Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Boswell Events: Neal Stephenson, Alexandra Petri, Margaret Lazarus Dean, Maggie Messitt, Jennifer Morales at Washington Park Library, Plus Matthew Thomas Next Week (and Last Minute Axelrod Signing Details).

As you may have heard, we are co-sponsoring a signing for David Axelrod, following his sold-out conversation with Mike Gousha. It's being held at Eckstein Hall on the Marquette campus. We expect the signing to start as early as 1:15, though it's likely to start more like 1:30. If you are planning to get a book signed, we'll have copies, but we may sell out of course. And you can bring your copy from home as well. Just remember that signings have no end times; when they are done, they are done. We may have signed copies of Believer following our event.

Due to our special event with Neal Stephenson, Boswell will be closing to the general public at 6 pm on Friday, June 5.

Wednesday, June 3, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Margaret Lazarus Dean, author of Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight:

One thing I have realized from hosting events over the years is that if Valerie Laken recommends an author, the book will be well-written, the author charming and accessible, and the experience will be rewarding. For my five minutes that I talked to Dean at Winter Insitute last February (has it been three months?) I can vouch for all of the above.

We're also excited to note that this event is co-sponsored by Spaceport Sheboygan. If you're a space junkie (like Dean is), you must know about this place, right? Straight from the asteroid's mouth, "Spaceport Sheboygan is a non-profit, science education facility. With hands-on exhibits and actual NASA artifacts there is a unique blend of educational and entertaining opportunities for students of all ages. Live science shows discuss what it is like to be in space and has demonstrations that will entertain."

Here's a little more about the book. In the 1960s, humans took their first steps away from the earth, and for a time our possibilities in space seemed endless. But in a period of austerity and in the wake of high-profile disasters like Challenger, that dream has ended. In early 2011, Dean traveled to Cape Canaveral for NASA’s last three space shuttle launches in order to bear witness to the end of an era. With Dean as our guide to Florida’s Space Coast and to the history of NASA, Leaving Orbit takes the measure of what American spaceflight has achieved while reckoning with its earlier witnesses like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci. Along the way Dean meets a range of colorful characters, including NASA workers, astronauts, and space fans. Part elegiac history, part travelogue, and part memoir, Dean makes what we have lost become clear: not only jobs, or scientific exploration, but the shared dream of spaceflight.

Goodness, Dean is in good company by winning the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize. Previous winners have included Eula Bliss, Kevin Young, and Leslie Jamison, who was recognized for The Empathy Exams, which went on to be a national bestseller.

Thursday, June 4, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Alexandra Petri, author of A Field Guide to Awkward Silences, in conversation with WUWM Lake Effect’s Mitch Teich.

I've had quite the learning curve on Alexandra Petri's first book of essays. While I do get a feed from the Washington Post, I hadn't connected that she was the daughter of recently retired Congressman Tom Petri. And it was only on talking to Mitch Teich (a big fan of her work) that I found out I wasn't pronouncing the family name correctly. I know you think a bookseller is supposed to be knowledgeable but honestly, you know a lot about a very narrow thing (publishing, author preferences on posed photos, which schools like to do author visits) and then very little about many things (who is related to whom, how to pronounce things).

A Field Guide to Awkward Silences. Most twentysomethings spend a lot of time avoiding awkwardness. Not Alexandra Petri. Afraid of rejection? Alexandra Petri has auditioned for America’s Next Top Model. Afraid of looking like an idiot? Alexandra Petri lost Jeopardy! by answering “Who is that dude?” on national TV. Afraid of bad jokes? Alexandra Petri won an international pun championship. Petri has been a debutante, reenacted the Civil War, and fended off suitors at a Star Wars convention while wearing a Jabba the Hutt suit. One time, she let some cult members she met on the street baptize her, just to be polite. She’s a connoisseur of the kind of awkwardness that most people spend whole lifetimes trying to avoid. If John Hodgman and Amy Sedaris had a baby…they would never let Petri babysit it. In A Field Guide to Awkward Silences, Petri is here to tell you that everything you fear is not so bad. Trust her. She’s tried it. And in the course of her misadventures, she’s learned that there are worse things out there than awkwardness—and that interesting things start to happen when you stop caring what people think.
ere's more about

In addition to being a blogger and columnist for the Washington Post, Petri is International Pun Champion (I'd like to see her face off with Lauren Fox), a playwright, and a Jeopardy! loser, and also does stand-up comedy. Our events with Lake Effect are always terrific, and as bonus, your guffaw could wind up on WUWM, but if it's really embarrassing, I'm sure Mr. Teich will edit it out.

Friday, June 5, 7 pm, at Boswell:
A Ticketed Event with Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash and Seveneves
Tickets are $36, available on Brown Paper Tickets, and include a copy of Seveneves. We will not sold out of this event at this time.

One great thing about going to Book Expo with Jason is that we talked a lot about books with lots of people. As a devoted reader of Neal Stephenson, Jason is quite fluent in the entire body of work. I learned that while this is sort of dystopian novel (scientists race against time to save humanity after the moon explodes), Stephenson sees it as an antidote to dystopian novels. The thing to note is that Seveneves can be deconstructed to be "Seven Eves", the women who repopulate the world into seven new races.

Here's Jason Kennedy's recommendation of Seveneves "This could well be Neal Stephenson's best work to date, equal parts Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. An event occurs that leaves humanity on the brink of extinction with very little time on the clock to attempt to survive. Most writers would start well after the event and leave out all the important how parts, the parts readers want to know, like how does civilization continue or barring that, humanity. The leaders of Earth hatch a harsh plan to save humanity; nothing is easy and survival is not assured, but there is true heroism in the early pages of this novel as humanity has to learn to live in a foreign environment without the cozy confines of atmosphere or terra firma. To say this was a great novel does not do it justice; Stephenson creates a breathtaking take on the catastrophic ending of the world and the saving of the human race. Then he brings it full circle, leaving me completely in awe."

