Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Event Post--Could There be Anything More to Say About Jonathan Lethem Tonight? Yes, Plus Also David Kalis on Saturday, July 5

It's still sort of Summerfest break, but we do have two events this week. I'm going in opposite of chronological order, just to make sure you see the info about David Kalis on Saturday. I'm afraid the Jonathan Lethem is going to be a bit of a ramble.

Saturday, July 5, 2 pm, at Boswell:
David Kalis, author of Vodka Shot, Pickle Chaser: A True Story of Risk, Corruption, and Self-Discovery Amid the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

For David Kalis, graduating from college was a matter of course, but figuring out what to do next with his life turns into a paralyzing decision. Always pressured to be a high-achiever, he can do anything-but from corporate conformity to graduate school confinement, no choice feels right. On a whim, he decides to travel to the Soviet Union. His loose plans call for a thirty-day tour of Leningrad, but after finding himself caught up in the middle of a coup d'etat attempt that destabilizes the country, he ends up staying abroad for two and a half tumultuous years.

From surviving perilous run-ins with the Russian mafia and the Soviet military, to searching for his lost heritage in a remote village, Kalis finds that the road less traveled can lead to unexpected adventure, and that looking backward sometimes provides the best insight into how to move forward. Kirkus Reviews writes: "His first-person account of life in the Soviet Union at the tail end of the Cold War provides depth that history texts cannot. Well-written and absorbing, his memoir will appeal to general readers as well as those with an interest in Eastern Europe.A personal look at the disintegration of the Soviet Union, experienced through the eyes of an occasionally callow, but always likable, young man."

And now for tonight's event, Monday, June 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jonathan Lethem, author of Dissident Gardens which we also have in hardcover.

At this point, I think you get it. Jonthan Lethem is coming to Boswell tonight. You've read the reviews, the interviews, my blog post about walking through Sunnyside Gardens.

So Jason and I were having this interesting conversation about Lethem, mostly because it seemed like we just had so many different kinds of Jonathan Lethem books, but somehow, in all the backlist that seems all over the store, I somehow forgot to bring in his The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Jason assured me that folks coming to this event would probably not be requesting that title, and I thought, why is that?

This moved into a conversation of Jonathan Lethem's varied interests and how not every Lethem fan will read his entire body of work. Jason much prefers speculative stuff, which explains why he was a bigger fan of Chronic City than I was. And then I realized that the last time Lethem came to Milwaukee was also for a non-speculative book, for You Don't Know Me Yet. So will his speculative fans still come out to see him for a non-speculative book? I guess we will find out.

But classifying Lethem (photo credit John Lucas) as an author who writes novels, some of which are speculative and some of which are not, only scratches the surface of his writing. And so I bring to you the many moods of Jonathan Lethem, vaguely in chronological order, all of which we do have in stock (meaning I'm not including Philip K. Dick, thought we do have a lot of Dick backlist, which I think Lethem would applaud.

1. The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye (1996, Harvest, though I assume it will change to Mariner if it is reprinted). This story collection is full throttle science fiction/literary mashup. As the publisher notes, a dead man extends his stay on earth to support his family but the result is a zombielike existence, while in another story, basketball players where exosuits that lend them the skills of former superstars. Lethem is big enough that if he wants to publish stories, his stories get published. Apparently his next collection, A Different Kind of Tension (editor's note: it's now called Lucky Alan), is due for publication in 2015.

They Live: A Novel Approach to Cinema (Soft Skull, 2011). Lethem looks at John Carpenter's 1988 film, which the publisher calls a calssic amalgam of deliberate B-movie, sci-fi, horror, anti-Yuppie agitprop. Lethem alternates minute-by-minute analysis of the film with short essays on everything from "The Black Guy and The White Guy, Together Again for the First Time" and "Ghoul Motivation." This series does what 33 1/3 does for music. Which brings us to...

3. The Talking Heads: Fear of Music. (Bloomsbury Academic, formerly Continuum, 2012). Once again, Lethem writes an essay about each song, punctuating this journey with questions (and answers) to whether Fear of Music is a New York album, a science fiction album, or a work of paranoia.

4. The Ecstasy of Influence (Vintage, 2011). Life is more than music and movies, though those topics are covered here, in this collection of everything from liner notes, essays, memoir, short fiction, and criticism that in the best way, comes together to form a self portrait. National Book Critics Circle finalist and New York Times notable, there's probably no better recommendation than David L. Ulin's in the Los Angeles Times: "I love this book." He goes on to say other stuff too.

5. Fridays at Enrico's, by Don Carpenter (Counterpoint, 2014). Lethem's most recent collaboration (there are many) is finishing this autobiographical novel. Lethem writes in the afterword of how he discovered Carpenter while working at Moe's, the Berkley Bookstore where one of his duties was to mark down the dead fiction. He read one of Carpenter's novels and then went back and read his first novel, A Hard Rain Falling, proclaimed them both classics, and spent the next few years trying to find the author, only to find that he had taken his own life in 1995.

Did Lethem write the introduction for the new edition of Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust? Yes. And Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle? Yes again. And Vivan Gornick's Fierce Attachments? Once again, affirmative. The list goes on and on. Does he have an imprint at New York Review of Books Classics or something?

If there's ever been a writer out there that should have a bookstore, Lethem fits the bill. I'd only worry that all that work would stop him from writing and reading, and we wouldn't want that.

Hope to see you at the event tonight.

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