Monday, March 28, 2016

This Week's Boswell Events: Mary Pflum Peterson, Andy Mozina, Lil' Rev, Lauren Conrad.

Upcoming events!

Tuesday, March 29, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Mary Pflum Peterson, author of White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mothers and Daughters.

Mary Pflum Peterson is a television producer in New York, a former reporter with CNN, a mom with four kids, and a writer. But she growing up, she faced the trauma of both parents struggling with mental health. Her father eventually came out as gay and her mother, a former nun, struggled with severe depression and an increasing tendency to hoard. She died in 2010, and White Dresses is the author's attempt to come to understand her mother's life.

Elfrieda Abbe writes explains the concept in the recent Journal Sentinel profile: "The book's title refers to the 'shared mother/daughter history' of wearing white dresses to commemorate special occasions — births, First Communions, graduations and marriages. The fashion dictum that except for special events, you didn't wear white dresses between Labor Day and Memorial Day had been passed down through the generations. For mother and daughter, who both remained faithful to the Catholic Church despite Anne's suffering at the convent, the white dresses represented an element of faith: 'of winter making way for spring,' said Peterson.

There are several great recommendations for White Dresses. Author Dorothea Benton Frank writes: "This stunning memoir takes us inside the secret lives of nuns, and teaches of the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. Mary Pflum Peterson rises as a new, bright shining star in the literary world. Her prose is as elegant as the white dresses about which she so lovingly writes." And from Martha McPhee: "Mary Pflum Peterson unveils the beautiful camouflage of significant white dresses to look at the disappointments of a life, releasing secrets and pain that she ultimately transforms to love."

Because we hosted an event at St. Monica Parish last week, we made a special bookmark to promote White Dresses, which we thought would be of interest to attendees. And I should note that there is another public event for Pflum Peterson tonight, March 28, at the University Club downtown. It's a meet-and-greet with refreshments and yes, we will be there selling books. Tickets to the Monday event do not include the book and are $30 for University Club members, $40 the general public.

The event at Boswell is Tuesday, March 29, 7 pm.

Wednesday, April 30, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Andy Mozina, author of Contrary Motion (Photo credit Katherine LeMoine).

This is Mozina's second visit to Boswell, and third to this space, as he read for his first short story collection at the Downer Schwartz. Like his protagonist, Matt Grzbc (it's pronounced Gerbik), he grew up in Milwaukee and now lives elsewhere. But unlike Mozina, who is a professor of English at Kalazmazoo College, his hero is a professional (well, semi-professional) harpist in Chicago, trying out for orchestras, and playing at hotel brunches and hospices.

In Contrary Motion, Matt's life has reached a fracture point, and I'm not referring to the damage that his harp received from a recent drop. His shares custody of his young daughter Audrey with his ex-wife Molina. She's seeing someone else and so is he, a lawyer named Cynthia, who is struggling with a complicated case made more complicated by sexual harassment from a partner. Matt likes her a lot, but things are not going as well in the bedroom, whereas the sexual tension is heightening again with his ex-wife. And this is all while he's still trying to come to terms with his father's recent death, and also struggling to get ready for a major audition with the St. Louis Symphony.

Mozina's first novel is a sort of near Jonathan Tropper, but I also saw him writing into a similar angsty funny abyss that consumes Lauren Fox. And because there's a decent amount of Milwaukee detail (and even more Chicago color), that also led me in a Fox direction. Because Mozina has previously had two collections of stories published and goes a little crazy on his blog, you can see that he channeled his absurdist sensibilities a bit for the novel. It would be interesting to see him go crazy in a future novel, in more of a Simon Rich-Mark Leyner kind of way, while still making the characters as realistic as Matt and friends in Contrary Motion, sympathetic in spite of their foibles.

Mozina has received a lot of praise from Boswell event alums Mark Wisniewski, Jaimy Gordon, Ann Patchett, and Jonathan Lethem. But for those who don't like to link, let me just include this quote from Bonnie Jo Campbell: "This brilliant debut novel zigzags across Chicago’s neighborhoods exploring the obsession a striving artist must have for his craft, as he also makes a living and nourishes those near him, especially his eccentric and precocious six-year-old daughter. Contrary Motion is a wonderful story—beautifully written, hilarious, tortured, and filled with heavenly music."

