Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vanessa Veselka Reads Tonight!

We invite you to join us tonight at 7 pm to hear Portland writer Vanessa Veselka read from her debut novel, Zazen, recently published by Red Lemonade.The novel grew out of a short story the author wrote in 2006 that was published in Tin House.

Zazen is narrated by twenty-seven-year-old Della, who has recently completed her doctorate in paleontology and is living with her brother and his pregnant wife. She spends her time slinging hash at Rise Up Singing, a vegan-friendly diner in the midst of a gentrifying neighborhood. She lives in an unnamed city in a country that one reviewer described as "a slightly twisted mirror reflection of today's United States of America." In a recent interview, Veselka said she chose not to name the city because "it was very, very important to me that it be a certain kind of archetypal city and not a solid location, but rather a location that emerged out of a constellation of certain ideas, more like a set of chemical reactions whose compound always contains the same properties."

Some of the things Veselka wrote about in her book came true after she wrote about them, such as the stampede in WalMart on Black Friday, which the author takes to mean "I am getting close to a cultural pulse." She goes on to say: "It wasn't the future I was describing. It was now in figurative terms....As to what the world of Zazen says about us, I don't know. I'm part of us and sometimes I don't want to be."

In the Acknowledgements of her book, Veselka thanks Beulahland and Staccato Gelato "for letting me sit for hours and hours while I wrote."  She adds, "If you're in Portland, give them lots of business. They deserve it for putting up with people like me." In an interview she said that what she really likes about writing in public is the feeling of decadence: "I love to be hanging out in a cafe when other people are at work. It's the shameless libertine in me. But I also need the human interaction when I'm deep in the writing."

Music is also very important to Veselka; in fact, she says it affects everything she does: "I am a musician and I think in rhythms when I write. Almost all of my writing at the paragraph level is about beats and counter beats. It's my primary editing tool." She says she mutters incessantly when she writes, checking out the rhythms against "some sonic template I inherited from god knows where."

In writing, she thinks symbols and metaphors are "a bit of a shell game, " adding "I like them best when they contradict each other." She says the trick is to avoid simplifying something when we're trying to appreciate its complexities.

Northwest author Jonathan Evison (All About Lulu, West of Here) calls Zazen "hilarious, unsettling, and improbably sweet," saying that reading this debut novel is "a highly engaging, and totally unique experience, which will have you re-reading passages and dog-earing pages." Most of all -- and best of all -- the book is, in Evison's eyes, "that rare novel which dares to be hopeful in the face of despair, and succeeds."

Veselka has been at various times a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, an expatriate, an independent record label owner, a train hopper, a waitress, and a mother. Her work has appeared in Bust, Bitch, Maximumrocknroll, YETI magazine, and Tin House.

We hope you can join us tonight at 7!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Suzanne Sigafoos Celebrates New Poetry Collection

Please join us tonight at 7 pm as we welcome local poet Suzanne Sigafoos back to Broadway Books! Suzanne will be reading from her first collection of poetry, Held in the Weave, recently published by Finishing Line Press.

Suzanne began her writing journey in earnest at age 50, when she took a workshop at UC Berkeley Extension entitled "Appreciating and Writing Poetry," where she had the opportunity to share her writing out loud and to learn to give and receive critique.

After relocating to Portland in 1999, she found her poetry home with Mountain Writers, taking workshops with Michelle Glazer, Joseph Millar, Jennifer Grotz, Maxine Scates, and Paulann Petersen. She also attended a 10-day writing retreat in Port Townsend at Centrum, studying with Dorianne Laux. In 2002 she co-founded the group River Rock Writers, which meets twice each month to share writings and critiques.

Suzanne is an avid poetry reader and attender of poetry readings -- both of big-ticket national authors and of Portland's many gifted local poets. She has presented week-long creative writing workshops to third-, fifth-, and seventh-grade students in Portland Public Schools as part of Community of Writers, where she managed to sneak in much poetry appreciation! She currently volunteers as co-facilitator of a support group for elders, emphasizing finding and maintaining emotional well-being while living with the challenges of aging.

We last enjoyed the pleasure of Suzanne's poetry in 2007, when she read here with four other Portland poets who were included in the anthology Regrets Only: Contemporary Poets on the Theme of Regret, published by Little Pear Press.

