Monday, February 6, 2017

Events this week: Brit Bennett, David H. Matthews, Jerry Prout, Lois Ehlert, Fred Amram, and Mindy Mejia

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Monday, February 6, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers.

Can it be that I read The Mothers last spring? It's true--I was invited to a dinner at Book Expo in Chicago with the author. My rule of thumb is to try to read at least one of the books from the attending authors at such things, though alas, it often depends on what other things are on my plate. But I was able to read Brit Bennett's novel and fell in love with conflicted Nadia and her world in San Diego. The book had a great pedigree--a Hopwood Prize winner from the University of Michigan, Bennett also won a Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers.

Here's my recommendation: "The suicide of Nadia Turner’s mom has left Nadia distraught, to say the least. Her acting out leads to a fling with Luke, the minister’s son, and that leads to Nadia being pregnant. That alone is enough to stir up the Upper Room Church, but when she decides to terminate the pregnancy, that is either much better or way worse, depending on whether you’re talking publicly or privately. Somehow Nadia gets a job at the church office, working for Luke’s mom. And when the quiet and quirkily observant Aubrey shows up, they wind up being friends, well before they know each other well, and certainly long before their relationship gets even more complicated. Bennett’s characters ponder their identities, in terms of race, gender, belief system, all with a distinctive and vibrant San Diego setting and a Greek chorus of church ladies having their say. The Mothers is a passionate and nuanced novel about love, friendship, choices, and of course, mothering. "

Critics agree. Bethanne Patrick wrote in The Washington Post: "Some novels take place as you read them, while others grow more complicated as you think back on them. Bennett has written that rare combination: a book that feels alive on the page and rich for later consideration."

As excited as I am about our event at 7, I'm even more excited that Ms. Bennett is going to meet with students at Nicolet High School in the morning. Two classes read the book and having attended some of these conversations in the past, I'm sure the students will have some amazing questions.

Wednesday, February 8, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
David H. Mathews, author of Lemons and Lemonade: My Midlife Dabble in Online Romance.

Neither a primer on online dating nor a gender-biased lament on love gone wrong, David H. Mathews's memoir, Lemons and Lemonade, explores the connections and disconnections he made while searching the dotcom world for romance as a divorced man in his fifties.

David struggles to concoct a suitably provocative profile, stumbles and falls with several mismatched matches, from Cat Woman to Nervous Nellie to Helen Unhinged As Jim Stingl writes in the Journal Sentinel profile on Mathews: "It was a dab more than a dabble. For two years, Mathews paid eHarmony to populate his love life. Each email alert came with a euphoric jolt of possibility and began, 'Hey, David, we've found someone we want you to meet.'"

The story has a happy ending. Mathews has been remarried for ten years.

Thursday, February 9, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Jerry Prout, author of Coxey’s Crusade for Jobs: Unemployment in the Gilded Age.

In the depths of a depression in 1894, a highly successful Gilded Age businessman named Jacob Coxey led a group of jobless men on a march from his hometown of Massillon, Ohio, to the steps of the nation’s Capital. Though a financial panic and the resulting widespread business failures caused millions of Americans to be without work at the time, the word "unemployment" was rarely used and generally misunderstood. In an era that worshipped the self-reliant individual who triumphed in a laissez-faire market, the out-of-work tramp was disparaged as weak or flawed and undeserving of assistance. Private charities were unable to meet the needs of the jobless, and only a few communities experimented with public works programs. Despite these limitations, Coxey conceived of a plan to put millions back to work building a nationwide system of roads and drew attention to his idea with the march to Washington.

In Coxey’s Crusade for Jobs, Jerry Prout recounts Coxey’s story and adds depth and context by focusing on the reporters who were embedded in the march. Their fascinating depictions of life on the road occupied the headlines and front pages of America’s newspapers for more than a month, turning the spectacle into a serialized drama. These accounts humanized the idea of unemployment and helped Americans realize that in a new industrial economy, unemployment was not going away, and the unemployed deserved attention.

