Joy for Beginners

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Overview

"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

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Joy For Beginners

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Overview

"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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Following an 18-month cancer battle, Kate just wants to get back to normal. Still, her six friends decide to throw her a victory party. Kate mentions that her daughter has signed up the two of them for a Grand Canyon raft trip next summer. She is terrified at the prospect, but the others think it's a great challenge for her. Oh, really? Kate responds with a challenge for each of them. And so we begin. In seven chapters, we get to know this mostly Seattle-based cohort: who they are, how they met, and why their perfectly synced tasks—from baking bread to taking a trip to getting a tattoo—tap into their vulnerabilities and strengths and make them women we would all want to know if not actually want to be. It's not just another novel about cancer. VERDICT Bauermeister (The School of Essential Ingredients) 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. Highly recommended for those fascinated by fresh fiction. [National tour; online reading group guide; see Prepub Alert, 11/29/10. For another novel exploring similar themes, see also Sarah Strohmeyer's Kindred Spirits, reviewed on p. 94.—Ed.]—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews

A soft-centered celebration of female friendship and endurance follows a group of women facing challenges set by a cancer-survivor.

It's the back stories to the six caring women who supported breast-cancer sufferer Kate through her illness and treatment which form the core of Bauermeister's novel (The School of Essential Ingredients,2009). After Kate accepts her daughter's challenge to go rafting down the Grand Canyon to celebrate being alive, each of the six agrees to do something scary or difficult, with Kate setting the tasks. Divorced bookstore worker Caroline must finally throw out her ex-husband's books, thereby reclaiming her life as well as her shelf space. Potter Daria must bake a loaf of bread, thereby embarking on a love affair. Sara, who has never spent a night apart from her children, must travel, while young widow Hadley, who has retreated to a tiny new home hidden in a green jungle, is tasked with taking care of her garden. Bauermeister's sensuous writing lends her slender, rather sugary (even when sad) material a graceful charm, but the material is never substantial enough, with the character vignettes too short and the liberating outcomes too heartwarmingly predictable.

Toothless. A neatly crafted reworking of a cozy, sentimental formula.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307933089
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2011
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister’s love of slow food and slow life was cemented by her two years living in northern Italy with her husband and children. She has taught literature and creative writing at the University of Washington and currently lives in Seattle with her family. The School of Essential Ingredients is her first novel.

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Interviews & Essays

Author Q&A with Erica Bauermeister

What compelled you to write Joy for Beginners?
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.

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?
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.

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?
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."

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

Which of your characters are you most like?
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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 38 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(19)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 13, 2011

    An Inspiring Novel of Strength and Self Discovery

    This is an inspiring story of how a challenge made by a cancer survivor's (Kate) daughter leads six women to free themselves and discover their individual sense of self. Ms. Bauermeister's message is both hopeful and thought provoking. This book was just as enchanting as The School of Essential Ingredients. A must read that will linger long after the last page!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2014

    read read read

    if you enjoy really good writing with great insight you'll love this book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful imagery and character development

    This story opens at the "victory" dinner for Kate, a breast cancer survivor, who is surrounded by her six best friends in the world who have all come together to celebrate their friend's renewal. Kate tells them that her daughter wants to take her on a white water rafting trip through the Grand Canyon as a celebration of her new life but she is terrified. She agrees to go, on the condition that, during the coming year, each of the women do something "that is new, or difficult, or scary". The one catch is that Kate gets to chose the challenge for each woman.

    Erica Bauermeister reprises her writing style from "School of Essential Ingredients" where she dedicates one chapter to each character's development, allowing the reader to become intimately acquainted with them.

    Ms. Bauermeister has a deep understanding of grief, fear and, ultimately, joy and I found that I could relate with something in each character's story. This is a wonderful tale of friendship and I loved how Kate knew all of her friends well enough to know which challenge would mean the most to each of them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2013

    Read it and go find your joy

    This is a great read, shw says whilw wiping away tears. Kate,whose victory over breast cancer dinner challenges each of her friends to try and do something completely out of character, just for themselves, as they have seen what real strength and love can do for others. And each of them becomes a different person as the tasks are unpacked and joy is found.

    A fairly fast "chick lit" read whose characters will linger for a long time. I read a library copy and will find one for my own library as soon as mt next monetary infusion comes along.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2012

    Nice story

    A very enjoyable read. I loved getting to know the characters as individuals and as a unit. Well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 3, 2012

    What a joy to read.

    What a joy to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Great book!

    Great book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013

    Twoleg place

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Endearing beach read

    This is not your highly literally selection but an entertaining and endearing beach read.
    The characters are well developed as we transition from one chapter to the next. You will learn about these women's connections and friendship as they complete their challenges.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2012

    Incredible story of Empowerment

    Just finished reading this. And, I must say, this is a MUST MUST MUST read for all women. An empowering story of a woman who recently got a clean bill of health from battling cancer and her 6 friends who have rallied behind her as she endured days of chemo and pain. All women decide to do one thing that neither of them have done before and have been to afraid to do. It's a journey to a path of finding your passion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and look very much forward to sharing with my favorite group of ladies.

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  • Posted March 30, 2012

    Another wonderful story by Erica Bauermeister! READ THIS BOOK -

    Another wonderful story by Erica Bauermeister! READ THIS BOOK - you won't be sorry! The characters come to life and stay with you! I cannot wait for Erica's next book!

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  • Posted November 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Terrific

    Getting beyond pain by trying something new. What a beautiful book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2011

    Excellent book.