We're so looking forward to welcoming Suzanne back to read and to celebrating the release of her new book. Please join us tonight for a delightful evening of poetry.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't Forget Dad!

Don't say we didn't warn you: Father's Day is this Sunday, June 19th. I think I heard Dad mention that nothing would make him happier than the gift of a book or two. Really. Surprise, surprise -- we've got lots of idea! Is your dad into history? Both David McCullough and Erik Larson, two very fine writers of history, have new books out. McCullough's is The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, and Larson's is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.

Perhaps your dad's thing is sports. Here are just a few ideas from the many sports-related book we have: Those Guys Have all the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN (James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales), Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game (Dan Berry), and Cardboard Gods: An American Tale (Josh Wilker), a memoir told through baseball cards.

Is your dad into cooking? We've got lots of fabulous cookbooks to choose from. Or you could go with Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families, edited by John Donohue --"An A-list of writers who share riveting tales of culinary love and war." It even includes tips and recipes!

My Dad loves to read good mysteries, novels of suspense and espionage. Here are a couple of new ones: Against all Enemies, by Tom Clancy, and Bloodmoney, by David Ignatius. Or perhaps fiction of another ilk: The new novel by David Abbott, The Upright Piano Player, looks terrific. Or the new collection of stories by Julian Barnes (Pulse: Stories). Or Jonathan Evison's novel about the fictional northwest town of Port Bonita (West of Here). Or Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes, just out in paperback.

Maybe something with a science/nature bent? Might we suggest Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors, The Tell-Tale Brain: a Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human by V.S. Ramachandran, and The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick.

Finally, for the new dad in your life, the smash hit Go the F*k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, a children's book for grown-ups -- probably not a good one to read to your kids.

Come see us -- we love helping you find just the right book for Dad.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Check Out the Three Events at BB This Week!

We promised you more events at Broadway Books -- how does three this week sound for you? We start tonight with an event in honor of Father's Day (more on that in a second post), which is this Sunday. Local author Kevin Renner will be here tonight at read from and discuss his newly published book, In Search of Fatherhood: A Mother Lode of Wisdom from the World of Daughters.

Renner spent more than a year traveling around the world and interviewing women (50 are presented in this book), asking them to reflect on what they had absorbed from their fathers and what they didn't get that they still yearned for. His goal was to better understand the father-daughter relationship so that he could do a better job with his own daughters. He talked to women from across cultures, economic strata, professions -- those who felt loved by their fathers and those who felt abandoned or abused. In the book he presents the stories of their relationships, along with his own story.

Renner is the founder and president of B2B Market Strategies. He divides his time among his family, writing, and his work as a marketing and brand strategist to emerging companies. He lives in Portland with his wife Meg, daughters Julia and Katherine, and an ever evolving animal population. Renner received his social science degree from UC-Santa Cruz before beginning his career as a business journalist. Later he completed an MBA at UC- Berkeley, where he lived with 600 women and men from around the world at The International House.

On Tuesday night we welcome the editor of and several contributors to Volume V of Drash: Northwest Mosaic, just recently published. Drash is a Seattle-based annual literary magazine that features an ecumenical embrace of poetry and prose with a Northwest and Jewish tilt. Scheduled to read tomorrow night are Akiva Miller, David Fuks, Jeanne Krinsley, Hanna Goldbaum, Carolyn Martin, and the editor, Wendy Marcus.

Thursday night we host our monthly Comma reading series, moderated by Kirsten Rian. On the third Thursday of each month,Comma features two regional authors, representing a variety of literary genres.  Each author reads for 20 to 25 minutes from new projects, established pieces, or ongoing works in progress and then engages in discussion with each other and with the audience.

This month Comma presents Barry Sanders and Tim DuRoche. Sanders is a professor emeritus of Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He is currently writer-in-residence at Pacific Northwest College of Art. He is also a social activist and the author of two recent books: The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism and Unsuspecting Souls: The Disapperance of the Human Being -- both of which were nominated for this year's Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction. He loves teaching at PNCA and brings his students to the Donald E. Long detention center in Portland to teach reading and writing.

