Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thinking About Another Chicago Author I Should Have Requested Formally Leads to Our In-Store Lit Group's Selection for July

More penance. I have not been more vocal about our in-store book club selections. I know that it's going to take a year to build a decent-sized book club, but we're not going to get there if I don't promote them. On Monday, June 1st at 7 PM, we're reading Hillary Jordan's Mudbound. It's a book I've gone on about at length, and I hope it makes for a decent discussion.

But what to do about July (that would be the 6th). It seems time to start reading books freshly for the club, with an occasional reread, as, after all, I read most books in advance of publication, which is still usually hardcover. Note to editor: please fix this sentence.

So I return to my other penance, of reading Chicago authors that I should have been more aggressive about chasing down for events.

Today's obsession? Aleksandar Hemon. We hosted Hemon for several of his books at the Downer Avenue location. They seem like books I would like, but somebody else always took control and the books didn't wind up at the top of my pile.

Who am I kidding? I am a lazy schlump.

Hemon has three collections of short stories, the most recent of which is his newly published Love and Obstacles. That's the book I read, because as a bookseller, it's advance copies that we really have access to, not the older books. Most use Hemon's backstory as a jumping point, a Bosnian man leaving Sarajevo for the U.S. and finding himself in wartime exile. The stories jump off in so many different directions that it's much like reading traditional poetry (and by this I mean not free verse) in that you have a very tight structure but within this structure you can still do just about anything. Terrific and powerful and I have to read more.

Next up for me is likely his kingmaker work, The Lazarus Project, his first novel, which nominated for the National Book Award. It has the Bosnian immigrant yes, but it ties him to an Eastern European, gunned down in 1908 Chicago, during fears of a budding anarchist movement. Cathleen Schine says in her New York Times review:

"Some writers turn despair into humor as a way of making the world bearable, of discovering some glimmer of beauty or pleasure or, most important, humanity. In contrast, the gifted Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon has taken the formal structure of humor, the grammar of comedy, the rhythms and beats of a joke, and used them to reveal despair."
I really need to read this, and I really have to be more serious about making a solid pitch for Mr. Hemon in the future. And maybe, maybe, Penguin will have read my "how to do Milwaukee on a budget from Chicago" posting and be inspired to send Mr. Hemon here.
Hey, I have an idea. We're officially reading The Lazarus Project for our July 6th (at 7 PM) in-store lit book club.

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