Monthly Archives: April 2011

‘Made in Michigan’ Authors Head to Traverse City for National Writers Series

COH BannerThe merging of two great series and many creative minds will take place in Traverse City on Thursday.  Wayne State University Press will be partnering with the National Writers Series of Traverse City to showcase a few of Michigan’s finest authors from the WSU Press Made in Michigan Writers Series.

“The Made in Michigan Writers Series is devoted to highlighting the works of distinguished statewide writers to showcase Michigan’s diverse voices,” shares the Wayne State University Press site. “The series publishes poetry, creative nonfiction, short fiction, and essays by Michigan writers with the aim of encouraging the recognition of the state’s artistic and cultural heritage throughout Michigan, the Midwest, and the nation.”

On Thursday, April 28th, authors from the award-winning Made in Michigan series Bonnie Jo CampbellMichael ZadoorianMichael Delp, and Jack Driscoll will be taking the stage at the City Opera House “for an exciting conversation on writing, creative collaboration, and the life of the artist.”*

In addition to the evening at the Opera House, a variety of other great events such as bookstore readings, school workshops, and writing classes for adults are scheduled as part of the National Writers Series which runs from April 26-28th.

What exactly is the National Writers Series of Traverse City? “It is a year-round book festival in Traverse City that brings some of the brightest celebrities of the literary world to Northern Michigan,” informs the WSU site. The series “is dedicated to bringing to life great conversations with today’s best-selling authors, journalists, and premier storytellers in a lively setting.”

If you’re looking for a field trip, all of this talent under one roof on one night is sure to make for an amazing evening. NLR will be covering the Made in Michigan Opera House event so be sure to check back in.

– As always, support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

– You can click here for a full list of NWS events taking place next week.

*from WSU newsletter

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Filed under Authors, Bonnie Jo Campbell

On the Side: Gabrielle Hamilton’s ‘Blood, Bones & Butter’

Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter currently sits at #18 on the NYT Bestseller list. Not bad for a writer who happens to also be a full-time chef (and mom) running her own restaurant in New York City. While you can read a full review of Hamilton’s work here, I thought it might be nice to have a little extra book info “on the side” to spice things up. And by the way, I highly recommend.

As a child Gabrielle Hamilton’s mother called her by the pet name Prune, and it’s Prune that appears on Hamilton’s thriving restaurant at 54 East 1st. Street in New York City’s East Village. In her kitchen at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton is now well known for serving up American fare that she shares is “very personal, it’s food that I grew up eating or that I have a very close experience cooking, or that I personally know from the ground up and have made and loved.”

The East Village rests in the borough of Manhattan and lies east of Greenwich Village. Much like the maverick chef herself, the East Village has a rich history of both rebellion and creative vision, making it the perfect location for Hamilton. Once the upper part of the Lower East Side, the East Village began its transformation in the 1940’s as a hub of countercultural thought and artistic activity that drew bohemians from around the globe and continues to house the avant-garde to this day.

For more on Gabrielle Hamilton, try this podcast on Splendid Table or this video of Gabrielle at Prune from Savory New York. For more on the area’s fantastic history and bohemian culture, try this episode from the PBS series American Masters.

*Quote from Video: Savory New York

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Authors, Blood Bones & Butter, Book Reviews, Gabrielle Hamilton

Jennifer Egan Grabs 2011 Pulitzer for ‘Goon Squad’

Cover ImageThe winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was awarded to Jennifer Egan for her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. The Pulitzer site calls Goon Squad “an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.”

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (originally called the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel) is awarded to an American author for distinguished fiction, preferably dealing with American life.

Egan, who already won the National Book Critics Circle award earlier this year for Goon Squad, told WSJ’s Speakeasy, “It’s absolutely nutty to win something like this. I feel weird. I wish I had something more articulate to say.” Egan added that the Pulitzer committee has “been really eclectic in their choices” and that “they’ve honored a pretty wide spectrum of books.” Last year’s Pulitzer went to Paul Harding for his quiet work Tinkers.