DuRoche is a writer, jazz musician, artist, and curator. His writing about visual culture, jazz and performance, planning, urban history, and cultural policy have appeared in a number of print and online venues. Since moving to Portland in 2000, he's worked with a number of creative cultural institutions including Northwest Film Center and Portland Center Stage. Currently he is the Director of Programs for the World Affairs Council of Oregon. He is a frequent public speaker and moderator for cultural organizations across the state and hosts a weekly jazz program on KMHD-89.1 FM.

Each of these events will begin at 7pm. Please join us for one, two, or all three events -- it's always a pleasure to see you!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pearlman Wins PEN/Malamud Award

You know from my past posts that I'm a big fan of the short story genre. But there's a gap in my reading, someone I somehow have overlooked in my reading of short stories. But today I just got a big reminder to get busy, as Edith Pearlman has been honored with the 24th annual PEN/Malamud Award from the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, given to honor a writer's contribution to the short fiction form.

Pearlman has written more than 250 stories published in four books. Her most recent, Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories, was published in 2011 by Lookout Books. It looks fabulous to me. But don't take my word for it. Especially since I haven't read it yet. And because I'm a sucker for well-produced trade paperbacks with French flaps. How about this, from Ann Patchett: "Binocular Vision should be the book with which Edith Pearlman casts off her secret-handshake status and takes up her rightful position as a national treasure. Put her stories beside those of John Updike and Alice Munro. That's where they belong."

Or this from Roxana Robinson: "Pearlman's view of the world is large and compassionate, delivered through small, beautifully precise moments. These quiet elegant stories add something significant to the literary landscape."

Or this from Anthony Doerr: "If you read, write, or teach short fiction -- if you believe gorgeous, scrupulously made literature nourishes the soul -- then you must read Edith Pearlman." Ok, I get the hint!

Pearlman's fiction has won three O. Henry Prizes and has appeared three times in Best American Short Stories, twice in The Pushcart Prize, and once in New Stories from the South. She has also published short essays and travel writing. She is a New Englander by birth and preference and lives in Massachusetts with her husband. She has worked in a computer firm and a soup kitchen -- not sure if that was simultaneous or not.

Here is what the author herself has to say (yes, cribbed from her website): At readings I welcome the inevitable question: where do you get your ideas? My ideas come from musings, from observation, from memory; from reading, from travel, from movies, from anecdotes heard or overheard, faces on the subway and rooms seen through a window. They are invented and borrowed and stolen. Some particular interests of mine are inter-species liaisons; asexuals, who get scanted by writers; and accommodation – to circumstances, to personal limitations, to the claims of family, to place.
I am slow. A sentence often takes an hour to compose before I throw it out. What can you do?

Previous winners of the PEN/Malamud Award include Lorrie Moore, Grace Paley, Edward P. Jones, John Updike, Eudora Welty, and Joyce Carol Oates -- not bad company!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Erik Larson Gives Us Another Winner

I've been on a particularly lucky reading streak lately -- great book after great book after great book, with no clunkers. Most recently I read a memoir, The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, and a novel, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; both were over-the-top terrific. I wasn't sure my luck would continue, but it sure did! Last night I finished reading Erik Larson's newest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, and I stayed up WAY too late finishing it because I just couldn't stop so close to the end.

Not that it should be surprising that an author can make Berlin under Hitler and the Nazis interesting reading. But what was surprising was that at well past midnight I found myself reading the end notes to the book, thinking "Sally, just stop reading and go to sleep, it's just end-notes, for goodness sake!" It's a rare writer who can make even the end-notes to a book compelling enough to keep one's eyes open in the wee hours.

Larson employs a great technique in telling the story of Berlin in the lead-up to WWII by telling the story of America's ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his flamboyant, flirtatious daughter, Martha. A mild-mannered professor of history from Chicago, Dodd moved to Berlin with his wife, son, and daughter as Hitler and his band of sadists and psychopaths rose to power.

Dodd's wife and son receive scant attention in the book (mostly because Dodd and Martha left a much greater written record of their thoughts and activities). His daughter Martha, newly separated from her husband, initially found the young men of the Third Reich handsome and exciting, and she threw herself into Berlin's social scene, having affairs and partying. But as proof of the evil intentions of the Nazis became increasingly obvious, she became repulsed, and Dodd became increasingly alarmed and tried to get the American government to step in, or at least speak up. But he is unsuccessful. Although he eventually recognized the dysfunction of the regime and behaved courageously, he was unable to persuade his countrymen to take action until it was too late, and war became inevitable.

