Country Life is particularly excited about visits from Andrew Solomon, whose Far from the Tree seems destined to become a benchmark work on nurture vs. nature and the differences between parents and their offspring, and from Banshee creator Jonathan Tropper, whose shiva farce This Is Where I Leave You remains one of the funniest novels we've read in recent years. The festival also scored a coup in getting Ayana Mathis, whose acclaimed bestseller The Twelve Tribes of Hattie launched Oprah's Book Club 2.0.
While the festival's breadth is suggested by Fight Club cult hero Chuck Palahniuk and A Walk in the Woods author Bill Bryson, it's the space in between that contains some finds local book lovers should seek out: Helene Wecker, whose The Golem and the Jinni was flagged early on as one of the summer's best novels; Teddy Wayne, who delivers a tour de force reckoning of the inside of a Justin Bieber-like popster's head in The Love Song of Teddy Valentine; Kevin Henkes, creator of the beloved Lilly books for children (and at least one misty-eyed adult).
Another treat: the reunion of seven revered authors from the very first festival — Roy Blount, Jr., Allan Gurganus, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jill McCorkle (whose new retirement-home novel Life After Life is a heartbreaker), Cathie Pelletier, Lee Smith and Alana White.
As always, local authors are represented in force, from F. Lynne Bachleda (From the Ground Up: Mystical Places of Memory and the Near Eternal) to poet Rick Hilles (A Map of the Lost World). The list of authors so far can be found here.
Kudos to Humanities Tennessee, along with a reminder to watch its excellent Chapter16.org site for regular festival previews, interviews and updates all the way to the actual event. Below, the festival press release, studded with familiar names (and others that soon will be).
It’s difficult to estimate the enormous impact that Richard Matheson’s writing has had on American pop culture. William Shatner helplessly watching through a sealed window as a woolly gremlin gleefully tears apart the engine of a jet airliner; the frantic face of Dennis Weaver as he attempts to escape the murderous rage of an unseen truck driver on a lonely mountain road; the lone surviving member of humanity facing off against legions of the undead; a maniacal wooden Zuni fetish doll pursuing Karen Black across the floor of her high-rise apartment — all of these have become iconic images shared by generations of horror and fantasy fans. And all had their genesis in the mind of one man.
It’s Bonnaroo weekend! While it may seem like half of Nashville is rapturing over to Manchester for the weekend, I’m holding down the unholy fort in an air-conditioned but Paul McCartney-free zone.
In between hanging out at Joint Project 2 and The Frist's Sensuous Steel exhibit, I’ve decided to catch up on some reading instead of feeling all sour grapes about missing Bjork and Wilco. Any other ’Rooless Country Lifers out there want to weigh in with their weekend-away picks? Here’s our soundtrack.
One of the most fascinating stories chronicled in the book is staid, conservative Vanderbilt University’s embrace of the counterculture in the late sixties and the zeitgeist that blossomed between Music Row malcontents and the musically-inclined members of the Vanderbilt student body. It’s an intriguing look back at a forgotten era when Nashville was the “hip music city” for the first time — at least to a generation of young musicians whose genetic code could integrate Bobby Dylan with Bobby Bare.
It's an impressive collection that includes work from Margaret Atwood (whose Handmaid's Tale was a mayorally endorsed citywide read last year) and Joyce Carol Oates (whose "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" remains one of the most chilling stories ever written, and who is a fascinating Twitter follow). Of course there are many others. Speaking of ...
The publishers are celebrating with two separate readings tomorrow, June 1. The first will be 11 a.m. at the downtown public library, and the second at 2 p.m. at East Side Story. The roster for both events: poet Maggie Smith, author of Nesting Dolls and The List of Dangers, whose first poem in Apocalypse begins, “There are more stars in the sky than sounds / uttered by all the people who have ever lived, / but Eliza, we may never see them again”; prose stylist and self-described “trapeze aficionado” Tessa Mellas, also a lecturer at the Ohio State University; and the inimitable Chet Weise, poet, teacher, rock ’n’ roller and grand poobah of the venerable Poetry Sucks! reading series.
Add this to the list of accomplishments by Nashville literary hero Ann Patchett: On June 9, she’ll join the ranks of Eleanor Roosevelt and Doris Kearns Goodwin when she’s presented with the Women’s National Book Association prestigious WNBA Award.
The WNBA was founded in 1917 — two years before women in America were allowed to vote — and it gives out an award every two years to a living American woman who “derives part or all of her income from books or the allied arts and has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession.”
The award reception will be held — where else? — at Parnassus Books, the independent book store Patchett opened with Karen Hayes in 2011.
