Monday, June 8, 2015

How Could We Say No? A Dazzling Array of Authors at Boswell This Week: Matthew Thomas, Michael Bowen, Emma Hooper, Mark Dostert, Peter Schilling, Jr., Steve Fiffer and Adar Cohen, James DeVita and Patricia Skalka.

Monday, June 8, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves.

This is a big deal! One of the best reviewed first novels of 2014 is now out in paperback, and he's coming to Boswell tonight.

Maggie Scarf in The New York Times Book Review: "Amazingly, however, We Are Not Ourselves isn’t ultimately depressing. Written in calm, polished prose, following one family as its members journey through the decades in an American landscape that is itself in flux, it’s a long, gorgeous epic, full of love and life and caring. It’s even funny, in places — and it’s one of the best novels you’ll read this year."

From Helen Dunmore in the (UK) Guardian. We Are Not Ourselves was nominated for the Guardian First Novel Award: "Like John Updike in the Rabbit series, Thomas concentrates on the lives of ordinary Americans, for whom a serious illness can be an economic catastrophe as well as a drain on time, care and love. If the pension requirements have not been quite fulfilled, or the insurance status is doubtful, they face ruin. Eileen is intensely aware of every dollar. She claws anxiously at the American dream, determined to send her son to a good school and to move into a better house. The fear of her neighbourhood turning 'bad' haunts her. Eileen and Ed are far from poor: he teaches at a college; she becomes a senior nurse. They seem to prosper, but their hold is precarious. Thomas shows, very subtly, the shift from the more communal life of Eileen's childhood, with all its harshness, to the intensely separate and tiny nuclear family which hides its anguish within the walls for as long as possible."

And finally, here's a review/profile in Irish America from Tom Deignan. In this excerpt, Matthew Thomas writes about Alice McDermott: "After high school, Thomas flew off to the midwest to study English at the University of Chicago. By then he was a devoted student of literature and had the transformative experience of reading the novels of Alice McDermott, whose beautiful novels Charming Billy, That Night, and (most recently) Someone explore terrain similar to Thomas’s. “She is one of our great living, working writers. It wouldn’t surprise me if she won the Nobel Prize someday,” Thomas said, becoming animated. No surprise, then, that he wanted to attend John Hopkins University in Baltimore, where McDermott teaches creative writing. Thomas said McDermott was not only an amazing teacher, but an even better person. “There’s no way to exaggerate what a decent human being she is. I get choked up thinking about it.”

One thing about McDermott's works is that they are on the slim side. That's why I call Matthew Thomas's We Are Not Ourselves Alice McDermott on steroids. To celebrate the New Yorkishness of the story, we're serving egg creams, the quintessential New York soda.

Tuesday, June 9, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Michael Bowen, writing as Hillary Bell Locke, author of Collar Robber: A Crime Story Featuring Jay Davidovich and Cynthia Jakubek.
This event is co-sponsored by Literary Services of Wisconsin. Michael Bowen will be donating royalties from this organization that educates, motivates, and inspires engaged adults to achieve greater independence and transform their lives.

From the publisher: How can you make money from a painting that you don't own, can't steal, and couldn't fence even if you succeeded? What if you convince people you already had stolen it? An assortment of shady and brutal players in Collar Robber think that-leaving a corpse or two along the way-they can use that bright idea to gouge fifty million dollars from Jay Davidovich's employer, Transoxana Insurance Company. Davidovich, first met in 2012's Jail Coach, is a Loss Prevention Specialist. Fifty million would be a good loss to prevent. Cynthia Jakubek from But Remember Their Names has jumped from the gilded drudgery of lawyering with a big Wall Street firm to the terrifying adventure of starting her own solo practice in Pittsburgh. One of her clients wants to help Davidovich-for a hefty price-and stay alive in the process. Another wants to get married in the Catholic Church to a fiancee who was briefly wed years before to someone who now has an interest in the painting. An annulment is needed. As Davidovich and Jakubek face brawls on street corners and in court rooms, confrontations in brothels, confessionals, and Yankee Stadium luxury suites, and Tasers, machine guns, and religious vestments used as weapons, they have to remember that "take no prisoners" isn't always a metaphor.

Wednesday, June 10, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Book Club Night, with Emma Hooper, author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James.

Prior to our event with Emma Hooper, Jane and I will be presenting our favorite book club titles for summer and beyond. Our featured author, Emma Hooper, of course is on the list for Etta and Otto and Russell and James. We've had great enthusiasm for the book, both from Jane and Jen. And while we do numerous private book club presentations, we haven't done a public one in several years.

Here's the recommendation for Hooper's novel from Little Bee Chris Cleave: "Etta and Otto and Russell and James is incredibly moving, beautifully written and luminous with wisdom. It is a book that restores one's faith in life even as it deepens its mystery. Wonderful!"