Winning the prestigious Prize is invaluable in terms of promotion and notoriety for Egan. Founded on the principles of journalist Joseph Pulitzer, the Prize was established to recognize excellence in letters. Not only will Egan take home $10,000 in prize money, but more importantly, she will join a long list of distinguished authors in the Fiction category dating back to 1948.

Famed authors such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Alice Walker are but a few of the weighty Fiction Prize recipients who dot the Pulitzer timeline.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

– Egan’s author page and related links at Random House

Guardian.co.uk review of Visit From the Goon Squad

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Filed under Authors, Jennifer Egan

Beauty and the Bleak – Kathleen Winter’s ‘Annabel’

Cover ImageAnnabel, the novel by Canadian writer Kathleen Winter, has made its way onto the 2011 Orange Prize shortlist where it now joins five other titles from female authors across the globe. Also a finalist for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize and a bestseller in Canada, Annabel has garnered high praise for its gripping prose and depth of human understanding.

Annabel is the tale of Wayne, an intersex boy born and raised in rural Labrador (Winter herself is a native of Newfoundland). Winter’s work is profound, and draws on the steeped traditions and vibrations of Labrador’s landscape. Those who reside in Labrador have long read the skies for signs and looked to the harsh earth for answers. As Winter throws herself into the body of Wayne, she makes accessible to her readers the complex struggles of a sexual anomaly in a small, conventional world.

Annabel is a tricky work to push, which might make it tough to snag the Orange Prize. While Winter’s work is truly beautiful in scope and compassion, Annabel might be a tough sell for the sexually queasy or those who read only for sheer entertainment.

For the more serious reader, however, it is of note that every single one of Winter’s characters is worthy of in-depth conversation and her vision of Labrador and its Inuit people fascinates. Annabel is a patient novel that requires a reader’s patience in kind to truly appreciate Winter’s intent. Assuming she is the deep thinker and humanitarian she appears to be, Winter just might be more concerned with the impact of her work and subject matter rather than accrued prizes.

Though I liked Annabel and will certainly be a better reader and writer because of Winter’s work, I still have a few books to go on my Orange Prize “To Read” list. No doubt Emma Donoghue’s Room will be tough to beat from a popularity standpoint, and American author Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) is also in the ring with her novel Great House. Only time will tell, the winner of this year’s Orange Prize will be announced in June.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

New York Times Review: Announcing Her Existence

Scotia Bank: Kathleen Winter Video Profile

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Filed under Annabel, Authors, Book Reviews, Kathleen Winter

Natalie Taylor Soars in ‘Signs of Life’

Cover ImageWhat do you do if you’re 24 years old, five months pregnant, and your husband suddenly – tragically – dies? If you’re Natalie Taylor you write one honestly good book. Yes, we all know that shelves sag with overdone memoirs of tainted childhoods, deeds done wrong, and ruined lives, but Taylor defies the dark and opts to soar instead with this tight uplifter, Signs of Life.

Natalie’s husband Josh Taylor died on Father’s Day of 2007. He was 27 years old, married to the woman he loved, and happily awaiting the birth of their first child. Who would have thought that a quick blow to the back of his head while Carveboarding would put an end to his own life just as the one he created was beginning to bloom?

Signs of Life is the narrative compilation of Natalie Taylor’s journal entries that span the year following her husband’s death, yet Taylor’s pragmatic approach toward handling her grief is precisely what lands Signs of Life in its own little camp of the genre. Though Taylor’s voice cuts with pure pain and candor, she unwittingly softens the blow with her straight-forward sincerity and unwavering humor.

“When I decide to do something, I want it done quickly. I do not dilly-dally. When Dr. G. told me that grief takes time, I wanted to say, ‘But what about for the smart kids?’ I took Advanced Placement Calculus in high school. Let’s talk Advanced Placement Grief. But one of the first things I realize about this stupid emotion is that AP Grief does not exist. Time goes by, weeks pass, a month passes, my belly grows, my hair grows, but when I wake up in the morning it feels exactly the same. Grief goes at its own speed.”*

As Taylor begins to piece together the brokenness of her life, the fog of her grief lifts just enough to reveal a bit more of both herself and the world around her. Through Josh’s death, Taylor is inadvertently exposed to life outside of the insulated bubble in which she grew up. Instead of self-absorption with her own sorrows, however, Taylor finds in herself an unexpected wellspring of compassion and understanding for all walks of life.

