The simply fantastic Paste Magazine has begun a Paste:Local feature on its web site that “seeks out local signs of life in music, film and culture” in various cities. The discerning folks that write the Local:Atlanta page asked Laurel Snyder, Lain Shakespeare (Wren’s Nest), Wordsmiths’ Russ, and I for our picks of the best of the Decatur Book Festival.
Each year when the Decatur Book Festival rolls around I study the schedule and carefully plot out a full weekend of bookish fun. The ironclad schedule falls apart within moments of arrival as I’m pulled in unexpected directions. I always forget to allow adequate time for booth visiting and Brick Store Pub happenings. That said, here’s this year’s pie-in-the-sky game plan:
9:30 Madeline Parade – This one is non-negotiable. My four year old daughter has firm plans to meet up with pals to celebrate the first Madeline book in 50 years.
10:00 – The author events begin with a toss up. I’d love to see the New Stories from The South panel just to see ZZ Packer (one of Granta’s Top Young American Novelists). However, a few stages away Douglas Blackmon will be reading from Slavery by Another Name, which has a shot at a Pulitzer (says me). Also: John Bemelmans Marciano will be reading from the new Madeline at the kids stage. A game time decision will be made.
11:15 – This one is easy. I’ll be introducing the Sleep is for the Week: Best of the Mommybloggers panel at the Decatur Presbyterian stage, which features Kristen Chase and Mir Kamin. I pretty much need to be there.
12:00 – Laughing Pizza in concert at the Kids Stage. I mentioned the four year old, right?
12:30 – Another toss up. I hope to see either Rick Bragg reading from The Prince of Frogtown OR Doug Crandell’s Of Hissy Fits and Hairdos panel. I just saw Crandell at Wordsmiths a few weeks ago, so I’m leaning towards Bragg.
Then it’s lunch and wandering around the booths. I’ll catch what I can in the afternoon. Hopefully that will include the Tretheweys.
Saturday night there is a Writer’s Conference Happy Hour at Twain’s, “which will feature live music, a wet flannel shirt contest, and a kissing booth with wax lips, womaned by Hollis Gillespie.” Aye carumba.
1:00 We’re hitting the Kids’ Stage for Doreen Cronin, author of at least four children’s books that are currently in my home.
5:00 The Cook’s Warehouse Stage features John T. Edge, editor of the Southern food writing compilation, Cornbread Nation 4. I have a firend who has a piece in CN 4, so I’ll be checking this one out.
7:30 The fest closes with Drive By Trucker Paterson Hood performing solo on the square. Aw yeah.
Speaking of music, each day there is live music (and cool air-conditioning) at Eddie’s Attic. There is also a full slate of poetry at the Java Monkey Stage both days, too. I always forget to spend enough time at those spots. And there is always the Brick Store for plotting the next move.
I met Laurel Snyder, an author that lives locally, last year when we were on a panel together discussing books and the Web 2.0 world. She has written several books, including two books of poetry, a children’s book, and she edited an anthology of nonfiction, Half/Life: Jew-ish tales from Interfaith Homes. Her new novel for children was released yesterday.
Laurel agreed to pop by and have a virtual beer with us and talk about her new book for children.
BGB: Hey, Laurel, word on the street is that your new children’s book, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess, was released yesterday by Random House. Tell us about it.
Laurel Snyder: It’s a kind of old fashioned fairy tale, about a little milkmaid and her best friend, a prince. When the prince is forced to find a “suitable” wife, and the milkmaid determined to be too common, she runs away from home and has a series of weird adventures on top of a rainy mountain. The book has these amazingly classic illustrations by Greg Call, who did Dave Barry’s children’s book, and a lot of silly little songs in it. I want to think it’s a bit about bad government and class, in addition to being about magical forests and sniffly prairie dogs.
BGB: One of your blog posts says that Up and Down was 8 years in the making, which appears to pre-date your own children. What first attracted you to writing for children?