Congratulations to Patchett, and thanks to all members of the WNBA, particularly the Nashville branch — one of the largest and most active chapters nationwide.
Reviewing the book for Chapter16.org, Kristen Iversen applauds the author for illuminating this little-known segment of World War II history, with its glimpses of women entering the workforce unaware of the project's true scope:
Recruits to the Clinton Engineer Works were promised opportunity and steady, good-paying work at a time when many Americans were struggling. For women in particular, Oak Ridge offered not only a way to help the war effort, but a path to a different kind of life that included educational or professional opportunities they might not have had otherwise. From farms and small towns, women came to Oak Ridge filled with hope for a solid job, a bit of adventure and perhaps a chance at romance. “The Project liked high school girls, especially those from rural backgrounds,” Kiernan writes.
The Girls of Atomic City vividly brings to life the day-to-day details of living in a hastily constructed town. There are rules and guards at every turn. Despite cramped quarters, poor food and few leisure activities, life goes on. Shoes are lost in the seemingly endless mud, and women resort to walking barefoot through the gunk, heels held high over their heads. In a town filled with 20-somethings, marriages and babies were part of the picture. Kiernan quotes one young woman’s explanation for her apparent lack of curiosity about the nature of the work she was doing: “Then we started stewing about the furnace and the mud and the [baby] sitter problem — and forgot all about the project.”
Kiernan will be speaking about the book, which The Daily Beast called a combination of George Orwell and Margaret Atwood, at Parnassus Books tonight at 6:30. Feminists of all stripes, oral history buffs and fans of wartime storytelling should gather in droves to hear Kiernan speak about the fascinating women she interviewed — some of whom discussed their experience publicly for the first time.
Jess Walter is more than a novelist, more than a poet, more than a journalist: He's that old-fashioned kind of author who can fairly call himself simply a writer. Walter writes novels (six of them so far), short stories (his first collection, We Live in Water, was released earlier this year), poems (he says he's written only two that he actually likes, although his fifth novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets, is full of them), journalism (criticism and features for the likes of Harper's and Esquire), narrative nonfiction (his first book, Ruby Ridge, is a work of investigative reporting), and screenplays (next up: the film version of his newest novel, Beautiful Ruins). Even as a novelist, Walter is not a hedgehog but a fox, moving agilely between genres, subjects and literary styles, always with his finger firmly on the pulse of the world: The Zero is his 9/11 novel; The Financial Lives of the Poets considers the world financial collapse in microcosm; Beautiful Ruins offers a hilarious send-up of reality television.
Among other things. In fact, Beautiful Ruins is itself a showcase for Walter's outrageous literary gifts in virtually every genre and style. Ultimately a tender love story about a provincial Italian boy and an aspiring American actress, the novel moves gracefully through both time and space, with settings that include contemporary Hollywood, the Cinque Terre region of postwar Italy, and a wild hopscotch from Rome to Edinburgh, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and remote regions of California and Idaho. Parts of this inimitably inventive novel are written in gorgeous, lush prose that might as well be poetry, while other sections are deployed in language that's witty, sly, dark, bitter, poignant, comic or coarse, depending on which character is featured and which form Walter uses to convey that bit of narrative. (In addition to the usual mechanisms of the novel, Beautiful Ruins includes sections of a memoir, a play, a movie pitch, and someone else's novel.) No wonder critics have been outdoing each other with superlatives like "a literary miracle" (NPR), a "high-wire feat of bravura storytelling" (The New York Times Book Review), and "a brilliant, madcap meditation on fate" (Kirkus Reviews). "Why mince words?" wrote Richard Russo: "Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece."
2. Semple's appearance tonight is part of a cool Parnassus program called "Wine with the Author," where the store basically pours you a glass just for showing interest in a book and author the staff loves. Real life should be more like this. (This should tell you something: The next such event is with The Yellow Birds author Kevin Powers May 21.)
Your efforts on behalf of the Global Amphibian Assessment have been so appreciated that a species of frogs discovered in Sri Lanka was named for your daughter. Can you explain your enthusiasm for amphibians?
God bless you for asking this question. My boyfriend, George Meyer, and I got interested in frogs over 20 years ago when we learned they were mysteriously disappearing. As of today, 40 percent of all frog species are on the verge of extinction. This is due to habitat destruction, global warming and a mysterious deadly fungus. It turns out frogs are more susceptible than any other animal to man's heedless consumption and environmental annihilation. (Sorry you asked?) Anytime we can help out the frogs, we do.
4. You'll want to read the book and meet the author before the movie version comes out. (It's being adapted by the screenwriters behind an audience favorite at this year's Nashville Film Festival, The Spectacular Now.)
5. Did we mention the wine?
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AGGGHHHH that last picture!