Our event with Mozina is Wednesday, March 30, 7 pm.

Thursday, March 31, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Lil' Rev, author of Essential Strums and Strokes for Ukulele: A Treasury of Strum-Hand Techniques.

Our event with Lil' Rev, an evening of ukulele thoughts and music, in conjunction with the release of his new book from Milwaukee's Hal Leonard Publishing, was originally scheduled for last December. We're very sad about the circumstances that led to the cancellation but we're grateful that the our evening could be rescheduled.

For those of you who have taken up the ukulele, and there are many of you, there is apparently a point where you fall into a rut. Lil' Rev's new book and video pack details a variety of strumming techniques that might not be in your repertoire, from clawhammer to the zig-zag stroke to punk rock strums and beyond. The accompanying video lessons feature Lil' Rev's demonstrations of every technique in the book and the publisher says it is great for both the beginning and the advanced player.

As I've mentioned before, if you're in the market for a ukulele, there's a great selection at our local independent, Brass Bell in Glendale on Silver Spring Drive. We just replaced our microphone stand there. And if you're not able to see Lil' Rev on Thursday, either because you're busy or live too far away, he'll be doing a lunch gig at Bay View's Anodyne on April 5 (11:30, why not treat yourself for voting?) and at concerts in Waukesha, Neenah, Traverse City, Baraboo, Madison, and Beaver Dam (which is where Mary Pflum Peterson grew up). Here's the complete schedule, including our event on Thursday, March 31, 7 pm.

Friday, April 1, 7 pm, at Boswell:
A ticketed signing with Lauren Conrad, author of Lauren Conrad Celebrate (photo credit Steve Erle).

"Lifestyle and fashion icon Lauren Conrad #1 bestselling author of Lauren Conrad Style and Lauren Conrad Beauty (as well as a series of six novels for young adults) has made a career of inspiring women to look and feel their best. And now that she's gotten us all dressed up and looking our most beautiful, she gives us somewhere to go in this lavishly illustrated, elegant, and essential guide to entertaining.

"Showcasing an array of parties that span the calendar, Lauren Conrad Celebrate demonstrates how easy it is to throw a fantastic party for any occasion, from a charming baby shower to a casual midsummer clambake to a festive holiday soiree. Along with her creative ideas and budget-friendly lifestyle tips, Conrad offers advice about party-planning basics to make hosting any type of event a breeze, including suggestions for the perfect invitations, food, drinks, decorations, gifts and even the perfect outfit. Throughout are inspiring color photos and stories from Conrad's life, recounting her housewarming party, bridal shower, and wedding."

Please note that while this is publisher copy, I changed references to "Lauren" to "Conrad." I think it's not polite to refer to people by their first name only when I don't know them well. And of course the last time she came, I didn't throw the best party - the power went off in the middle. That said, in the words of Tim Gunn, we made it work! Tickets are $30 and include a copy of Lauren Conrad Celebrate. We're going to have a complete blog post donated to the event tomorrow.

Next week event preview:
Tuesday, April 5, at MIAD: Barry Schwabsky, author of The Perpetual Guest: Art in the Unfinished Present. This event is free and open to the public. MIAD is located on 273 E. Erie St. in the Third Ward.

Tuesday, April 5, 6:30 pm, at Alverno College: Ellen Bravo, author of Again and Again. This event is free and open to the public. The event is being held at Alumnae Hall.

Wednesday, April 6, 6:30 pm, at North Shore Library, 6800 N Port Washington Rd: Jesse Andrews, author of The Haters and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Thursday April 7, 7 pm, at the Riverside Theater: Nick Offerman, author of Gumption. Tickets still available for this event. Please note: a very, very long signing will follow the presentation. We are not able to take signed copy requests in advance of this event.

Friday, April 8, 7 pm, at Boswell: John Nichols and Robert McChesney, author of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.

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