Laurel Snyder: Oh, my passion for kids books has always been there, and it was my big secret in grad schoool. I spent days each week in the children’s library in Iowa, avoiding the John Ashbery reading group (no offense to Ashbery himself, I’m just not a theory gal). When I was awarded a Michener-Engle Felloswhip, and had more time than I knew what to do with, I began working on this novel, though I didn’t know at the time that was what it would become. Having kids made the idea of being a children’s author more exciting, but I’ve been re-reading my Eager and Newsbit and Lewis every year since I was about 6.
BGB: In another blog post, you note a Dangerfield-esque lack of respect by writing institutions for children’s authors. With the recent uptick in respect for the Young Adult “genre” why do you think that those that write for the younger set are given this shoddy treatment?
Laurel Snyder: Oh, lordy– I could write a book about this. Part of has to do with the fact that most professions that relate to kids (teachers, pediatricians, etc) are less esteemed (and less well paid). Which is, of course, crap. But I also think that because children aren’t as discriminating as adults, or as snooty, there isn’t a money-driven need to distinguish pulp from art. Kids who love “literary” kids books also like to do Mad Libs, so we can shelve them together in the bookstore. I think this means that adults tend to see them all as defined by their lowest common denominator. It’s also true that children’s books don’t get reviewed as much as adult books, so there’s less critical approval from say, the NYTimes. But these are simplifications. It’s a really complex situation, and I hope that will change.
BGB: Why do you think celebrities suddenly seem drawn to writing children’s books?
Laurel Snyder: LOL! Everyone wants to write a picture book. Everyone! Now that I’m publishing these books, everyone I know wants to tell me about their ideas. I think it’s just that celebs can sell anything they want to write, so we actually see their (usually awful) attempts. Whereas the checker at the grocery store (who might have a great idea) can’t call her agent and just make it happen. If Madonna wanted to write a 700 page novel, she could publish that too. But a picture book is a much smaller investment of time. Though as you’ll see if you check out Miss Ciccone’s picture books, it isn’t so easy to write a good one.
BGB: As a mother of two, which children’s books are you most enjoying reading to your own kids?
Laurel Snyder: My kids are very young, so it’s all picture books. Current favorites are “Roadwork” and “When Dinosaurs Came with Everything”, though my older son just finished his first chapter book, Ruth Gannett’s classic, “My father’s Dragon”. It always makes me happy when they like a book I loved as a kid, like “Mister Dog”. I love that book!
BGB: I’ve been enjoying your home made book trailers. How did you come up with the idea?
Laurel Snyder: Ha! I just got a Mac for the first time, and I wanted to try out imovies. Cute baby footage is all I have to play with, since I’ve spent the last 3 months without a single hour of childcare. I’m glad you like them. They’re pretty silly.
BGB: What time/stage are you on at the Decatur Book Festival?
Laurel Snyder: I’m doing a fantasy panel with Adam Rex and Brandon Sanderson, Sunday at 2:30. Please come! I didn’t know I had written a fantasy until very recently, and I’m eager to see how this goes. I promise that if I can’t answer people’s questions about fantasy, I’ll do a tap dance or something!!!
Last year, Joshua Henkin popped by as a guest blogger when his novel Matrimony was released in hard cover. The book went on to be listed as one of New York Times‘ 100 Notable Books for 2007. As that distinction would suggest, it is an excellent novel. The paperback is available today in discerning bookstores everywhere. To celebrate, the author has generously given us a copy to pass along to a lucky (and refined) reader.
Here’s Henkin talking about the book:
Let’s review: Excellent novel. Friend of the blog. Free.
Leave us a comment and we’ll pick a random winner on Friday.
Pendarvis is a gifted, good-humored writer. He’s wry and silly, his language full of provocative puns, eloquent blarney and tips of the hat to the absurdity of modern culture. At his best, he is neo-Chaucerian. If you’re game, he’ll show you a rude, jolly time in a universe at once fantastic and familiar. Fi fie foe fun!
Pendarvis’ reading at Wordsmiths was a highlight of the summer. I’ll get my own review of the book up soon — now that the Olympics are over and life can resume again once more.
