All posts by Robin Wood

A Note from Judy Blume

Hi Bookfriends,

You know me – I get really excited when I read a first novel that grabs me on the first page and won’t let go. That’s the way it was with Gabe Habash’s Stephen Florida and with our new virtual book club pick Marlena, by Julie Buntin. One of the best parts of running a bookstore is being surrounded by books and authors you may not have heard about yet and knowing that you can share these amazing books with readers before word gets out. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found out that Gabe and Julie are a couple!  We all agreed, we had to get them to Books & Books @ The Studios.

These novels could not be more different yet, in each, the writing sings and the characters are unforgettable. Each deals in its own way with obsession – in Marlena, a friendship – in Stephen Florida, college wrestling.  But the take is so original you feel you’ve never read this story before.

For more on Marlena, read store manager Mia Clement’s review.

If you’re in Key West, join us at 6pm on March 13, when we’ll be hosting Gabe and Julie in conversation (and you can get your books signed.) It makes a huge difference to our visiting writers, their publishers, and to us, when we bring in a good audience. You’ve been great so far.

And while we’re on the subject of events: Save Wednesday, March 21 for a special event with Tayari Jones (author of the #1 bestseller, An American Marriage) in conversation with her publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt. (Spoiler alert – they met in Key West.)

If you’re not in town, read Marlena along with us via our virtual book club and share your pictures, thoughts and questions. We love seeing where you’re reading and hearing what you think.

Once again, thanks for your support.


B&BKW Book Club pick: Marlena

Mia reads Marlena while on a recent vacation in wintry Maine.

More than just a coming of age story, Marlena is a heavy-hitter, confronting life struggles that many of us can relate to – fitting in, alcoholism, divorce, drug abuse and most importantly, living with the choices we make as we grow older. Set in northern Michigan, 15 year-old Cat is drawn to Marlena, who is everything introverted Cat is not, and who Cat would like to become: rebellious, beautiful and loads of fun.

For the first time in her life, Cat is experimenting with alcohol, drugs and boys. Just as abruptly as Marlena comes into Cat’s life, she is taken away. Cat spends the next 10 years trying to figure out the “why’s” and “how’s,” and if there was anything she could have done differently.

This is one of the most memorable novels I have read, a story with the universal appeal of the challenges of growing up, living with regret and moving on. It is not to be missed!

~ Mia Clement, store manager


How the B&BKW Virtual Book Club works

The Books & Books @ The Studios virtual book club is an opportunity for us to share reading experiences, even if we’re not all together in the same place. Read the book (you can get it online here.)

And share your reactions on social media. Make a comment, share a picture, ask a question. Don’t forget to include the hashtag: #bbkwbookclub on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow us on social media and look for the #bbkwbookclub hashtag. Every week, we’ll post new book club content.

Reading Stephen Florida

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash, our first virtual book club pick generated engaged and interesting discussion. A dark and conflicted character, college wrestler Stephen Florida is a fascinating study in idiosyncrasy and obsession.

As part of our online book discussion, author Gabe Habash joined us for a live Twitter chat. Here are some of the questions and answers from that conversation.

Q: It can’t be true that you never wrestled. I mean the scenes are so vivid. Tell me how you knew….

A: I never wrestled before. In addition to reading, I researched mainly with countless hours of YouTube videos of wrestling matches. I’d first visualize the progression of a match, then translate it through Stephen’s warped POV.

Q: Did you also talk to wrestlers and coaches. Or just YouTube?

A: My friend Ian McCutcheon, who’s been involved in the wrestling world his whole life, was also instrumental in making the wrestling aspects of the novel accurate. He’s thanked in the acknowledgements for a reason!

I reworked the wrestling scenes as much as possible through a personal (i.e. Stephen’s) lens, so that a reader with no familiarity with the sport would hopefully be able to identify with them. There are a lot of personal details Stephen divulges during matches.

Q: The choice to highlight a character with such interiority as Stephen at book length is an interesting one. What motivated such a bold narrative choice?

A: I always knew it’d be narrated in first person. In a way it’s like the iceberg idea: so much of Stephen is interior; if the novel wasn’t close to his POV (or if you imagined the story as a movie just seeing Stephen from afar), he’d be nearly silent.

