Monday, September 14, 2015

What's happening at Boswell This Week? Terry Pratchett's Philosophy, Math with Recipes, Tibet Madmen, Border Stories, and Two Evenings with Two Laurens.

Monday, September 14, 7 pm, at Boswell
Lauren Holmes, author of Barbara the Slut and Other People.

We've had two great reviews on Barbara the Slut and Other People.

From Carly Lenz: "Barbara the Slut is just one of the numerous realistically nuanced characters you will come across in this collection of short stories by Lauren Holmes. Each story conveys human emotions, interactions, and relationships that I swear I have witnessed in real life, either from observation or from personal experience. Lauren Holmes has a freshly simplistic voice that can draw humor, poignancy, and intimacy out of her parade of characters with envious ease, and she will leave you wanting to hear more details about their life stories. Barbara the Slut and Other People is a light and honest collection that is a wonderful literary debut.”

From Scott Espinoza: "This is a series of short stories; written in honest, some people would say profane, uncompromising language. Readers may recognize fragments of themselves in more than a few of these character, certainly they will recognize their friends and lovers. Holmes is often brutal in the way in which she relates devastating states of self-awareness...The stories themselves leave you wanting more, needing to know what happens next. The reader may find themselves asking why is this character choosing to live that way, how would life be different for them if they chose deceit instead of honesty, or would the possibility for success exist if this person simply was (were) brave enough to admit the truth, instead of letting the lie remain."

So the good part of school starting is that we can outreach to classes and hope some budding short story writers will attend. The bad part is that both fans have class tonight.

Need more prodding? Here's Eugenia Williamson in The Boston Globe: "I can count the number of pet narratives I’ve enjoyed on one hand. The latest and funniest work of fiction to qualify is 'My Humans,' one of the 10 stories included in Lauren Holmes’s excellent debut collection, Barbara the Slut: And Other People. Narrated by a seven-year-old rescue Lab named Princess, it chronicles, without a trace of mawkishness, the joy, pain, and epic disgust inherent in both young love and pet ownership."

Tuesday, September 15, 6 pm, at the Rare Books Room at Milwaukee's Central Library:
Increase Lapham's induction to the Wisconsin Writers Wall of Fame.

Per Jim Higgins' column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Lapham not only helped public libraries take root here, he also wrote the first book published in Milwaukee, A Geographical and Topographical Description of Wisconsin (1844), Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes report in their biography Studying Wisconsin: The Life of Increase Lapham, Early Chronicler of Plants, Rocks, Rivers, Mounds and All Things Wisconsin.

John Gurda will introduce. Our friends at Woodland Pattern will be selling books at this event. The Milwaukee Public Library is located at 814 W. Wisconsin Ave. There is no charge for street parking after 6 pm, and there's a convenient pay lot across Wisconsin Ave.

Tuesday, September 15,  6:30 pm, at Shorewood Public Library, 3920 N. Murray Ave.:
Lauren Fox, author of Days of Awe.

Did you miss our previous event with Lauren Fox? Now's your chance for a make-up session.

Did you attend, and were you completely enchanted? Please tell your friends who missed this

You should also know that Fox is offering a different presentation for Tuesday's event. Her focus will be more on the creative process.

As you may know "days of awe" also refers to the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which is why we thought it would be a good idea to have the event on the 3rd night, at the end of the New Year celebration (or a day after the end, depending on your beliefs). If you are religious, the sun sets at 7:02 pm, but that also probably means you are not reading this at the moment.

And of course we need to tempt you a little more. Here's Fox's good review in New York Jewish Week, which explores the initial bonds of the friendship explored in the novel: "Isabel had introduced Josie to her husband Mark, her good friend since kindergarten, when Mark Abrams and Isabel Appelbaum found themselves seated next to each other, 'two little alphabetized Jews, dark haired and slightly lost in a forest of midwestern consonant clusters.' 'Happy Yom Kippur,' they would say to each other as a private joke, repeating the greeting that the non-Jews in Milwaukee offered to them since they were kids."

Tuesday, September 15, 7 pm, at Boswell:
James B. South, Susanne E. Foster, and Kevin S. Guilfoy, editor and contributors to Philosophy and Terry Pratchett.

So I had this great idea to tie in our event with three area philosophers with the release of The Shepherd's Crown, but it turns out it wasn't as auspicious day as I thought. For one thing, this is a spinoff kids' series, and for another, the book itself wound up coming out earlier than September 15. It was the audio that was to be released then. And let's just say I'm not expecting a lot of celebration for a $59.95 audio.

Editor and contributor James B. South is associate professor of philosophy at Marquette University. He has edited Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, and co-edited works on James Bond and Mad Men, and has written on comic books, the Beatles, and other popular culture topics.

Contributor Susanne E. Foster is currently the associate dean for academic affairs and an associate professor in the department of philosophy at Marquette University. She has contributed to the journals Environmental Ethics and Philosophical Inquiry, and the anthologies The Crossroads of Norm and Nature and The Philosophy of Joss Whedon. Yes, another Buffy reference!

