with each rereading. And keeping with the Russians, Anna Karenina, for the literary reason that I met my wife in a Tolstoy class, and I still managed (barely) to pay attention to the text.

Open Closed Open by Yehuda Amichai is the book of poetry I keep in my car’s glove compartment, and his Collected Poems graces my bedside table. A master of metaphor, to me he is the pre-eminent poet of both love and war, mixing the personal and historical in a way I try to emulate in my own poetry.

And lots of favorite books by locals, but since so many are my friends and I can’t list them all, I’ll leave it here."

July – August 2017

Madeleine Blais



Interview



What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The Bike Path: where else can you get blue herons, beavers, and turtles all in one place?

Do you have a special library memory or story?

I grew up across the street from the public library in Granby. Its hours of operation were Tuesday and Friday, from two to five and seven to nine. When the librarians, Miss Winifred Fiske and Miss Gertrude Taylor, saw that I was an insatiable reader, they used to put aside the new books so I could have the honor of being the first in town to read them.

Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your writing?

Holly Davis deserves a shout-out for starting a book group in the early eighties and inviting me to join in around 1990. (I am still one of the new girls.) The women in the group are all brilliant and far better readers than I am: heaven!
Madeleine Blais
Why did you write your new book?

I always say writers write the book they want to read. More specifically, I find that whenever I am in turmoil about something, it usually is a subject worth pursuing. Mixed feelings = material. In the case of To the New Owners (to be published on July 4, 2017), in the summer of 2014, I felt sadness and anger at losing a house that had never actually been mine. What was that about?

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

I am reading Alice McDermott’s new novel, The Ninth Hour (forthcoming), to review for The National Book Review, on online publication run by Liz Taylor, an MHC alum. McDermott combines seemingly simple, intensely thoughtful word choices with close-ups of the kind of people and places that might otherwise be ignored. I think she must have imbibed James Joyce’s Dubliners with her mother’s milk.

What was your favorite book growing up?

So many, but at the top of the list is The Secret Garden, featuring a cross, sallow, sullen young girl orphaned in India when cholera wipes out everyone in her orbit, including her self-absorbed parents as well as all the servants she abuses verbally, and then she is sent to live in the middle of nowhere with relatives in England who want nothing to do with her. Now that is an example of a character forced out onto the far end of a frail branch at the top of tree which is pretty much swaying in a Force Five Hurricane.

I want to add here that I didn’t start reading until the first grade when I six years old. In those days, Granby did not have a kindergarten and by the time I got to school I was raring to go. The first book I remember loving was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss, which we read in a circle and one lucky child got to wear a hat.

Recent Books by Madeleine

  (see all her books)

Madeleine's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)

"All of these books take you to obscure, easily overlooked worlds that, in the absence of the author’s insistence to the contrary, would otherwise go unnoticed. They combine some of the elements I love most in a piece of writing: forlorn or lonely landscapes, the search for identity, great emotional struggles among easily dismissed people, childhood as a time in italics, and the question of how to help someone who is struggling. I should say that despite or perhaps because of the subject matter, these books also offer from time to time a welcome dose of wry humor."

April – May 2017

Cammie McGovern



NOTE: Cammie was the recipient of the Award for Local Literary Achievement at the 2017 Samuel Minot Jones Awards!

Interview



What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The Jones! Because libraries have always been the most affordable place to go to find both peace and quiet and also feel like my day is full of possibilities.
Do you have a special library memory or story?

Right after my oldest son was diagnosed with autism, I repeatedly visited the “Disabilities” section of the library and read books of the floor of the basement while my son napped in his stroller. Shattered and unable to imagine entering this world, I couldn’t even bring myself to check the books out. I sat there and quietly read my way into some understanding of what this meant and what we were up against.
Why did you write your new book?

When I began writing for children and young adults, I wanted to put characters with disabilities at the center of my stories because I don’t think we see enough of them in books or popular culture (though I do think this has gotten better recently). The more we demystify this experience, I believe, the more successful inclusion education will be. I wrote Chester and Gus from the point of view of a service-dog dropout because I believe dogs have so much to teach us about communicating without words and conveying love in unspoken ways. Though I wasn’t aware of this as I wrote, I think Chester reminds me of myself after my son was diagnosed: powerless, mystified, and completely focused on a child I loved and wanted to help. Chester makes sense of Gus slowly, over time, much the way I did.
What was your favorite book growing up?

I loved books that were either very funny or very dark. So Phantom Tollbooth and Harriet the Spy were at the top of the list, but Diary of Anne Frank was right up there as well. I also (oddly enough) loved books about disabilities and disease: Flowers for Algernon, Karen, David and Lisa.
Cammie McGovern - Photo by Ellen Auergarten

Recent Books by Cammie

  (see all her books)

Cammie's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr


"Haunting portrayal of war through children’s eyes"
The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate


"Best story ever told from an animal’s point of view"
(children's book)
All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven


"Stunning depiction of bi-polar disorder"
(young adult book)
The Sun is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon


"Terrific and timely book about an immigrant on the cusp of being deported, falling in love on the day before she has to leave"
(young adult book)