Persecution of the Jews increased, as Hitler stripped them of basic rights and economic viability, and random sadistic violence reigned, culminating in the events of June 30, 1934 -- the Night of the Long Knives -- when Hitler ordered a political purge that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of his critics and rivals, many of them friends and acquaintances of the Dodds.

In the end matter to the book, Larson writes about how deeply his research into Nazi Germany affected him: "What I did not realize as I ventured into those dark days of Hitler's rule was how much the darkness would infiltrate my own soul. I generally pride myself on possessing a journalist's remove, the ability to mourn tragedy and at the same time appreciate its narrative power, but living among the Nazis day in, day out proved for me a uniquely trying experience" -- to the point that he had to keep one of his main reference books on Hitler face down on his desk so he wouldn't be forced to start each day with "those hate-filled eyes and slack cheeks and that fragment of Brillo that passed for a mustache" that had become so repulsive to him.

You also have to enjoy a writer who in his acknowledgements thanks his three daughters for "their increasingly astute critiques of my manner of dress" and his wife and "secret weapon" for her margin notes, "complete with crying faces and trailing lines of zzzzzz's...."

I recently read the novel Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada (who makes a cameo appearance in Larson's book), which is also set in Nazi Berlin and is based on true events. It was so horrifying -- and also un-put-down-able -- that I wasn't sure I was ready for another book on this bloody, sadistic, sorrowful period in our world history. But Larson is a extraordinarily good writer and story teller, and once I started I couldn't stop.

Larson is also the author of The Devil in the White City (about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer), Thunderstruck (about the invention of the wireless and the chase for one of Britain's most famous criminals), and Isaac's Storm (about the deadly hurricane off the Gulf Coast in 1900), among other books. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Russian history, language and culture. He received a masters in journalism from Columbia University. He has been a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and for Time Magazine and has written articles for The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and other publications. He and his wife and fashion-conscious daughters live in Seattle, where he owns an old British sports car named Mrs. Peel.

Marjorie Sandor to Read from New Memoir

Tonight we are excited to be hosting Corvallis author and professor Marjorie Sandor, reading from her recently published memoir The Late Interiors: A Life Under Construction, published by Arcade Publishing. The book tells the story of five seasons of change and renewal in a woman's life, braiding entries from a garden journal with lyric meditations and full-blown essays on our eternal -- and contradictory -- hunger for adventure and refuge.

At a time in her life when she once thought a person should have been well settled in for the long haul, she falls in love with a colleague, leaves her husband, and co-parents a daughter through adolescence. As they are building a home and a life together, her partner undergoes sudden emergency heart surgery, reminding them vividly of the frailty of life. Then they learn that a developer plans to build a multistory student apartment complex just behind their small, nascent, back garden, threatening their new-found haven.

Through it all, as a recent review in The New York Times notes, Sandor gardens, proffering "nimble meditations on healing, friendship, literature, architecture, and music." And her gardening mirrors her writing habits. "Over the centuries, around the world, we have always come home to one truth: Gardening sustains life, love and happiness."

Booklist says about her writing, "Whether she is writing essays...or fiction, Sandor's prose is as tangy and luscious as just-plucked fruit."

Sandor is the author of four books and the 2004 winner of the National Jewish Book Award in Fiction for Portrait of my Mother, Who Posed Nude in Wartime: Stories. Her earlier book of personal essays, The Night Gardener: A Search for Home, won the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Literary Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in magazines such as The Georgia Review and TriQuarterly and in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, Twenty Under Thirty, The Best American Spiritual Writing, and other anthologies. She teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Oregon State University.

Tonight's reading starts at 7 pm -- we hope you can join us!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lidia Yuknavitch Reads from Her Memoir

I have some idiosyncrasies when it comes to my reading habits. For instance, I tend to avoid Irish novels and memoirs about abuse or addiction. I also tend to use an overly large brush when painting books with these stripes. I can't explain this bias, and I certainly can't justify it. It's just one of my reading tics.