Contributor Kevin S. Guilfoy is an associate professor of philosophy at Carroll University. His writing also appears in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Lessico Intellettuale Europeo: Medieval Theories on Assertive and Non-Assertive Language, and Logical Analysis and the History of Philosophy. I think the chapter on Buffy was dropped from the final edition.

Want to know more? From Alison Flood's piece in The Guardian: "Edited by philosophy professors and Pratchett fans James South and Jacob Held, the collection of essays examines questions including 'Plato, the Witch, and the Cave: Granny Weatherwax and the Moral Problem of Paternalism', 'Equality and Difference: Just because the Disc Is Flat, Doesn’t Make It a Level Playing Field for All,' 'Hogfather and the Existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard,' and 'the Importance of Being in the Right Trouser Leg of Time.'"

The best part of adapting this into the blog is that you have to change the order of the commas and the quotation marks, being that The Guardian uses British style guides, even seemingly the U.S. division. I'm not one to complain - I think their rules make more sense.

The piece continues: "South, associate professor of philosophy at Marquette University, is adamant Pratchett’s novels 'hold up to sustained philosophical reflection.Pratchett is a very smart man, a gifted writer, and understands as well as any philosopher the power of storytelling and the problems humans face in making sense of their lives and the world they live in,' South said. 'Or, as Death puts it so well: "DO NOT PUT ALL YOUR TRUST IN ROOT VEGETABLES. WHAT THINGS SEEM TO BE MAY NOT BE WHAT THEY ARE." This is a truth that Pratchett relatedly acknowledges and tries to get his readers to acknowledge as well.'"

Wednesday, September 16, 630 pm, at Cudahy Family Library
Liesl Shurtliff, author of Rump and Jack, the true stories of Rumpelstiltksin and Jack and the Beanstalk, respectively.

Sometimes you don't know what you have. We had decent sales for Rump and thus gratefully agreed to host schools and a public event for Liesl Shurtliff. And then when we offered up to schools and public libraries (for the public event), we were a bit taken aback by how many people really love these books. Our friend Cadie at Maryland Avenue Montessori School told me that Rump was teh most beloved book her kids had read last year, and Abbie at the Cudahy Family Library said her patrons were equally enthusiastic. Kids love these books!

The key to Jack, Rump, and Red (which is coming in 2016) is that they are not a series, but companion novels. They are all set in the same world, and characters overlap. Colby in The Nerdy Book Club blog interviewed Shurtliff, who talks a little more about how Jack and Red grew out of Rump.

Shurtliff: "I actually had always planned to do a story for Red from the moment she stepped on the pages of Rump. She’s such a fun and dynamic character and her world seemed so full of magic and mystery, I knew she would have her own tale to tell. However, as I was finishing Rump, I got the idea for Jack, and that turned out to be the logical follow-up to Rump for several reason. He’s quite a fun and adventurous fellow. I can’t wait for readers to meet him."

Nerdy Book Club: "I am a big fan of companion novels. My favorite being Okay For Now the companion to Gary Schmidt’s Wednesday Wars. What companions are your favorites and what do you feel it takes to write a successful companion story?" (Gary D. Schmidt is coming to Boswell on October 9, by the way)

Shurtliff: "I’m also a fan, and generally prefer companions to sequels or direct series (most of the time.) I love Ingrid Law’s Scumble, companion to Savvy, also Richard Peck’s A Year Down Yonder, companion to A Long Way From Chicago. I think writing a good companion takes finding that sweet balance of weaving in the flavor and threads of the previous story while making the companion totally fresh and individual. It must stand on its own, but at the same time have connections to the first story that make a reader feel they’re finding hidden treasures that were never found in the first story."

Help welcome Shurtliff to the Cudahy Family Library on 3500 Library Drive, just south of Layton Ave. It's just east of 794. To get more in the mood, watch the trailer here!

Thursday, September 17, 7 pm, at Boswell
Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Water Museum.

As I've mentioned previously, publishers have a lot of short story collections coming out, and many of those authors are coming to Boswell. Fortunately we've got several readers who like them, including me. Here's my take on The Water Museum, the recently release book from Louis Alberto Urrea.

"Luis Alberto Urrea has built his reputation writing about borders, and his recent collection crosses many of them. One young man is caught between the street-savvy Chicanos of home and the distinctly gringo world of college. Another falls in love with his roommate’s sister, only to find out too late the source of the family money. And another kid, having lost his dad to prison, is pushed to help rob a wealthy but kind-hearted neighbor. Urrea’s stories are both matter-of-fact and poetic, and musical too, driven by the rock and punk references that are sprinkled throughout the tales. I sometimes wonder if a protagonist and situation have enough heft to turn into a novel, but with The Water Museum, (excluding the two flash fiction entries perhaps) I found myself thinking this collection could become ten novels." (Daniel Goldin)

But it turns out that 2015 has been a very productive year for Urrea. He also has a poetry collection, Tijuana Book of the Dead, that came out this spring. From the Booklist review: "Author of more than a dozen books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including the forthcoming story collection The Water Museum (2015), Urrea is known for his attention to historical detail and devotion to poor and working-class Latinos. This most recent book of poems pays homage to the bloodshed and homicide that has become a hallmark of American drug wars, transporting readers from the vast expanse of the Sonoran Desert to urban decay in downtown Chicago."