Mary Ann Gwinn interviewed Stephenson for the Seattle Times. She writes: "Reading a Stephenson book takes some effort, but the rewards are legion. A member of a family of engineers and scientists, Stephenson loves technology and cryptography, physics and genetics. He grasps concepts that we all live with but only dimly understand."

Here's Jason Sheehan talking about the book on NPR: "The experience of reading a modern Stephenson novel is like going out drinking with 20 or 30 of the smartest people on earth, and them all deciding to play that game where someone starts a story, tells one sentence of it, ends with a conjunction, and passes it along to the next person. Once upon a time, the moon blew up, and then ..."

Neal Stephenson, a writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in Seveneves, a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable. As he did in Anathem, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, and Reamde, Stephenson explores some of our biggest ideas and perplexing challenges in a breathtaking saga that is daring, engrossing, and altogether brilliant.

Prepare to be dazzled!

Saturday, June 6, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Maggie Messitt, author of The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa

Please join us for an enlightening afternoon event with immersion journalist Maggie Messitt, who will talk about and sign copies of her latest, The Rainy Season, a work of engaging literary journalism that introduces readers to the remote bushveld community of Rooiboklaagte, opening a window into the complicated reality of daily life in South Africa.

Just across the northern border of a former apartheid-era homeland sits a rural community in the midst of change, caught between a traditional past and a western future, a racially charged history and a pseudo-democratic present. Maggie Messitt’s The Rainy Season tells the stories of three generations in the Rainbow Nation one decade after its first democratic elections. This multi-threaded narrative follows Regina, a tapestry weaver in her sixties, standing at the crossroads where her Catholic faith and the AIDS pandemic crash; Thoko, a middle-aged sangoma (traditional healer) taking steps to turn her shebeen into a fully licensed tavern; and Dankie, a young man taking his matriculation exams, coming of age as one of Mandela’s Children, the first academic class educated entirely under democratic governance. Home to Shangaan, Sotho, and Mozambican Tsonga families, Rooiboklaagte sits in a village where an outdoor butchery occupies an old petrol station and a funeral parlor sits in the attached garage. It’s a place where an AIDS education center sits across the street from a West African doctor selling cures for the pandemic. It’s where BMWs park outside of crumbling cement homes, and the availability of water changes with the day of the week. As the land shifts from dusty winter blond to lush summer green and back again, the duration of northeastern South Africa’s rainy season, Regina, Thoko, and Dankie all face the challenges and possibilities of the new South Africa.

From Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost: “Whether safari travelogues or tributes to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, what most Americans read about South Africa is far more superficial than Maggie Messitt’s gritty vision of the country. In the tradition of writers like James Agee and Katherine Boo, she has immersed herself deeply in the everyday lives of people struggling with AIDS, early death, corruption, false promises, grinding rural poverty, and the daily struggle to make ends meet in a society that tourists and most foreign correspondents never see. This is a profoundly compassionate book that truly takes you inside the lives of those in it.”

also happening on Saturday, June 6, 2 pm, at the Washington Park Library, 2121 N. Sherman Boulevard:
Jennifer Morales, author of Meet Me Halfway,Milwaukee Stories.

Fresh from her tour of the top ten most segregated cities in the United States (really), Morales returns to town for an encore presentation of her collection that follows a group of locals, Black, White, and Latino, young and old, gay and straight, as they navigate the misunderstanding and prejudices of modern life, and sometimes, just sometimes, learn a little bit more about each other. I wrote in my recommendation: "With each interaction between neighbors, teacher and student, coworkers, or two folks at a minor car accident, there's a moment when tempers could flare, but instead of fighting, these characters aim for understanding. It's not that the racism and sexism isn't there, it's that the folks in Meet Me Halfway fight on with dignity, in spite of the prejudices out there, for knowledge, equality, and a voice."

And don't forget about next week on Monday, June 8, 7 pm:
Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves.

One of the most lauded novels of 2014 is now out in paperback. We'll be reading We are Not Ourselves for our in-store lit group in July and encourage groups to pick Thomas for their 2015-2016 reading schedule. It will definitely be on our list of recommended titles that Jane and I will be discussing on June 10 (when we host Emma Hooper, but that's another event). Are Not Ourselves was shortlisted for both the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and the James Tait Black Prize, longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, and nominated for the Folio Prize. It was named a Notable Book of the year by The New York Times, one of the fifty best fiction books of the year by The Washington Post, one of the ten best fiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly,one of the five most important books of the year by Esquire, and one of Janet Maslin’s ten favorite books of the year in The New York Times.

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on how much alcohol has been consumed. From an early age, Eileen wished that she lived somewhere else. She sets her sights on upper class Bronxville, New York, and an American Dream is born. Driven by this longing, Eileen places her stock and love in Ed Leary, a handsome young scientist, and with him begins a family. Over the years Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house. It slowly becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper, more incomprehensive psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

We are Not Ourselves was also called first great literary novel set in Queens, according to Jon Podhoretz in The New York Post. To see if that was true, Jason and I visited Astoria Bookshop, where we talked to the booksellers there about their favorite Queens novels and story collections. I'm hoping to feature those on another blog this week. Meanwhile, we'll be serving egg creams, one of my favorite New York drinks.

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