Taylor is a high school English teacher and she structures Signs of Life around the books she teaches and those that pass through her hands the year after Josh’s death. Seeking solace through literature, Taylor looks to some heavy hitters for help. Alice Walker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are but a few of the many authors who step up to hold Taylor’s grieving hand.

Also balanced by the support of some killer friends and family, Taylor puts you on a nickname basis with Ads, Matthews, Moo and more, but it’s never overdone. Taylor’s memoir is incredibly fresh and breathes life and hilarity into the not-so-funny-at-all topics of death, darkness and grief. While Signs of Life is based on Josh Taylor’s terribly sad and untimely death, one can’t miss the budding evolution of a determined woman, a beautiful baby boy, and the incredible ongoing power of life.

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer

*Passage taken from review copy of Signs of Life

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Filed under Authors, Book Reviews, Natalie Taylor, Signs of Life

Sink Your Teeth into Gabrielle Hamilton’s ‘Blood, Bones & Butter’

Cover ImageReader beware – chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter is smoking hot! Serving it up raw and gritty, Hamilton is absolutely fearless as she slices through the chapters of her life. From her idyllic childhood as a girl in rural Pennsylvania to the tough, renegade chef presently rocking NYC’s East Village, Hamilton cranks it from page one with her edgy literary style.

The “blood” of Hamilton’s title is literal and tightly establishes Gabrielle’s ties to both her parents and her four older siblings who together “ran in a pack – like wild dogs.” As a child Hamilton was captivated by her artistic parents and drank them in in great, awe-filled gulps. “My parents seemed incredibly special and outrageously handsome to me then. I could not have boasted of them more or said my name, first and last together, more proudly, to show how it directly linked me to them. I loved that our mother was French… that she had been a ballet dancer at the Met in New York City when she married my father.”

Hamilton tenderly takes her time to lay the family foundation that will both form young Gabrielle as a child and shatter Hamilton as an adult. She warmly observed and absorbed the eclectic cooking style of her mother, and from her father “…learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends.”

Through the simple joy of childhood memories Hamilton solidifies the family bond, and no event makes a deeper impression on young Gabrielle than that of her father’s legendary annual  lamb-roast. It is this magical “feast” for hundreds of friends from “as far away as the townhouses of New York City” where Hamilton’s recognition of family and culinary senses become inextricably bound.

When Hamilton’s parents suddenly split up, Gabrielle is left alone amidst the busted bones of her now broken family. Cash-strapped and only thirteen, she begins to work it the only way she knows how. Finding her way to the familiar, Hamilton begins to grind it out kitchen after kitchen working her fingers to the bone from New York to Ann Arbor through Europe, and back again. Ultimately, the all-nighters, crusty floors, endless prepping and the sordid yet seductive world of food serve to sharpen Hamilton’s artistic skills and caustic wit.

Blood, Bones & Butter is not just for foodies. Though you will find seasoned passages on “ceviche and Israeli couscous and mushroom duxelle and robbiola cheese” among others to relish, they merely serve to strengthen and fortify Hamilton’s solid story threads. Be warned however, that Hamilton’s style is not for the faint of heart and she makes no apologies for who she is. Her smacking, straight-up honesty is highly acidic and a bit hard to take at times, but eventually Hamilton settles into herself “like butter on toast.”

I could toss up the cooking metaphors all day long, but in the end chef Hamilton writes like a rock star. Every page holds a killer quote and Hamilton’s hard-core intensity is intoxicating. Blood, Bones & Butter has serious moxie driven by the love and language of all things culinary, and its promise of family, friendship, and food is sure to please.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

**The edited version of this review can be seen at BookBrowse.com.

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Filed under Authors, Blood Bones & Butter, Book Reviews, Gabrielle Hamilton