Isabel Berwick offers the background on Emma Hooper's novel in The Financial Times: "Etta and Otto and Russell and James was fought over by five publishers and eventually sold for a reported six-figure sum. The excitement comes from its (now highly bankable) quirky, offbeat charm: this is the latest in a rapidly emerging genre that might be termed “elderly-escaper-lit”. First there was Allan Karlsson, who runs away from an old people’s home into a world of criminal adventure in Jonas Jonasson’s word-of-mouth hit The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (2009). Then came Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012), in which an elderly man sets off to post a letter to a former colleague and ends up walking to the other end of England to deliver it in person." Berwick goes on to compare Hooper's work to Wes Anderson, offering that the story has a "sweet, redemptive message."

Jane and I will talk for about 20 minutes about our favorite book club titles, which will be followed by a presentation by Emma Hooper. Registered book clubs will get 10% off that evening, not only on their selected titles, but on also on possible future picks.

Thursday, June 11, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Mark Dostert, author of Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago's Other Side.
This event is co-sponsored by Cream City Review.

Mark Dostert chronicles his life as a prison counselor to juveniles, intending to hold Bible study meetings while attending the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. But life at the Audy Center turns out to be not quite what he planned for. Danette Chavez discusses the book in Literary Chicago. Here's an excerpt.

"The inmates, or residents, to use another one of the facility’s terms, are mostly impoverished children and teens under 17, who have been accused of misdemeanors and/or felonies. They are from the “other side” of Chicago, which can refer to multiple neighborhoods in the city, as well as Alex Kotlowitz’s award-winning 1991 biography, There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America. In it, Kotlowitz chronicled the lives of Lafayette and Pharaoh Rivers, two brothers who grew up in the Henry Horner Homes, a crime-ridden public housing project in Chicago."

"Dostert acknowledges Kotlowitz’s seminal work in his memoir, which is kind of a companion piece; it’s full of vignettes from the lives of children and teenagers, with similar backgrounds, who weren’t able to steer clear of a life of crime. Although he begins his year-long stint with the requisite (for the genre) intention to make a difference as an attendant, he soon learns that “home,” “attendant,” and even “children” are just euphemisms—he’s less a counselor than a prison guard. He is at turns optimistic and defeated in his work, relying upon both his naïveté and physical stature to make it through the eight hour shifts that require him to conduct body searches, monitor despondent inmates, and dispense punishment."

"And that’s what ultimately helps this book break the “white savior” mold: Dostert admits to failing both the residents and himself. His race and socioeconomic status render it impossible for him to relate to the residents’ background. The Audy Home administration fails to give him the proper training, if there is such a thing, to build any kind of relationship. Early on, he acknowledges the irony of referring to a structure that holds involuntary residents as any kind of “home,” and that’s when he—and the reader—knows he will never have the vocabulary to communicate with the Audy residents, let alone effect any real change in their behavior."

The Cream City Review will offer a short introduction, talking about their writing in prison program and their fall issue, which will focus on the subject.

Friday, June 12, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Peter Schilling, Jr., author of Carl Barks: Average American

Comic books were as important to the brand of Disney as film and television in its day And no comic book writer and illustrator was as influential to that mythos as Carl Barks, who wrote and illustrated a large portion of the Donald Duck comics, inventing many of the ancillary characters that were later used in other media, most notably Scrooge McDuck.

Schilling talked to Greg Hunter at The Comics Journal. Here's a taste: "The person who has never read a Donald Duck book is really the audience that I’m trying to reach more than anything. If you’re interested in amazing stories—whether you like comics, novels, movies—I think the Donald Duck comics are very universal. Anyone can pick them up. There’s virtually no baggage other than people’s resistance to Disney . . . and maybe adults saying, “Well, I don’t want to be seen on a bus reading a Disney book.” The comics I chose [to write about] highlight Carl Barks’ storytelling skills and his art, but they also reflect this incredible character of Donald Duck. I liken him to actors in Hollywood’s golden age—Cary Grant—in that he’s a personality that wears a ton of different hats, and part of our enjoyment is in watching that personality be thrust into different situations. That would be my pitch for people that have not read them."

Donald Duck is now considered the seventh best comic of the 20th century. Here in Boing Boing, Schilling discusses what may be considered Barks' finest story, "Lost in the Andes."Critics such as Thomas Andrae have examined "'Lost in the Andes' and argued, quite effectively, that it possesses acidic criticisms of the capitalist system, that it deftly skewers the 'myth of the explorer' and colonialism, while also managing to hold a mirror up to the closemindedness of preindustrial cultures, albeit ones that have been essentially colonialized. Like any masterpiece, 'Lost in the Andes' means many things to many critics, each one finding something new with every reading. But it is also a story about eggs."