    This is a truly excellent book. It expresses so beautifully things I have experienced recently, but couldn't express in the right words. Ms. Bauermeister does that. I plan to purchase the author's first book and look forward to more.

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  • Posted July 21, 2011

    A wonderfully lush read

    I received Erica Bauermeister's second novel "Joy for Beginners" as an ARC from the publisher, and was delighted to find that it is, as the title itself offers, a sheer joy to read. Having read and loved her previous book, The School of Essential Ingredients, I had high hopes for this book and am delighted that it delivered. In the prologue, Kate hosts a victory party for her six closest friends to celebrate her cancer survival, and tells them of a challenge by her daughter to do the one thing that she fears most - white water rafting. Her friends make a pact with her to each do one thing that scares them if Kate does hers. Kate agrees, but only if she can choose each woman's challenge. From this point, the book separates into vignettes, each one focused on one of the women as they navigate their way through their individual challenge. In the process, you're able to learn each woman's story and immerse yourself in the character of the moment. Bauermeister allows each character her own space, but uses the thread of the friendship to keep the story connected and tie the entire book together in a satisfying way. The writing is lush and vibrant, with the author seeming to dive headlong into writing each of the varying tasks/challenges with equal passion and intensity. It makes for an enticing read, so that you want to have it go on and on. I wasn't surprised to find out that she herself had actually done some of the things she writes about the women doing for their challenges. She is also careful to leave each woman's story at a point where it has reached a conclusion of sorts, but where you can still feel that there is so much more waiting for them in their lives. Joy for Beginners is a satisfying read that says as much about the power of friendships as it does about living a full life and the satisfaction of taking a risk. Each of the characters learns much about themselves in the course of fulfilling their challenge. Additionally, I loved how much Kate really knew about her friends and how she discovered it all. This is also a great book for book clubs, as there are so many varied discussion points that arise from the story.

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  • Posted July 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Another wonderful book by Bauermeister

    This is another wonderful book by Erica Bauermeister. I love how she takes individual stories and weaves them with words and phrases not typically used to describe surroundings. I just melted into this book.

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  • Posted July 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly recommended for any one who loves tales of friendship

    A group of friends amassed over the years by circumstance with as much diversity as similarities jump over one more hurdle in life. The conquering of Breast Cancer is no small feat and the journey not solitary, so on the night of her victory dinner Kate gives each of the friends that brought her to this destination the gift of a challenge. Each challenge is designed especially for it's recipient, and like many gifts not always appreciated at the time of it's giving. At the onset these women view completing their challenge only to appease their friend, but in the act of doing, each of them will learn something about themselves that otherwise might have stayed hidden. So while Caroline, Marion, Daria, Hadley, Sara and last but not least Ava begin their personal adventure Kate will go on one of her own.

    Erica Bauermeister might be a new author to me but by the end of the first chapter she was a new acquaintance and by the end of her tale a life long friend. I absolutely loved her storyline and being a woman it became very personal to me and as I read it my view of life and friendship changed and deepened. Her use of beautiful descriptive prose in her narrative made me smile and also increased my enjoyment of the read and I found myself looking intently for the next adventure in the novel and how the author's creative words would describe it, I was never disappointed. Her characters are made even more special by the mere fact of their everydayness, their next door neighborness and their best friendness and I found myself jealous of their camaraderie and even their anger over their particular challenge at it's giver. I also found each of the characters portrayed so well that by the end of the novel I was tempted to go out and greet them myself in my own hometown.

    My challenge to you is to not only read this novel but to revel in the friendship, share in the joy and lend a shoulder in their sorrows, to not be afraid to try something new and maybe just a little frightening, but most of all to be the best friend you can possibly be.
    If you cherish beautifully written women's fiction this is a novel that has to be on your must read list.
    Thank you Ms. Bauemeister for an incredible trip and I plan to take another one with you very soon.

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  • Posted June 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Nice women's fiction

    Now that Kate has completed her cancer treatment and is in recovery, her daughter Robin reveals that she has booked Kate for a white-water rafting trip to celebrate.
    Kate's first reaction is to decline. But when Kate's six close friends, who have been her stalwart supporters throughout her illness, gather together to celebrate Kate's recovery, Kate challenges each of them.

    In 'pay-it-forward' style, Kate has agreed to conquer her own fear of rafting if each of her friends is willing to do something they don't want to do and conquer their own fear. The catch is that Kate gets to choose the challenge for each of them.

    We follow Caroline, Marion, Sara, Daria, Hadley and Ava as they each face the one thing they feared the most and learn about each of them along the way, as well as the bond these women have with each other.

    A little predictable, nevertheless JOY FOR BEGINNERS is nice, gentle women's fiction. Lynn Kimmerle

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  • Posted May 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is an entertaining inspirational tale

    In Seattle having won her battle with breast cancer, Kate tells her six friends that she plans to go whitewater rafting though she admits to figuratively needing rubber underwear. She challenges them to try something that they would not want to do; she assigns each of them a specific task. As each woman looks at achieving their respective daunting objective that forces them to look deep inside their fear zone, Kate believes they will gain much by overcoming their trepidations as she learned that life is persistently filled with challenges. Caroline, Daria, Marion, Sara, Hadley and Ava have great doubts about what their friend is demanding from them, but none wants to be the first to say no.

    This is an entertaining inspirational tale in which purposely none of the seven women (and family members) including the catalyst Kate are developed beyond their particular quest and their relationship with others. This enables the message of conquering your fears by swinging the bat rather than not playing to remain the prime focus as the legitimate effort is in some ways more important than the achievement. Readers will enjoy this fine tale while pondering what demon we need to take on.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2011

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    Posted June 13, 2011

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