Tim previously posted on this one and then lent it to me when he was done with it, and I owe him a huge thanks for that. I am an unabashed music freak/snob/know-it-all, and the fact that I had never read this book (published in 2001) is a tragedy. Our Band Could Be Your Life, by Michael Azerrad (subtitled Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981 – 1991) is an amazing book. It provides a chapter-style, documentary-like, behind-the-scenes history of a dozen or so bands that truly defined what it meant to be an indie or punk band during the 1980′s, with stories and facts that shed such a new light on each of the featured bands that I feel like a dope for thinking I knew anything about them before reading the book. The fact that such a work could exist (i.e., a book that could provide so much unknown information to someone who thought they knew so much) is attributable in large part to Azerrad’s incredible ability to gather facts and information and then write about them as if he were there to witness what really happened.
The bands he covers (each of whom gets its own chapter) are Black Flag, the Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Minor Threat, Husker Du, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, Mudhoney, and Beat Happening (the last of which, in my opinion, was a throwaway that didn’t need to be in the book and must have been included to meet a “total pages” obligation that Azerrad had to his publisher). In any event, Azerrad’s skill at telling the stories behind these bands and the people who played in them is mesmerizing. Put it this way: the book is roughly 500 pages in length, and even with my short attention span, I didn’t think twice about whether I was going to read every page or not — I couldn’t wait to read whatever came next.
As for the guts of the book, the most startling thing is how it’s changed my impression of so many artists that I thought I knew. So many of these ground-breaking artists were complete and total ***holes. Henry Rollins, Ian Mackaye, Bob Mould, Steve Albini, Gibby Haynes, pretty much all of the Replacements — these guys do not come across as guys I’d like to have a beer with. They come across as selfish, arrogant jackasses that I wouldn’t listen to if I’d read this book before I’d heard their music. But that gave me a completely new lens to look through at these guys, and for that I’m grateful. And believe it or not, not only did it not make me not want to listen to any of them, I’ve bought a bunch of their stuff because of it. Go figure.
If you graduated high school (or were at least supposed to graduate) any time between the early 1980′s and the mid-1990′s and have any interest whatsoever in music, you absolutely must read this book. While it tells the story of bands that truly lived the indie/punk lifestyle, it also sheds a brand new light (not always favorable) on the people in those bands. Fascinating stuff.
Side note: Sonic Youth seem like cool cats, and the Minutemen were the coolest band ever. R.I.P. D. Boon, and Mike and George and Ed, how about a fIREHOSE reunion sometime?
Random House (UK): Author sells 150,000 copies of her book, but three parents complain about inclusion of single word used in appropriate context – book changed for second printing
Random House: Related? Random House is also asking some of its Young Adult authors to sign contracts with “morality clauses“.
Penguin: In the UK, Penguin has partnered with Match.com to bring you Penguin Dating, a matchmaking service based upon books of interest. They offer the following example of how this steamy service might work in practice:
I just finished reading Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme … ladies.
Have I mentioned Rivka Galchen’s excellent novel Atmospheric Disturbances yet? More times than I can efficiently link to it appears.
I bring it up yet again, because I had to draw your attention to this recent review at Salon. It’s excellent, but I’m totally jealous that I didn’t come up with the review’s headline myself. The Talking Heads song referenced is such a perfect accompaniment to the book, that I feel compelled to share it here:
Maybe David Byrne could play the role of Dr. Leo Liebenstein in the film adaptation of the novel. Get me Spielberg on the horn.
Jonathan Evison’s debut novel All About Lulu begins with a confrontational challenge to its readers:
First, I’m going to give you all of the Copperfield crap, and I’m not going to apologize for it, not one paragraph, so if you’re not interested in how I came to see the future, or how I came to understand that the biggest truth in my life was a lie, or, for that matter, how I parlayed my distaste for hot dogs into an ’84 RX-7 and a new self-concept, do us both a favor, and just stop now.
I kept reading.