Jerry Prout is a visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Marquette University. He earned his Ph.D. from George Mason University. He also holds M.A. degrees from both American University (Political Science) and Duke University (European History). Prof. Prout teaches courses in political economy with emphasis on the political agency of transnational corporations.

Saturday, February 11, 2:00 pm at Boswell:
Lois Ehlert, author of Heart to Heart.

Is it possible that I've been selling Lois Ehlert books for 30 years? But it's true. I remember working on the floor of the Iron Block Harry W. Schwartz in 1987 when Growing Vegetable Soup came out. My coworker Jean was friends with Lois at the time and as our designated kids bookseller, she was so excited about the release. At Boswell, just about all of us are pretty adept at selling kids books but in the old days, most of my colleagues and I ran in the other direction when someone needed help. Things change!

From beloved Caldecott Honor artist Lois Ehlert comes a clever and funny valentine celebrating love and friendship. Readers of all ages will go bananas for this pun-filled and sweet story filled with rebuses and love. Alphabet letters and bold, graphic images of fruits and vegetables come together in this endearing and playful book that is perfect for sharing.

From Publishers Weekly comes a starred review: "Pun lovers, foodies, and puzzlers of all ages will be charmed by Ehlert's love poem, which is packaged in a gift-ready, small-format trim size and constructed around playful rebus-style images of food items and other objects....Only the surliest readers won't crack a smile as they turn the pages."

Sunday, February 12, 3:00 pm at Boswell:
Fred Amram, author of We’re in America Now: A Survivor’s Stories.

A compelling collection of stories from a riveting memoir that begins with the author's birth during the rise of Hitler in 1930’s Germany. He and his surviving family soon escape to Holland and sail to America, where they encounter many challenges as immigrants in a new world. This country truly becomes a land of opportunity where one can build a new life and become more than just a "Holocaust survivor."

From the Duluth Budgeteer, which reported on his visit last fall: "We're In America Now is an ironic title. When the Amrams left Germany at the very beginning of World War II, they thought persecution was behind them. But once in America they found they were "dirty Jews." Amran endured bullying and persecution not from German SS officers, but from American children he went to school with.Amram focused on the point that discrimination starts with petty annoyances and if no one stands up to it, it grows. Auschwitz didn't happen suddenly. The Jewish people were discriminated against in small steps which eventually led to their demise. What if someone had spoken up?"

Fred Amram is a Professor Emeritus in the General College at the University of Minnesota. Amram is the recipient of the Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award and has taught courses in the areas of speech communication and creativity.

Monday, February 13, 7:00 pm at Boswell:
Mindy Mejia, author of Everything You Want Me to Be, in conversation with Carole E. Barrowman.

Carole E. Barrowman offered her take on the book in a recent Journal Sentinel column: "Seventeen-year-old Hattie Hoffman in Minnesota author Mindy Mejia’s evocative and provocative mystery Everything You Want Me To Be has taken Shakespeare literally. Her entire world’s a stage. She’s “spent her entire life playing parts.” In her senior high school production of Macbeth, she’s playing Lady Macbeth, but forever she’s been role-playing with everyone: her parents (the good daughter), her young married English teacher (the good student), her friends (the popular girl), and even the sheriff (the good teenager)." Oh, and now she's dead.

Maureen Corrigan offered her take on three mysteries including Mejia's in a recent Washington Post column: "Like Nick and Amy of Gone Girl, Peter and his wife, Elsa, begin to falter as a couple when they relocate from city to country. And as in that novel, this eerie thriller tells us, Midwestern nice often masks Midwestern vice." And why are these girl victims so attracted to creaky barns and balconies?

Mindy Mejia received her MFA from Hamline University and is also the author of The Dragon Keeper. Carole E. Barrowman, in addition to being a mystery critic for the Journal Sentinel and a guest host on Morning Blend, is a professor of English at Alverno College where she directs the Creative Writing program. She is also the author of several books with her brother John Barrowman, including novels, memoirs, comics, and books for kids.

This event is cosponsored by Crimespree Magazine.

photo credits
Brit Bennett: Emma Trim
Lois Ehlert: Lillian Schultz
Mindy Mejia: Bree Allan

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