Spurred by her recent appearance in the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 anthology, and a general buzz among my co-workers, I picked up an advanced copy of Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife. I finally finished it late last night, purposefully reading slower as the last pages approached and the back half of the book grew thinner and thinner. I turned off the lamp and just sat in the dark, thinking about it, re-working each plot point and trying to remember the last time a book really got at me so intensely. The Tiger's Wife is the finest work of magical realism I have read since I greedily poured over Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school. Like Marquez, Obreht packs an embarrassment of riches into her work. Each chapter of the book is like a Russian nesting doll, revealing smaller and more wondrous stories, each character contains multitudes. Esoterica abounds, and every flashback is full of old-world mysticism and ancient rites largely forgotten in our modern times.
Over at Salon.com, Laura Miller wrote an interesting article about the gender gap in literature. Her article is a wonderful mix of hard data and educated guesses, with just a touch of well-informed opinion to get the juices flowing. You should read the article yourself, but, if you don’t have the time, I’ll try to explain it quickly: women are underrepresented in the world of literature. Fewer books are reviewed by women, fewer female authors get their books reviewed, and fewer female authors get their books published, and all of this despite the fact that women read more books than men. Those are the facts as put forth by Miller, and those facts have remained true for as long as anyone has thought to ask those questions.
Congrats to Amber Deitrich, winner of our Valentine's Day Story Contest. Amber's entry, which I can only guess is a true-life email/craigslist exchange between possible paramours, encapsulates the essence of being young and living in Austin in the 21st century. Plus, it mentions BookPeople, so we love it. Thanks to everyone who entered.
Valentine's Day is on Monday, and we're in the mood for a good story. Any bookstore-related tales of love out there? Wandering amongst the stacks, you and a certain someone reach for the same book at the same time, bumping hands and then making eye contact... you stare deeply into each other's soul. Now you're married and have a bajillion kids...something like that.
If you made a resolution to read more, and don't particularly care for novels, then we have the book club for you: Stranger Than Fiction Book Club (STFBC) has been around for about a year and a half and we are rapidly expanding the type of non-fiction we are reading to include cultural studies, memoirs and true crime, which is in addition to science, business and psychology. Basically, if it really happened and it's told in a fascinating manor then we want to read about it.
2011 is well under way, and I for one think it’s gonna be great. I’m a sucker for the beginning of a new year. I make resolutions, take inventory of my accomplishments, acknowledge and forget my shortcomings, and then I start looking forward to all the great books I’ll be reading over the next twelve months. It’s a great time, and I’m blessed, thanks to advanced readers from incredible publisher rep’s, to get a little head start on my 2011 reading. I’ve compiled a short list of what has caught my eye so far. I should be clear that, with the exception of Open City: A Novel, Galore, and The Tiger’s Wife I haven’t read any of these books, this is simply a list of anticipation. My Pavlovian juices are flowing even thinking about them. Here are some of the titles I’ll be looking forward to in 2011:
Craig McDonald has created one of the most interesting series characters in recent years with macho crime fiction writer Hector Lassiter, "the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives". On Wednesday, January 26th, at 7PM we'll be discussing one of the best in the series, Toros and Torsos, that finds Hector swept up in several killings inspired by surrealist art. The book covers four periods of Hector's life that tie into history: the 1935 Key West hurricane, the Spanish Civil War (where the fascists used surrealists to design torture chambers), his stint as a rewrite man for Orson Wells' Lady Of Shanghai ( occurring at the same time as the “Black Dahlia” murder), and post-revolution Cuba.
To enjoy most celebrity memoirs, you must first be a fan of said celebrity. Oftentimes, that doesn't even help. But in the case of country music singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell's Chinaberry Sidewalks, all that's required is a love of a really exceptional story. Raised in Houston in the 1950s and 60s, Crowell's early years are a crazy mix of hilarious and harrowing, his introductory chapter a remembering of pointing a loaded rifle at his father in order to break up a party when Crowell was only 5 years old. His was a childhood rife with dysfunction, so that even the lighter moments are imbued with a certain degree of tension. By the same token, his was a family filled with humor, so that even the darkest moments have a certain hum. To put it a different way, if Rodney Crowell's family hadn't existed, Flannery O'Connor would have had to make them up... and then Johnny Cash would have had to sing about it. Instead, Johnny Cash's former son-in-law sings his own songs and writes his own story, and it is as solid a story as you may read this year. I'd also recommend having Crowell's album “The Houston Kid” along as a sort of soundtrack. This is a story of love and remembrance, of struggle and survival, of family and forgiveness. Both wild and winsome, Chinaberry Sidewalks is a must read.
