Monday, March 18, 2013

An Amazing Lineup of Authors at Boswell This Week--Bayard Godsave, Aleksandar Hemon, Elaine Pagels, Sarah Carr, and Frank Bill (Working Backwards).

This week's events are so massive, I am intimidated by their power. I am not going to miss a one, despite needing a day off. Here's a little more about each.

Monday, March 18, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Frank Bill, author of Donnybrook.

Fresh from his well-regarded short story collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, Frank Bill, who unlike Donald Ray Pollock, is still holding onto his factory job,now has a first novel, Donnybrook, under his belt. It's about a brutal heartland competition, where the winner will pocket $100,000, and the entrants that will do just about anything to get there and win. Kirkus said "Bill is one hell of a storyteller" and yes, there was a little caveat after that, but still.

Stacie's a big fan of the book and she and Paul were really energized by Bill's essay in The Daily Beast, "Is Masculine Writing Dead?"  She and Paul's dialogue (I think they'd both argue "now way", by the way, is a great new column in our sister blog, The Boswellians, called "At the Crossroads of Gender and Literature. I had at least one regular subscriber write back to us and write/shout "Bravo.". Read it here.

And here's an interview with Jeff Glor of CBS News: " I wanted to write a book that shined a bright light on the working and struggling class of the heartland, like war vets, factory workers and crystal meth cooks. But I wanted to do that with an active narrative and an attention to voice and language, by showing the masculine identities of struggling class men who do what they need to do in order to survive"

Oh, and I love that the book comes in red and blue versions!

Tuesday, March 19, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Sarah Carr, author of Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America's Children.

Former Milwaukee Journal reporter turned NOLA resident-journalist returns with a book that looks at the successes and failures of the charter school movement, following a student, a teacher, and a principal. I love these kinds of educational narratives and actually have about 10 of them on my permanent book, including A Hope in the Unseen, And Still We Rise, and Not Much, Just Chillin', which I seem to remember had a connection to Shorewood, though the school followed was in Maryland.

Boswell's Hannah has taken on the mantle of our own educational reporter, weighing in on Carr's new book. "Hope Against Hope is a thoroughly accessible explanation of charter schools in our country told through the true stories of a student, principal, and teacher at three different charters in New Orleans. Carr has written a fair and balanced assessment that is a valuable contribution to our current educational discourse, though I did selfishly wish she had focused on Milwaukee."

The hometown hero grabs the bucket of local media attention this week, with the Shepherd Express Book Preview, an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio with Kathleen Dunn, and a column from Jim Higgins in the Journal Sentinel.  That follows a previous column with Eugene Kane in And here is Carr's essay in The Atlantic on the labyrinthine rules that keep low-income kids from schools.

Wednesday, March 20,  7 pm, at the Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall, 733 N. Eighth St: Elaine Pagels, author of Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, in converation with Mitch Teich of "Lake Effect."

This event is co-sponsored by 89.7 WUWM, The Milwaukee Public Library, and Boswell.

What an honor it is to have Elaine Pagels in town to talk about the paperback edition of Revelations. I have to tell you, when Ben called me about the possibility of this happening, I thought I might have misunderstood. The Elaine Pagels of The Gnostic Gospels? The author of The Origin of Satan? But this was indeed happening and we are very grateful.

The book has received much praise in its hardcover edition. Dwight Garner in The New York Times wrote "One of her great gifts is much in abundance, however: her ability to ask, and answer, the plainest questions about her material without speaking down to her audience. She often pauses to ask things like, “Who wrote this book?” and “What is revelation?” and “What could these nightmare visions mean?” She must be a fiendishly good lecturer." She must be indeed. We will find out, complete with Powerpoint.

Adam Gopnik also gets to the point in his New Yorker essay: "Pagels then shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It’s essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back."

What an amazing speaker! How could you not want to attend this event at Centennial Hall?

Thursday, March 21, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Book of My Lives.

How cool is it that we are welcoming back Aleksandar Hemon to Milwaukee?  I made the pitch last time that Chicago is close enough for Mr. Hemon to do a road trip, and that we would have enough folks at the event to make it worthwhile. Well, I pulled out that plea again, and let's hope we match or event beat the last event's attendance.

The new book is just terrific! It's a collection of essays that form a memoir, some of which you've probably read in The New Yorker, but like the way one story becomes more when it's joined by other like-minded pieces in a collection, the subjects that Hemon writes about--Sarajevo, child gangs, chess, soccer, the loss of his child--become even more power when placed together. This is a work about identity and place, how he lost his childhood home and found a new home in Chicago. Oh, Chicagoans, you will absolutely love this Tribune excerpt, "Twenty Reasons Why Aleksandar Hemon will Never Leave Chicago."

More from Hemon in the Chicago Tribune in this profile, where he notes "'I have to be honest,' he said. 'I don't get excited repeating it anymore, explaining to people how I arrived at this point.' Then he adds, 'But I do like stories, and I do get pleasure from telling a great one.'"

Here's Hemon talking to Scott Simon on Weekend Edition about how the Bosnian War affected his writing: "with the war, there was a different kind of responsibility toward the reality of human experience. In other words, fiction could no longer be entirely fictional. And for that reason, I suppose I developed a different part of my sensibility, which I hadn't had up to that point"

Friday, March 22, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Bayard Godsave, author of Lesser Apocalypses.

Our first alumni reading with book in hand is sure not to be our last. We've been selling Bayard Godsave's stories for almost a year, and we're so excited to be apart of his first national tour, scheduled by his able accomplice, Sarah Marine Godsave (also a Boswell alum). Godsave opened a Joe Meno event when this was still a work in progress, but now we have the celebration of the final product, a book whose jacket is designed by Deep Sea Studios (FOB and Schwartz alum Joe Lisberg.

About the book, Wendy Lotterman wrote in Necessary Fiction: "Drawing on an older definition of apocalypse, these stories are revelations of things hidden. The collection’s title reframes the dominant yet misconstrued idea of apocalypse as an absolute end. Defined by both quality and multiplicity, Godsave’s Lesser Apocalypses are endings whose afterglow quietly haunts the rest of the world that continues.

And Sarah Brewer in Okie Magazine writes: "Shell-shocked survivors populate the fallen world Bayard Godsave constructs in Lesser Apocalypses, his debut short-story collection, but the author renders these characters subservient to the literal and personal destruction that ensues throughout the work."

Here's a recommendation from Boswell's Conrad: "Strung together like pearls on a golden chain, these vignettes into lives both horrid and comical will keep you cruising along with the speed of an intercontinental missle. Bayard Godsave's stories are bleak narratives of lives blasted and charred, sometimes redeemed, sometimes not so much. Bayard's writing is both Spartan and florid (is this possible? well, yes) and he spins out his yarns with an accomplished style that you would expect from a more grizzled writer. We may expect more to come. And, yeah, I'm biased. Bayard is a former Boswell bookseller (Schwartz too) and earned his doctorate from our own UWM. But, who ever said that great things can't come out of Milwaukee?! I mean, other than Harvard Lampoon."

Bayard, when I scheduled this event a long time ago, I didn't know what you'd be up against, knowing that nobody can go to anything, no matter how good the selections, unless of course, I pitched these as weekly book festivals. It would be quite a lineup, no? But maybe the rest of these speakers have more to fear..

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