Q: What do I think of Stephen as a character? I want to know every detail. I want to know how his mind works. I can’t stop reading because I have to know.

A: Calibrating Stephen’s “likability” was something I worked on from the first draft. He only once did something I thought went too far. I initially took it out in an early draft, but then it ultimately went back in. I’ve heard a wide range of reactions to his behavior.

Q: Why does Stephen give up his original name over an admin error?

A: Stephen creates his own mythology throughout the story, right down to his name. In part, it’s a way for him to dissociate from the things in his past he’s had trouble with. He severs himself from the outside world at college & becomes someone new.

Q: The names of the classes Stephen took were hilarious. Was it fun to come up with the names and was the random nature of the classes Stephen chose a reflection of him not seeing a future beyond that last meet or something else?

A: It was fun to come up with them. It was fun to take passages from, say, Wittgenstein, and have Stephen try to figure them out, because I certainly will never figure them out! Stephen does seek out “easy” classes but still gets into trouble!

Q: ‏[Can I] ask about the ending?

A: I’ve been asked about the ending more than anything, and I will say that what you think is just as valid as what I think!

Thanks, again to Gabe Habash for headlining our first-ever live Twitter chat. And thanks to everyone who joined us for our first virtual book club pick.

Volunteer Book Pick – Michael Nelson

Michael Nelson began volunteering at Books & Books @ The Studios in the summer of 2016. He has been a librarian at the Key West Public Library for the past three years. Among his other library duties, he coordinates the popular Cafe con Libros reading series.

Before joining the Key West Library, he was a public librarian in Daytona and New Smyrna Beach. He has Master’s degrees in English and library science from the University of South Florida in Tampa, and also serves on the Board of Directors for the Key West Literary Seminar.

Michael recommends Denis Johnson’s recent (and presumably last) story collection, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. He describes it as “an extraordinary final effort from one the best and most influential writers in contemporary literature.” Johnson, who died last year, is the author of the acclaimed works Jesus’ Son, Train Dreams, and Tree of Smoke, which was the 2007 National Book Award winner.

“Doppelgänger, Poltergeist,” one of the stories from the new collection, features a character obsessed with Elvis Presley who believes that Presley’s stillborn twin, Jessie, actually lived and became Elvis after the real one went into the army and was secretly killed. “I realize it sounds like a crazy story,” says Michael, “and it is, but it’s also hysterical and fascinating, bizarre and beautiful and emblematic of much of Johnson’s work. And unlike the hefty, jumpsuit clad Elvis of later years, Denis Johnson never lost his cool.”

Save the Date – Independent Bookstore Day – April 28

Do you love your favorite independent bookstore? At Books & Books @ The Studios in sunny Key West or at more than 500 other local bookshops, join the party celebrating indies April 28.

Independent Bookstore Day is a chance for local bookstores to show off what we do best – connect readers with books and help sustain vibrant communities.

We’ll have some of the exclusive merchandise, created just for Bookstore Day, and, as always good books, just waiting for you.

The 2018 IBD author ambassador Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere, says, “My favorite thing about independent bookstores is that they all have their own distinct personalities: each reflects not just the tastes but also the ideals of its community. From the second you walk in, you get a sense of what the people who shop there know and enjoy—as well as what’s currently on their minds, what they want to learn, and what they value: in short, what kinds of people they want to be. Bookstores are more than just repositories of knowledge, they’re living, breathing, evolving representations of our best selves. I love Independent Bookstore Day because it asks readers, writers, and booksellers to join in celebrating all that bookstores represent. It’s a gathering to remind ourselves that the written word can change both us and the world, and of what’s possible when we all come together.”



Our New Virtual Book Club Pick

Our next virtual book club pick is Marlena by Julie Buntin. This standout novel about friendship and identity has been winning rave reviews.

Until March 10, get 20% off this title in store and online. Online use code “BC20.” Click here to purchase from our online store: Marlena.

Join the book club by reading the book and sharing your reactions on social media. Make a comment, share a picture, ask a question and use the hashtag: #bbkwbookclub on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow us on social media and look for the #bbkwbookclub hashtag. Every week, we’ll post new book club content.

And, if you’ll be in Key West, meet Julie in person when she does a reading and signing event with Gabe Habash at the store, March 13.