I adore Christopher Moore.
In fact, I’d go as far as to call him my favorite living author.
My first discovery of his works was purely by accident — In a train station, in need of something to get me through a 3 hour Amtrak ride, my eyes fell upon the cover to “A Dirty Job,” which I bought, and reader/author love was born.
SO! Mr. Moore has a new book out – “Sacre Bleu” – and Chicago wasn’t originally a part of his tour itinerary. This made me sad. Then, my husband and I discovered that he had a Milwaukee stop on my birthday, and a mini road trip in the name of book-nerd-iness was born.
Off we headed to the land of beer and cheese.
Boswell Book Company, the Milwaukee store that hosted the event, is wonderful. Staffed by book nerds, the shelves are packed with all kinds of great reads. The children’s section is adorable, there’s a bunch of travel books, and hey — it’s connected to a Starbucks. Basically, they had me at hello.
Milwaukee folk love Christopher Moore, apparently. The event was full, and the crowd was fun and receptive. The Author Guy himself was a blast to listen to — silly, political, and smart. He even came out about fifteen minutes before the event and wandered through the assembled crowd, seeing how far everyone had come from. (The winners got audiobooks — I think of “Lamb.”)
Here’s what I learned:
Among his favorite characters, Rivera (the put-upon cop) ranks pretty high.
Harvard Divinity is teaching “Lamb,” which gets way less angry letters from religious people than you’d expect.
What’s he working on now? Another book involving Pocket from “Fool,” only this time put into the combined context of “Othello” and “The Merchant of Venice.” (He’d also like to do a sequel to “A Dirty Job,” which might include the return of one of his most beloved characters, Abby Normal – the inspiration for whom came from goth kids Moore saw on the bus, and their subsequent Myspace blogs.)
Mostly, he was there to talk about his newest (#3 New York Times bestselling) book, “Sacre Bleu,” which takes the reader back in time to the events surrounding Van Gogh’s death and the Impressionist artists of the world surrounding him. It’s a novel about the color blue, and I’m currently about 40% of the way through reading it, so I can say it’s quite good — if a slight departure from the silly absurdity of some of Moore’s other works. It’s a little bit more mature of a book, which I absolutely mean as a compliment.
Post-event, we all queued up to get our books signed. The staff at Boswell handled this really well, assigning everyone to a group and calling up groups so everyone didn’t have to wait in line the whole time. We went through the line, and (being those people with the baby) I’m pretty sure our 6 month old amused everyone around us the whole time.
Mr. Moore graciously signed several of my books – including the copy of “A Dirty Job” that started my whole fandom in the first place. In the limited time we spoke with him, he was affable and charming.
I really enjoyed my experience with Boswell Book Company and the signing. Wisconsin Booknerds, you should really stop by. Everything was lovely and well-coordinated and you can tell it’s a store staffed by folks who just love books. To show my support, I took the opportunity to pick up two books I’ve been meaning to acquire copies of — Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” and Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia!”
Good times, good times!
The lovely Margot Livesey, author of “The Flight of Gemma Hardy,” showed up at Women & Children First on Tuesday night to read from her new book, take questions, and sign books. As I very much enjoyed the book, I made the trek up to Andersonville to attend the event.
Ms. Livesey is adorable, and reads very well. That may seem like a weird statement, but some authors really don’t. Livesey’s lively lilt took us through a few pages from “The Flight of Gemma Hardy,” and seemed as if it could be the real speaking voice of the fictional character. After her reading, she took questions about her process, her relationship to “Jane Eyre” (which “..Gemma Hardy” is loosely based on/inspired by) and Iceland (which plays a prominent role in the story.) She also signed books, and I got my copy signed and got to chat briefly with her. I thanked her for making me want to visit Iceland – Her book should be adopted by the Icelandic government as a tourist brouchure or something. Seriously.
It’s a shame that I’m rarely in Andersonville, because I really enjoy the neighborhood, and Women & Children First is a wonderful independent bookstore. Obviously, the store has a female-heavy slant, but they carry lots of great fiction as well, and have a great kids section too. (I purchased a book I can’t wait to read – “Defining Moments in Books.”) Their sale/Remainder section is rather grand as well, and they host tons of events.
Post-event, my dear friend Annie and I strolled to the Starbucks across the way, got some decaf drinks (It was 8:30pm) and then headed home. Annie is the only person I know who loves “Jane Eyre” as much as I do, and she was the perfect date. (Especially when she told Ms. Livesey that anytime she wanted to get a drink, we’d oblige.)
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference is hitting Chicago next week, loaded with author events and readings – including a keynote speech by Margaret Atwood. Unsurprisingly, the conference itself is sold out – but there’s a whole slew of other events taking place all over the city.
Check out the AWP schedule of off-site events. There’s literally dozens of things going on that you don’t need conference admission for.
