When it comes to books, why does summer get all the glory? A quick Internet search of the phrase "Need a good summer read?" gets 116,000 hits, while the phrase "Need a good winter read?" gets a whopping nine. No, not 9,000. Not 900. Nine.
Maybe it's because the season of the sun gets its own category of lightweight fiction perfect for consuming while lying on the beach or relaxing on the front porch. Regardless, isn't winter the ultimate season for reading? In summer there's swimming, hiking, sports, picnics, festivals and a host of other outdoor activities. But when the cold, dreary days and 5 o'clock sunsets of January and February conspire to brew a hellacious cocktail of cabin fever dire enough to drive even the most even-tempered of us to the brink, isn't that the perfect time to curl up in front of the fireplace with a salacious memoir, or to laze on the couch under a down comforter while falling under the spell of the latest fiction wunderkind?
With that in mind, we've assembled a few noteworthy literary events — including appearances by an award-winning English professor, a notable scholar on folk and mountain culture, and one of the most popular and celebrated writers of medical fiction since Michael Crichton was churning out best-sellers — to stoke the fires of erudition in the shivering temple of your soul.
Scholar, essayist, cultural historian and storyteller Randall Kenan is an authority on many subjects, but he's earned much of his national fame for his writings and research on the image of black males in media and literature. His most recent volume is
The Fire This Time, an updated series of reflections, analysis and commentary pegged to legendary author and critic James Baldwin's epic work The Fire Next Time. It's not the first time he's written about Baldwin, who, like Kenan, examined the struggles of being both black and gay in America. The book should serve as a perfect prelude to the eagerly awaited The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings — a collection of Baldwin essays, articles, polemics, reviews and interviews that have never before appeared in book form — scheduled for release later this year.
Kenan, an associate professor of English at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has amassed a long list of honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers' Award, a John Dos Passos Award and the 1997 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He also supplied the text for the 1997 photography book A Time Not Here: The Mississippi Delta, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and penned Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, which earned a Southern Book Award nomination. Kenan will speak at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at Vanderbilt's Buttrick Hall, Room 101.
Amy Greene's debut novel Bloodroot has been generating plenty of prerelease buzz. Greene, who was born and raised in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and still resides in East Tennessee with her husband and two children, has crafted a saga about life in Appalachia as seen through the eyes and experiences of several generations of women in the Lamb family. Laced with themes of madness and magic, Greene's story also explores the poverty, hardship and isolation faced by the region's residents. Bloodroot has gotten strong early reviews, including high praise from acclaimed writers Wally Lamb, Jill McCorkle and Arthur Golden, who says of Greene's book, "I was riveted from start to finish." Green will discuss and sign her book at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at Davis-Kidd Booksellers.
Abraham Verghese's background could provide source material for a riveting novel. Born of Indian parents in Ethiopia, Verghese left the country following the overthrow of longtime Emperor Haile Selassie in the 1970s, and upon completing his medical education began working in rather unconventional settings. His first book, My Own Country, a powerful account of his time treating rural HIV patients in Johnson City, Tenn., during the '80s, won a National Book Critics Circle Award. His second book, The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss, was a New York Times Notable Book and a national best-seller.
Verghese released his first novel, Cutting for Stone, last year. It follows two brothers, the product of a forbidden union between a doctor and a nun, as they follow in their father's footsteps and practice medicine. The book incorporates elements from Verghese's background while contrasting medical developments and customs in Asia, Africa and America. Cutting for Stone was among the Top 20 books of 2009 according to both Publishers Weekly and Amazon.com. Verghese will discuss and sign the book at 2 p.m. Feb. 27 at Davis-Kidd Booksellers.
• Ridley Wills II: The Hermitage at 100 — Nashville's First Million Dollar Hotel
The venerable Hermitage Hotel began operation Sept. 17, 1910, and over its century of existence has been the site of numerous remarkable and historic happenings: John Dillinger was a guest there, proponents and opponents of women's suffrage met there, billiards legend Minnesota Fats even lived there for eight years. Local historian Ridley Wills II will no doubt cite many of these as he discusses and signs the lavishly illustrated Hermitage at 100, 2 p.m. Jan. 23 at Davis-Kidd.
• Jimmy McDonough: Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen
Country music fans treasure such classics as "Stand by Your Man" and "D-I-V_O-R-C-E," but even collectors may not know the full story of Tammy Wynette's rise to fame and the price she paid along the way. But noted biographer Jimmy McDonough, who's previously penned highly praised and comprehensive tomes on Neil Young and Russ Meyer, puts Wynette in the same category as Maria Callas and Billie Holiday, gifted divas whose lives constantly juggled artistic greatness and personal tragedy. McDonough will discuss and sign the book at 7 p.m. March 9 at Davis-Kidd.
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