Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Motifs That Recur in James King's Bill Warrington's Last Chance (event is 11/19), How They Recall Other 2012 Favorites, and Our New Book Club Brochure is Almost Done.

If you follow our event calendar closely, you'll note that there is something that we've been doing semi-regularly that is missing from the Boswell fall calendar.  For the last few seasons, I've been taking a sleeper paperback novel and pairing it with a short book club presentation.

This fall we had an idea in mind but the booking never came together. Then I got all frazzled by our other fall events. And then Stacie mentioned to me that a customer noticed that our book club brochure still said spring-summer 2011. If I were smart, I'd stop dating them.

The sharing the spotlight thing doesn't work for every author. If the author is popular enough that we're going to get a crowd without me pitching other books, there's no reason for me to be there. And because we don't want the program to run too long, the author has to be ok with only talking/reading for 15-20 minutes instead of the usual 30-45. So nothing this fall, but I hope to have a nice program in the spring.

Regarding the book club picks, there's an art to that as well.  It's not necessarily 23 books that I like.  Why 23? Because that's what fits on a brochure.  Though more book clubs are choosing hardcovers, we're still trying to focus picks on paperbacks, to be fair to our customers who choose printed books, and this quandary warrants a whole blog. Short stories are tough, as is non-narrative nonfiction. Mysteries and science fiction/fantasy, even the more speculative mainstream stuff, have more limited markets for this kind of discussion. And honestly, so are really long books, though that doesn't stop me from trying. In fact, I try to break all these rules, but not with every book on the list.

Alas, there were a few books that would have worked for this kind of thing. Mary François Rockcastle's In Caddis Wood was one, though I was a bit suspicious of getting a crowd on a Friday night without the momentum I had going in with Julie Orringer. And this Saturday's talk/reading with James King, author of Bill Warrington's Last Chance, was another opportunity I didn't catch until it was too late.

King's novel fell in into my lap through the efforts of Yen in publicity, who inquired about an event with King on Saturday, November 19, 2 pm (we accepted!) I had really not noticed the book in hardcover, but I was intrigued, particularly by the really dramatic jacket change from hardcover to paperback. It was like the story had spent a week at a spa and came out with "softer, younger looking skin" as every other commercial on Lifetime seems to promise.  "Oh, and make me a little like Little Bee, orange and silhouette-like."

So Bill Warrington is not really in great shape. He's living alone in Lakewood, Ohio (a town the author knows well), with dishes and leaves piling up, respectively, in the sink and the yard. His wife passed away some years ago from cancer, and whatever relationship he had with his three kids is in pieces. Mike is a salesman, Nick a travel writer, Marcy a real estate agent. But their lives aren't going along swimmingly, and sadder than that, they don't get along particularly well with each other.

Marcy is also having trouble with her daughter April, who'd like nothing better than to skip town and become a rock star in San Francisco. And in hanging around with her grandpa, whose memory is begining to prove more and more erratic, she hatches a plan to do just that. And Bill? He's got his own plan; this escape is going to get his family back together.

It's funny how novels can play off each other in your head. Like Rebecca Makkai's The Borrower (which will likely be on this list in paperback), two semi-kindred sprits escape from a family situation, but the road trip doesn't exactly help the situation, at least in the short term. And like Alice Laplante's Turn of Mind (another book that I hope to have on our book club list), Mr. King features a character with developing Alzheimer's, not only trying to get into his head, but also into the heads of his loved ones.

And there is something akin to Little Bee as well; King has put together some pretty unlikable people. You read a book with one Sarah--how about one with five? I get folks complaining about unsympathetic characters all the time, but how many years did you watch Seinfeld?

As the story continues, the secrets of the family come out. Why is Mike mad at his father? Why is Nick resentful of his brother, albeit in a somewhat veiled manner? Why are men and women so awful to each other, and if that's the case, why do people wind up together anyway? And just to show you that the book skews young in at least one way, like many raunch film comedies, I have never quite seen so layered with meaning in a recent novel that was not apocalyptic.  There are three different projectile scenes in all, and each one resonates differently.

Here are the quotes  the publisher is using and why they are interesting:

Booklist: "Part road odyssey, part coming-of-age tale, King's novel achieves the exact right balance of humor, redemption, and reconciliation."
We had Keir Graff, who writes for Booklist, do a school visit yesterday, and we had a great book discussion while I drove him to the Amtrak station. And yes, there is a key scene in Bill Warrington's Last Chance that is set at Amtrak.

Sue Monk Kidd: "Perhaps the best thing you can say about a novel is that the story lingers after you finish it. I have gone on thinking about this one without trying."
That's it! I think the hardcover jacket reminded me of The Secret Life of Bees a bit.

Sue Grafton: "This is what reading is about and what a good book is supposed to do."
Not sure I would compare King to Grafton, but it's timely to include this as V is for Vengeance came out Tuesday, November 15 (in post terms, yesterday).

I'll be presenting to a Racine book club after our Saturday program. Come pick up one of our book club brochures (we'll probably have a link to this online eventually, but this blog post is too long already), and don't forget, I'm happy to set aside time to speak to your book club at Boswell.

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