So when I first started hearing about The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch, my first thought was "probably not my cup of tea," because I had slapped it with the brush "abuse memoir."  But I decided to check it out anyway because the book is published by Hawthorne Books, a Portland-based publisher.  Hawthorne is a small press, publishing just a few books each year, so they are very selective in what they choose to publish. And then they work closely with their authors and designers to produce books that are of excellent quality, both in terms of content and design. So I figured I'd try just a taste.

I had no idea what I was in for. Three days later I came up for air. Once I started reading The Chronology of Water, I had to force myself to go to work and to sleep and anything else that required putting the book down.

You know you're in for an emotional ride when a memoir begins "The day my daughter was stillborn...."  But I was not prepared for such a breathtaking combination of heartbreak and stoicism. It is intense. Powerful.  Fearless. Honest.  It makes you mad, and it makes you weep. It takes turns you do not see coming. But don't just take my word for it.

Cheryl Strayed calls the book "a brutal beauty bomb and a true love song," saying it is "alive with emotion, both merciful and utterly merciless....This is the book I'm going to press into everyone's hands for years to come." Chuck Palahniuk calls the book extraordinary and says he's read it a dozen times: "And I will, most likely, return to it for inspiration and ideas, and out of sheer admiration, for the rest of my life."

And those are just the pre-pub reviews. Since the book was published, the reviews have been almost as stunning as the book itself; this memoir is definitely resonating powerfully with its readers. Here's a snippet from one: "Reading The Chronology of Water is like reading while swimming weightless under water with no need to come up for air. It's that different, that remarkable."

Or this: "If this isn't the most authentic, honest, attempt at a memoir from someone who's not protecting herself in the slightest, then Lidia has sold her soul to the devil. Again and again, I found myself thinking, 'I can't believe she's actually telling me this.' And there is no shallow end. It starts with gruesome, excruciating pain, and goes on from there." Another reviewer described her prose as "witty, jarring, worthy of dogearing," saying it alternates between "gleeful postmodern exercise and wrenching elegy."

I'm reluctant to describe the specifics of the book or Lidia's life; you really need to read the book for yourself. But I will say that it's about relationships, and creating, and water, and sex -- lots and lots of sex. My mom tried to buy a copy of The Chronology of Water when she was in the store this week, but I stopped her. Because the copy on the front jacket flap begins 'This is not your mother's memoir." Sorry, Mom! But for everyone else, dig in!

Lidia will be reading from her memoir at Broadway Books tomorrow night (Thursday, June 2) at 7 pm. I hope you can join us. It is likely to be a night that won't soon leave your brain.

Mary Rechner on Frank O'Connor Long List

Congratulations to Portland's own Mary Rechner and her Portland-based publisher Propeller Books for being named to the long list for the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, for her collection Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women. You can read what we wrote about Mary's book when she read at Broadway Books last October.

The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is the world’s richest and most prestigious prize for the form and is sponsored by the Cork City Council. It is awarded to the best new collection of short stories each year. The short list will be announced in July, with the award ceremony taking place in September.

This year's group of long listees includes twelve authors from the UK, twenty-six from the US, eight from Canada, four from Ireland, three from India, two from Bulgaria, and one each from Japan, Nigeria, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, China, and Spain. Joining Mary on this year's long list are Colm Toibin (The Empty Family), Danielle Evans (Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self), Anthony Doerr (Memory Wall), Siobhan Fallon (You Know When the Men Are Gone), and Yiyun Li (Gold Boy, Emerald Girl), among others. You can read the full list here.

Last year's winner of the Frank O'Connor award was Ron Rash, for his collection Burning Bright.  The award in '09 went to Simon Van Booy for Love Begins in Winter, the '08 award to Jhumpa Lahiri for Unaccustomed Earth, and the '07 to Miranda July for No One Belongs Here More Than You.

Congratulations, Mary, on this well-deserved honor!

Nancy Pearl Interviews the Author of The Passage

The Passage is one of the hottest summer reads this year -- now if only our weather would cooperate and produce some hot summer weather! I think this might be the next novel for me; it's always so hard to choose from the many great reads at hand. I'm just finishing up a nonfiction book by an American female foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan (more on that later), so I think fiction will come next.

To pique your interest, here's an interview with the author of The Passage (Justin Cronin) by Nancy Pearl. By the way, Chris who works at Broadway Books gives The Passage a big thumbs up. You can click here to read a little more about the book.