In the 90's it was the thing for all comedians to get a TV pilot and four out of five failed pretty miserably because, well, they weren't funny. Now that that fad has passed for the most part, it seems to be if you're a person of humor, you need to write a book of humor (and it's much more cost effective than 30 minutes of prime time air space and all the cast and crew that goes along with it). But, unfortunately, it still seems that four out of five really aren't that funny, or at least, not consistently funny over 200+ pages. The typical comedian's book goes like this: Intro, stand up routine, memoir, stand up routine, memoir, stand up routine, memoir, etc. It's the memoir part that tends to feel like filler, while the stand up routines are often recycled material or just devoid of the delivery that comedians work so hard to perfect. Not surprisingly Patton Oswalt's new release Zombie Spaceship Wasteland follows the same format, but manages to have a much worthier outcome. The comedy bits are hilarious. Patton follows his knack for description by adding new light to old standards like Dungeons & Dragons, Vagabond comics, and Werewolves and Lollipops' movie punch up bit. While satisfyingly entertaining, it's actually his memoir bits that offer the most reward. A good memoir should be equal parts reflection, self-searching and storytelling. Growing up in a suburban 80's Virginia that catered zilch to his personal geekdom left Patton with a hunger for substance and frustration with mediocrity that only the long road and his still-blooming career has been able to appease. Oswalt's reflection shows such clear hindsight how small events can encompass an entire upbringing, making him the rare comedian/philosopher that can see through the meaningless fluff the world often chokes on. He's basically George Carlin for geeks. Ultimately, you have to respect a man who can blend the insult "You're going to miss everything cool and die angry" with references to Blade Runner and the Pixies and top it off with an alliterated fart joke. Patton Oswalt will be at BookPeople on Saturday, Jan. 15th at 2pm to sign copies of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. --Nolan Fellows
I like making lists, and I like reading lists, so let’s add another one to the year-end pile, shall we? I have the fun and enviable job of booking fascinating authors to come to BookPeople. And while nearly every author and event is great, some really stand out. Here are my ten favorite author events from 2010. 1. Justin Cronin – The store fell in love with Justin’s amazing book The Passage, and we were all a little nerdy around him when he was here, wanting to know any hints or spoilers about the next two books. And while we didn’t get any of those (drat!), we did get to talk with a funny, smart, and really cool dude. During his event, he was interviewed by Cyndi Hughes from the Writers’ League of Texas, and that interview format made for a really interesting conversation about not only his book but the art of writing itself. Also, Justin did an impression of Cyndi Lauper, and you can never go wrong with that. 2. Dave Eggers – What can you say about this guy? Passionate, witty, and totally inspiring, the staff (and customers) could have talked with him all night. He even came by early the next morning to sign extra books before the store opened. During the event, he invited fellow McSweeney’s author (and former BookPeople employee) Bill Cotter to read from his book Fever Chart and also had Annie La Ganga crack us all up with her poetry. For teachers, publishers, booksellers, or anyone wanting to make the world a better place, listening to and talking with Dave is a great place to start. 3. Condoleezza Rice – I never would have predicted how much I loved this event. Dr. Rice’s political views are nowhere near my own, so I wasn’t prepared for how much her personal story and love of her parents would resonate with me. She mesmerized the audience with stories about growing up in Birmingham, and how her parents molded her into the woman she became. I could have listened to her talk for hours. 4. Karen Valby – Everyone I know should be blessed enough to also know Karen Valby. Author of BookPeople favorite Welcome to Utopia, Karen is one of those people who constantly makes you giggle. And then, she drops the double whammy of also having a huge heart and beautiful way of writing. Her event was filled with friends and people from Utopia, and I loved every minute of it. 5. Sarah Silverman – This woman is just hysterical. But, even better, she is also incredibly nice and genuine. After reading from her book, then signing for a couple hours, she even agreed to tape a video message to a couple BookPeople staffers who couldn’t be there. I’m pretty sure every single one of us (men and women) left the store that night with a crush on Sarah. 6. Anthony Bourdain – This was the second time I’ve gotten to meet Tony, but the first time I was lucky enough to host him at the store. And, let me tell you, this was the BIGGEST reading we’ve ever had. Nearly 800 people packed themselves onto the second floor to listen to him talk about food, traveling, and Yo Gabba Gabba. Watching Tony interact with his fans was amazing, and seeing BP staff members lose their cool around him was even better. 7. Cherie Currie – This event didn’t happen at the store. We were called out during SXSW to sell books at giant show where Cherie was promoting her memoir Neon Angel. And, in true rock star fashion, the event was anything but typical. Instead of a reading, Cherie chainsaw sculpted a denim jacket out of a giant log. I am totally not making this up at all. It was amazing, and I was covered in a fine layer of sawdust by the end of the day. She was sweet and unassuming while talking to you, but you better watch it when that chainsaw gets going! 8. Luis Urrea – There have been very few events where I have nearly cried from laughing. Luis’s event for Into the Beautiful North was one of those. Not only is his writing lyrical, but it’s also hysterical and so is he. With slides from his trips to Mexico and fake postcards, Luis won me over for sure. 9. Adam Richman – From his Bugs Bunny silly bands to his three-piece-suit, Adam dressed to impress. But what was the most impressive to me was how he interacted with each and every one of his fans. A lot of authors do a smile and hello, but Adam had a conversation with everybody. Discussing everything from where to eat in Austin (Azul Tequila, Casino el Camino) to watches, no topic was off limits and everyone left having a great time. Including me, as I went straight over to Casino el Camino for an Amarillo Burger. 10. Jimmy Carter – I have been lucky enough to host both President Carter and President Clinton before, so I knew what to expect from this signing; crazy security procedures, tons of people, and a very precise timeline. But when you get to deal with arguably the sweetest former President ever, none of that really matters. President Carter is known to have the quickest signature in the book business (he signs 1000 books in an hour – just 3.6 sec per book), but he also takes the time to talk to everyone. The world is lucky to have him, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet him. I hope that some of you remember these events fondly as well. We have another killer events calendar lining up for next year, so watch out for fabulous authors stopping by. And, if you haven’t been to an event here before, what are you waiting for?! --Alison Kothe Nihlean I like making lists, and I like reading lists, so let’s add another one to the year-end pile, shall we? I have the fun and enviable job of booking fascinating authors to come to BookPeople. And while nearly every author and event is great, some really stand out. Here are my ten favorite author events from 2010. 1. Justin Cronin – The store fell in love with Justin’s amazing book The Passage, and we were all a little nerdy around him when he was here, wanting to know any hints or spoilers about the next two books. And while we didn’t get any of those (drat!), we did get to talk with a funny, smart, and really cool dude. During his event, he was interviewed by Cyndi Hughes from the Writers’ League of Texas, and that interview format made for a really