Our instantly likable protagonist, William Miller is a vegetarian with coke bottle glasses. He’s slight, bookish, and reserved. It’s fairly easy not confuse William with his dad – Big Bill Miller, the famous bodybuilder or his two buffet-wrecking brothers.
After his mother’s death, William feels hopelessly lost in his own home – until he meets Lulu – his new stepsister. Here’s William’s description of his first encounter with Lulu:
All I wanted to do was look at her. She was Mr. Potatohead beautiful. Nothing fit right. But somehow this girl in the yellow socks, with the small nose, and the big ears, and the gap-toothed smile achieved a certain harmony, a beauty greater than the sum of its parts.
Lulu and William are thick as thieves until Lulu begins to act strangely after a trip, and their relationship becomes strained and distant. The sudden and seemingly irreversible change in their relationship provides the tension that drives the novel. Essentially on his own, William eventually finds himself through college radio, an entrepreneurial stint in hot dog sales, and – yes- an ’84 Mazda RX-7.
Evison is a fantastic writer and he populates this surprising novel with memorable and well-developed characters. And there’s plenty of humor. A scene with the young William oiling up his father in preparation for a bodybuilding championship while confidently dissing Arnold Schwarzenegger is especially memorable. I recommend picking this one up for that one last trip to the beach this summer.
The weekend events at Wordsmiths were not just for a good cause (the survival of the bookstore) – they were also a great way to spend the weekend.
Friday night featured Jack Pendarvis reading from “the good part” of his novel Awesome, faking improv, digressing on wild tangents, recommending other books, performing Olympic-caliber self deprecation, and other neat tricks. Sealions performed a nice set of live music. A local art collective was cranking out robot drawings for donations, and the buzz of a silent auction kept everyone hanging around. It was a remarkable reading. Normally I’d insert a few pictures to support my recap, but my camera was in Atlantic City with my wife and daughter. Instead, you can read other accounts of the evening here and here.
I was expecting Friday night to be excellent, but Saturday’s excellent performances by Poetry Atlanta surprised me. The event was the second poetry reading that I’ve ever attended, which I’ll admit is my own shortcoming. (The first is a hilarious story in its own right that I’ll have to tell you over a beer sometime.) I clearly need to add more poetry to my day-to-day.
Each of the poets that presented their work had a unique style, and I enjoyed hearing each of them read. However, I’ll confess to having two favorites from the day. The first was Jon Goode, who has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and – apparently – gets flown around the country to perform. Goode presented three pieces and told the most hilarious funeral story that you’ve ever heard. I found one of the pieces that he performed Saturday online (although the video is from a performance somewhere else):
The second was poet/troubadour/wildman Kodac Harrison. Unfortunately I was not able to find his heart-warming opening duet, Got Laid Last Night, on the YouTubes. Here’s Harrison doing Angel of Mercy:
Both events were very well attended, and I hope that translated into good news for Wordsmiths.
Maybe this Friday lit rock thing will become a regular feature. Or not. We’ll see.
This week I’m featuring the twee sounds of Belle & Sebastian. The lit connection? The band takes its name from a French children’s book series, Belle et Sébastien, by Cécile Aubry, which WikiPedia tells me was also a BBC television series.
The most obvious Belle & Sebastian song to kick off our play list is…
Wrapped Up in Books
In a nod to the Olympics, in front of which you can find me 24/7, here’s…
The Stars of Track and Field
Speaking of Track and Field, check out The Loneliness of the Middle Distance Runner live:
And finally, a nod to the language of the original stories:
Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie
If you missed it, check out last week’s Lit Rock entry.
Our friends at The Wren’s Nest alerted us to the existence of the Southern Literary Trail, of which they are a featured destination. The Trail celebrates “writers of classic Southern Literature in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
Plan your road trip at the Southern Literary Trail’s new web site.