But wait, there's also a collection of personal essays, Wandering Time: Western Notebooks, which came out in 1999 as a hardcover, but just this year was release in paperback. Latina magazine wrote ""His stream-of-consciousness entries, filled with Urrea's playful, introspective language, help him exorcise personal demons while painting vivid, original portraits of nature and the people who roam through it."

In his conversation with Kevin Nance, as published in the Chicago Tribune, Nance observed: "The theme of borders has a lot of different manifestations in your books. One of your other novels, Into the Beautiful North, is part of the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read program, in which participants in a city or community all read the same book. It's about a conflict in a border town — a group of young people defend their town against banditos — but it also touches on sexuality."

Urrea's reply: "Yes, it's been selected for the Big Read for three years, in fact. I never expected that. One of the heroes in the book is a young gay man, and in one school district in eastern Oregon, there was some controversy because people felt I was "promoting a lifestyle." But the readership for the book is growing, and it's touching to me because I meet a lot of young folks who are dealing with both parts of their lives — their ethnicity and their sexuality — as well."

Friday, September 18, 7 pm, at Boswell
David DiValerio, author of The Holy Madmen of Tibet.

Throughout the past millennium, certain Tibetan Buddhist yogins have taken on profoundly norm-overturning modes of dress and behavior, including draping themselves in human remains, consuming filth, provoking others to violence, and even performing sacrilege. They became known far and wide as “madmen” (smyon pa, pronounced nyönpa), achieving a degree of saintliness in the process. Assistant professor of history and religious studies at UWM, David M. DiValerio, is coming to Boswell to discuss and sign copies of his latest, The Holy Madmen of Tibet, the first comprehensive study of Tibet’s “holy madmen” drawing on their biographies and writings, as well as tantric commentaries, later histories, oral traditions, and more.
DiValerio is assistant professor of history and religious studies at UW-Milwaukee. He has been published in Revue d'Etudes Tibétaines, Journal of Buddhist Ethics, and Religious Studies Review.

Saturday, September 19, 2 pm
Eugenia Cheng, author of How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics.

It feels like I've been writing about this book for months, and I possibly have, as it is from May. Here's my shorter rec for How to Bake Pi: "Cheng is tenured in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield and is currently the scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That sort of tells you Cheng’s wide-ranging perspective on math, for while her specialty is pure mathematics (per her popular videos), she looks at everything from transit maps to marathon training to food, especially food, for answers to mathematical problems. One fascinating discussion touches on external vs. internal problem solving, which, using the food metaphor, contrasts cooking from a recipe vs. looking at ingredients and making something unexpected and delicious. This delightful collection is infused with Cheng’s personality, and as a born storyteller, she brings life to anything she touches, whether it is topology, group theory, or algebra and I only got lost a couple of times, which I consider a great accomplishment. (Daniel Goldin)

Here's Cheng showing you how to make a Mbius bagel!

For those of you who only pay attention to The New York Times and NPR. Fine, here's an excerpt from Alex Bellos's review in The New York Times: "Cheng never quite overeggs her metaphor of the mathematician as chef, however, and her tone is clear, clever and friendly. Even at her most whimsical she is rigorous and insightful. Potentially confusing ideas are expressed with a matter-of-fact simplicity: “As long as your new idea doesn’t cause a contradiction,” she writes, “you are free to invent it.” The math is presented in bite-size chunks and made relevant through personal stories from Cheng’s school years in Britain and life in America, where she is scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago." And here's the Science Friday piece on NPR.

Monday, September 21, 7 pm
Michele Weldon, author of Escape Points: A Memoir.

Elizabeth Berg writes: "I don’t know how Michele Weldon made wrestling, breast cancer, and single parenting tie together so naturally, so beautifully, but in fact each is a perfect metaphor for this book’s message of soulful triumph.”

From the publisher: Untethered from a seemingly idyllic life with a handsome but abusive attorney husband, in Escape Points: A Memoir, Michele Weldon relates the challenges and triumphs of the years that followed her divorce as she maneuvers through a complicated life of long daily commutes, radiation treatments, supporting the boys’ all-consuming high school wrestling careers, and trying to mitigate their resentment for an absent father. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, Weldon describes facing her fears and failures honestly, guided by a belief in the power of staying calm, doing one’s best, and asking for help. She provides a graceful example of how a single mother, and her children, can succeed when others—neighbors, family, teachers, and in this case an incredible high school wrestling coach—step in to fill the void so she can stay the course with common sense and dutiful love.

Kirkus Reviews offers that " her gracefully told memoir will surely embolden readers in similar situations to 'maintain your dignity and your sanity, and raise children who contribute to the world while you do the same.'"

Photo credits:
Lauren Holmes by Beowulf Sheehan
Lauren Fox by Amanda Schlicher
Liesl Shurtliff by Chad Barth
Luis Alberto Urrea by Joe Mazza.

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