Friday, November 28, 2014

Straight Chatting from the Library: Sandra Hurtes

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Sandra will be awarding a copy of her book in the winner's choice of either print (US only) or digital to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Thanks for stopping by The Library to chat, Sandra. What is the favorite book you remember as a child?

For my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, my Uncle Benjamin gave him a silk prayer shawl and embossed prayer book. I was nine, and my uncle didn’t want me to feel left out. He gave me a large book of children’s folk tales. The book had a royal blue velvet cover and thick, glossy pages with colorful paintings. One of the reasons I loved it so much was that most of my books came from school or the library. This book, which I kept in its white box when I wasn’t reading it, was mine. My favorite story was the one about the girl who wears a yellow ribbon around her neck to keep her head from falling off. The end was absurd, shocking and yet totally believable.

What is your favorite book today?

My favorite book is Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Her story of Chinese American women navigating complex relationships with their Chinese mothers, hits a deep chord with me. I’m Jewish, born in America, and had an Eastern European mother who lived through a war and had a very hard early life, as had the mothers in Tan’s books. My mother and I were bonded by a deep love that was complicated by our different cultures and experiences.

Tell us about your current book in 10 words.

An introspective and honest quest to find my life’s purpose.

Do you have any bad book habits?

In order to stick with a book, I have to get pulled in immediately. Usually that means a voice that grabs me. I just read The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve read Carolyn Knapp’s Drinking A Love Story several times—as a writer, to study her technique, and as a reader mesmerized by her prose.

If two pages in, I’m not hooked, that’s it. I hope other readers are more patient than I am.

One book at a time or multiples?

Because I’m an English teacher, I have to read a variety of books or essays at a time. I choose readings that I like so that it’s not a chore to read what my students read. One of my favorite books to teach is Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. I teach it for the story of soldiers during the Vietnam War and also because it’s beautifully written.

But…a big but…when I’m seduced into a thriller (Nicci French’s Blue Monday) or a compelling relationship story (Lisa Glatt’s a girl becomes a comma like that), I finish it in two sittings and nothing gets in my way.

Dog-ear or bookmark? (don't worry—Librarian Judith won't hold it against you—much)

I’m a sucker for bookmarks. They bring out the little girl in me who loved the public library. Bookmarks made me feel grown up; today they make me feel young.

When do you do most of your reading?

Because I teach several classes, pleasure reading is in-between spaces in my day, like on the train or while stopping at a café. But I love to arrive early to a yoga class, spread out my mat and read before anyone arrives. I also read curled up on my loveseat, midday on Saturdays. I used to read in bed, but lately I get too sleepy.

Re-reader or not?

I’m a big re-reader. As an adolescent I loved the Double Date series by Rosamond du Jardin. Her books were about teenage twins, Penny and Pam. Reading them twice was like visiting with friends. My next big re-read was when I was twenty and read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I fell in love with the idealistic protagonist Howard Roark.

Some people say, “there are so many books in the world, why read a book over”? I feel a sense of comfort visiting characters I know. Also, it’s fun to see the clues along the way that I missed the first time.

What would make you not finish a book?

Unlikeable protagonists make it impossible to finish a book. If it’s memoir, if the writer blames others excessively, I get turned off. It’s true that many people have had awful circumstances. Writing is the balm. But I want the writer to move beyond the events. I want to know, “How did you recover? What steps did you take?” Then I learn something.

In fiction, the same goes. I need to be on the side of a character and want the best for her or him. If after several pages, or even chapters, there is no one likeable, I put the book down.

This is an issue I think about a lot, since I write memoir. I’m the protagonist; I hate to think others see me in a bad light. But, then, to write to that concern would skew the honesty of the work. In revisions I strive to move past the events described and answer the questions: what do I make of this? Where do I go now? How do I get there?


". . .[an] honest memoir full of compassion and wit that infuses ordinary events with intimacy and intensity. . .Teaching college English courses and preparing her first essay collection, she must address her own pain. . .as well as her parents' experiences during the Holocaust. . . Writing as art and psychological salvation is at the heart of this book, taking "readers deep below the surface" of words toward personal vindication.”

~~Publishers Weekly


Some people call moving through life without a plan “acting on faith.” I moved without a plan because of bona fide fear—fear that I would live out my whole life within the landscape of that twenty-seven-year apartment. It held memories of all I had and hadn’t achieved, along with my deepest grief for my mother. I must have been really scared, because I don’t move easily about the world. In fact, when the [graduate school] acceptance letters came in (and everyone but Missoula said yes), I chose the graduate program built on Manhattan concrete.


Sandra Hurtes is the author of The Ambivalent Memoirist and the essay collection On My Way to Someplace Else. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and this legacy is examined in her work. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the English Department at John Jay College and teaches creative nonfiction in private workshops.

Website ~ Blog

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  1. Dear Librarian Judith,
    The library has always been one of my favorite places in the world. Thank you for hosting me. I look forward to chatting with readers.