The site will not focus on bestsellers such as those reviews found at The New York Times, but rather reviews of books that will be read and talked about by cutting-edge consumers. “As indie music zealots, we love sites like Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Brooklyn Vegan,” says Lit Mob Publisher Doug Perkul. “What was amazing to me is that you have a few hundred sites that cater to tastemakers within the music scene, but no one is doing this for books and literature. Contrary to popular beliefs, people are still reading books and we intend to share our favorite titles with them and highlight amazing books in the marketplace.”
Sounds like our kind of place. Here’s a nice quote from the “About Lit Mob” page:
The open letter to readers begins:
This is a tough letter to write as technically you do not exist. They say that no one reads anymore and that you spend all of your time watching TIVO’d episodes of Dancing With The Stars, playing video games, or stealing music from your computer.
There are only a handful of reviews up so far on the slickly designed site, but I like the selection. I’ll be back.
It’s midweek – time to start making those weekend plans. Wordsmiths Books in Decatur has a full slate of “Save Our Bookstore” events to keep you as busy as you want to be. Here’s the scoop:
I’m hard at work on my robot now.
At 2PM, Poetry Atlanta will be hosting a series of poetical events. The performing poets include: Jon Goode (seen on CNN’s Black in America), Chelsea Rathburn, Beth Gylys, Karen Head, and Rupert Fike.
Capping off the afternoon’s poetry will be a special, stripped-down performance of local blues-poet legend Kodac Harrison’s Reach for the Moon, in which Harrison will be accompanied by Kristan Markitan. Wordsmiths is asking attendees to “pay what they can” upon entry (suggesting $5 a person).
See Wordsmiths for more info on all of the above.
Michael Chabon’s alternate history, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, won this year’s Hugo Award for best novel. The Hugo’s are awarded to writers in the science fiction genre. The novel also won a Nebula award, another science fiction accolade. Chabon’s book was nominated for an Edgar Award (mystery genre), but did not win.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is also in pre-production to be filmed by the Coen Brothers. I am beside myself.
Chabon – is there anything that he can’t do?
My review of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union can be found here.
John Edwards, former running-for-President guy, is not having the best week. We’d ordinarily stay out of such salacious affairs, but we can’t resist the literary angle.
It appears that the woman involved in the episode was the basis of a character in novels by both Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis. McInerney says:
We dated for only a few months, but in that period, I spent a lot of time with her and her friends, whose behavior intrigued and appalled me to such an extent that I ended up basing a novel on the experience.
New York Magazine has the scoop (Thanks for the Link, Russ.)
It’s been a long crappy week. I know. Let’s listen to some music!
Check out this podcast on NPR’s World Cafe featuring two songs by The Airborne Toxic Event. The band take their name from a chapter in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise. Cool. Lead singer guy is a journalist turned novelist turned song writer. (It’s worth listening to just to hear the intro: “Support for NPR podcasts comes from Pabst Brewing…”)
Here’s a third song: Sometime Around Midnight:
More songs at the band’s MySpace.
In Atlanta September 30 – The Loft @ Center Stage
Here’s a video, too. What the hell? Let’s go nuts.
Wordsmiths Books is putting together a weekend of events to help raise the necessary cash to keep their doors open. The finishing touches have been put on the opening night’s festivities. Here’s what’s on tap:
Jack Pendarvis will read from his new novel Awesome. Pendarvis is awesome. His short story collection, Your Body is Changing, won the prestigious Pushcart Prize. I’m reading Awesome (the novel) now, and it is pretty special. It’s not like anything I’ve read. The synopsis on the back cover begins:
A giant strides this land. A giant who builds robots, invents religions, and kisses like a dream…
Remember that “builds robots” bit. It’s important later on.
Live music by Sealions will follow. Awesome.
And handcrafted robots – see – by local artists and friends will be sold via silent auction. Also awesome.
I would have called it Awesome Fest 08. Instead Wordmsiths Russ decided to go with – ahem – “Saving Bookstores is Awesome!!! Night of Awesome!!!” And he was fairly insistent on the punctuation.
The evening will be co-sponsored by Paste Magazine and BGB. Here’s what the poster looks like:
You know what’s not awesome? The sticky note that Russ decided serves as our logo. We need a logo.