Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Spotlight on Remarkably Bright Creatures! - New Virtual Event is Monday, July 11, 7 pm

And now, a few enthusiastic words about the debut novel from Shelby Van Pelt. We had a great in-person event for Van Pelt in June, but we were unable to broadcast it. The great news is that we're now going to host Van Pelt virtually as part of our Readings from Oconomowaukee series. She will be in conversation with Lisa Baudoin and me.

Last week at our event for Mirror Lake, one of the Juneau Blacks (Jocelyn Cole) noted that she was really excited about the book Remarkably Bright Creatures, as one of the narrators of the story is an octopus. And I mentioned how great it was to hear that, as the author of Remarkably Bright Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt, was visiting us the following week. This is the kind of enthusiasm we’ve seen for this debut novel, which was just named the May selection of the Today Show Read with Jenna Book Club. The book was edited by Helen Astma - I love this line in the acknowledgements: “Helen, you have a knack for pruning out the weak parts and letting the narrative shine.”

So interesting – Michelle Huneven was just talking about what it was like to work with her editor Virginia Smith Younce – Huneven had previously worked with great line editors, but Younce was particularly adept at visualizing the whole book and really helped improved the narrative. So for those critics who say that editors are merely acquisition machines, I would say that in many cases, authors say otherwise. 

The plot is simple – three narrators. Tova is a 70-something janitor at the local aquarium, widowed but still supported by her social group the Knit Wits, though numbers have dwindled. Also telling the story is Cameron, who lives with his Aunt Jeanne, and alas, has once again lost a job, which doesn’t keep him in good stead with his girlfriend. Nagging at him is what happened to his mom and dad. He’s got ideas about who his dad is, and that becomes his quest.

In a lot of ways, the book reminds me of Eileen Garvin’s The Music of Bees, a hit for us in 2021 and an even bigger success for our friends at Next Chapter, not just because of its thematic links, but because of the Pacific Northwest setting (though it’s partly in Northern California) and a connection with nature. And going back a little further, I’m thinking about The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, which was also centered in Washington State and also was from an animal perspective, though I guess we’re more used to dog tales than those of cephalopods.

If you really want a nonfiction recommendation that ties into Remarkably Bright Creatures, you must consider The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery. Van Pelt thanks Montgomery in those same acknowledgments, noting that Soul is “engrossing, heartwarming, and frequently hilarious.” If you like Montgomery’s books, I am happy to report that a new one has just released, The Hawk's Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty. I should see if Montgomery would want to do a virtual event with Schlitz Audubon after our event with Jack E Davis for The Bald Eagle. (Register here) Schlitz Audubon hosts both eagles and hawks!

Say you wanted to commune with an octopus. Where would you go in Milwaukee? It turns out that the Milwaukee Zoo is the home to more than one Giant Pacific Octopus. The most recent addition is Chalupa. More here

I would like to once again return to Search because I am still coming off the high of that day of events – you can watch one of our event recordings here – and also because, like Huneven’s Search and Jamesland before it, Remarkably Bright Creatures is a straight on example of my favorite kind of book genre, what I call lost souls/found family. Now sometimes these kinds of books are derided as corny, as Alexis Burning notes in her wonderful Washington Post review. But I guess I now know that when confronted with this criticism, I have a strong comeback – pish, posh!

I read and loved Remarkably Bright Creatures several months ago, but don’t worry, I will read it again by Friday, when I will be talking to Shelby Van Pelt. Due to bookseller enthusiasm, Van Pelt is visiting a few other places outside her Chicago environs, including Arcadia in Spring Green, Edmunds Bookshop in Washington State and An Unlikely Story in Massachusetts. If you’re south of us, you can also check our her May 12 event at Lake Forest Bookshop. The current list of events is here. And yes, we’ll be broadcasting ours, so you don’t have to be in Milwaukee to enjoy the interview. I should note that we might have someone here taking photos of the event for an upcoming piece somewhere, so we'd love a nice crowd!

By the way, that's another nice connection between Shady Hollow and Remarkably Bright Creatures - a good puppet tie-in.
Register for our virtual Readings from Oconomowaukee event at shelbyvanpeltmke.eventbrite.com.

Photo credit: Shelby Van Pelt by Karen Forsythe

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