Saturday, June 13, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Steve Fiffer and Adar Cohen, authors of Jimmie Lee and James: Two Lives, Two Deaths, and the Movement that Changed America.
This event is co-sponsored by the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee.

In the early months of 1965, the killings of two civil rights activists inspired the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, which became the driving force behind the passage of the Voting Rights Act. This is their story. Days earlier, a Marion state trooper, claiming self defense, shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, an unarmed deacon and civil rights protestor. When activists across the nation came to make the march to Montgomery, a Boston minister named James Reeb was attacked by racist vigilantes. Jimmie Lee and James attempts to give readers a deeper understanding of the events that galvanized an already-strong civil rights movement to one of its greatest successes, along with the herculean efforts to bring the killers of these two men to justice.

Last weekend at Printers Row Bookfest, Steve Fiffer and Adar Cohen were joined by Reverand Joseph Ellwanger and Paul Adams, participants in the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, in a panel moderated by Chicago Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton. You can watch the discussion on C-Span.

From Julian Bond, Chaiman Emeritus of the NAACP: “In Jimmie Lee and James, Steve Fiffer and Adar Cohen bring to life a watershed moment in our nation’s history. This is a must-read for all who care about the fight for civil rights and the right to vote, then and now.”

More on Jimmie Lee Jackson, profiled in the National Civil Rights Museum website. And here's the piece in The New York Times five years ago, with Jackson's shooter pleading guilty in 2010, 45 years later.

Sunday, June 14, 3 pm, at Boswell:
James DeVita, author of A Winsome Murder, and Patricia Skalka, author of Death at Gills Rock.

It's an afternoon of Wisconsin Whodunits featuring journalist Patricia Skalka and American Players Theater actor, playwright, director James DeVita.

In James DeVita’s first mystery a grisly murder in a pastoral Wisconsin town, Winsome Bay, proves to be only the opening act in a twisting, darkening series of gruesome deaths. Acclaimed already for his young adult fiction, DeVita now debuts an addictive, adult thriller that takes us from Chicago’s underbelly to the Wisconsin woods. In this fast-paced novel we meet a gorgeous waitress with a haunted past, an author juggling a failing career and motherhood, and a hard-bitten detective with unexpected inspiration from William Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays—and nobody escapes the nightmare created by a psychotic killer of women.

In Patricia Skalka’s latest, Death at Gills Rock (the sequel to Death Stalks Door County), park ranger and former Chicago homicide detective Dave Cubiak is elected Door County sheriff. His newest challenge arrives as spring brings not new life but tragic death to the isolated fishing village of Gills Rock. Three prominent World War II veterans who are about to be honored for their military heroics die from carbon monoxide poisoning during a weekly card game. When one of the widows receives a message claiming the men “got what they deserved,” Cubiak realizes that there may be more to the deaths than a simple accident.

Of Death at Gills Rock, Booklist wrote that "Skalka captures the gloomy small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger." And this from Library Journal on A Winsome Murder: "Author DeVita has created an exceptional villain and a fascinating and complicated mystery told in a gripping manner. As the story spools out, we observe the progression of many lives unfolding. A solid choice for Sean Chercover and Laura Lippman readers and noir fans."

Monday, June 15, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Ron Legro and Avi Lank, authors of The Man Who Painted the Universe: The Story of a Planetarium in the Heart of the North Woods. Photo of Ron Legro and Avi Lank at Arcadia Books in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

The Man Who Painted the Universe is the inspiring story of the Wisconsin stargazer who tirelessly and single-handedly built a 22-foot rotating globe planetarium in the middle of nowhere, despite failures and collapses, financial roadblocks, and public ridicule. Amateur astronomer Frank Kovac Jr. first dreamt of reaching the stars as a boy in Chicago. As an adult, the U.S. Air Force veteran painted his dreams come true in 5,000 points of glowing light. Today, Kovac takes visitors along with him to the stars every day in his unique planetarium.

Though this is their first book collaboration, the authors should be well known to longtime newspaper readers. Ron Legro is former reporter, columnist, and editor for the Milwaukee Sentinel. His writing has appeared in Milwaukee Magazine, Corporate Report Wisconsin, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and he has also been a speechwriter for numerous public officials and the director of telecommunications for the City of Milwaukee.

Avi Lank is an essayist for Milwaukee Public Television and panelist on the Interchange program for Milwaukee Public Television. He was a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Milwaukee Sentinel and later the Journal Sentinel.

Also, don't forget our co-sponsored event for Emily Nagoski's Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. It's on Wednesday, June 10, 8:30 pm, at the Tool Shed at 2427  North Murray Avenue. For more information, contact them at (414) 906-5304.

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