I’m going to be attending a few of these, as well as the book fair during it’s open to the public hours on Saturday.
Aw! Those fine folks at The Book Cellar are hosting an event tomorrow at 7pm where Santa will read bedtime stories to the little ones. Let Santa entertain the kids while you shop (an awesome indie store) for great books for those readers on your Christmas list!
I have lived in Chicago for over six years now, and each year I have (for a variety of reasons) been unable to attend the annual Printer’s Row Lit Fest. Either I was out of town, or had to work, or was doing something-or-other that kept me away. As a BookNerd, this broke my heart. Finally, stars aligned and I was able to attend the 2011 event to see what all the hullabaloo was about.
A stretch south of the loop that’s a cornerstone of the Chicago publishing industry, Printer’s Row is a pleasant area full of bars/restaurants, lovely architecture, and rare book stores. Located only a few blocks away from the imposing and formidable Harold Washington Public Library, it’s a landmark area for book nerds like myself. The annual festival brings together book sellers, readers, and writers in a weekend festival of the printed word. This was the 27th time the festival has been held.
Saturday’s weather forecast was heat and thunderstorms, so I threw an umbrella in my bag, loaded up on sunblock and headed out the door early with my good friends Amanda and Dan. We got there right as the fest opened, and as such managed to score some really great books at great prices before the stacks started to get picked over by rabid readers.
With frequent hydration breaks due to the sweltering heat, we made our way through the numerous booths of booksellers.
Some of course put on more impressive displays than others. We were super impressed with the Open Books booth, which came as no surprise. In addition to having one of the biggest, best-priced collection of books, all their proceeds go to literacy programs – which is totally a noble cause.
In addition to book sellers, there were some authors on hand signing copies of their books, as well as a handmade jewelry maker and some other clever booths. Like Acura. Who would have thought a car company would be willing to sponsor a booth at a street festival that has nothing to do with cars? Yet, there they were with a car filled with books and a raffle you could enter by guessing how many books it would take to fill one of their vehicles.
My purchases: I think I spent a whopping $25 to score copies of E.L. Doctorow’s “The March,” Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimajarao and Other Stories,” an anthology called The Best American Travel Writing 2005,” and a gorgeous children’s book called “A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travellers” by Nancy Willard. There were so many great deals to be found. In addition, I purchased a fascinating item – “A La Card” – a deck of 52 cards, each of which is a description of a Chicago restaurant and a $10 coupon to the restaurant.
Dan’s haul: I talked Dan into buying Christopher Moore’s “A Dirty Job” and E.L. Doctorow’s “Homer and Langley,” which delighted me. He also got a collection of stories about female sleuths. He also made my day by purchasing the above baby tee for my yet-unborn child. (If ever a kid was destined to be a book lover, it’s this one.)
Amanda’s haul: Amanda went looking for specific books, namely Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” which she ended finding in an adorable 1954 hardcover edition for $3. Her quest for Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park” proved fruitless, but she wound with a really great hardcover edition of “Pride and Prejudice,” so she was pleased. (In typical used book shopping fashion, Austen sells out fast.) She also left with a book about Henry V’s wives, and a copy of Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.”
Had the heat been less intense, we likely would have popped into the numerous tents to catch a few more authors speaking, but wandering the streets where the breeze was seemed a better idea. However, upon hearing that Chicago Tribune theatre-dude Chris Jones was going to be interviewing playwright/writer David Henry Hwang, Dan and I knew we had to attend.
Jones and Hwang led a super interesting panel, during which Hwang’s work was discussed in-depth, including his new play “Chinglish” which is getting it’s premier at The Goodman Theatre this season. Hwang spoke about his work on Disney Broadway musicals, his interest in exploring issues of multiculturalism, his masterpiece/most famous work, “M. Butterfly” and hinted that a major revival may be in the early stages.
Here’s a couple brief videos of the conversation.
At the end of the panel, the heat had gotten to us, so we took off for a late lunch before heading home.
(By the By, once we were on the bus it started to rain. So that umbrella I hauled all day DID come in handy. My advice to those attending outdoor events in Chicago: Weather changes fast, so always be prepared)
I returned to the fest for a bit in the morning on Sunday to get some more great last-day book deals as well as to attend a panel featuring authors Wendy McClure and Kelly O’Connor McNees in conversation with Megan Stielstra. Ms. O’Connor McNees (who’s written a book about Louisa May Alcott) had food poisoning and was unable to attend, but McClure delivered. I read her hilarious weight-loss memoir, “I’m not the new me” several years ago and have kept it on my shelf ever since.
McClure has written a new book, “The Wilder Life,” about her Laura Ingalls Wilder/Little House on the Prairie fandom. (I’ll be reviewing that shortly, as well as sharing a great video of her reading from that book.)
Below, Wendy McClure talks about her twittering as Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I scored some more fantastic deals on books, too. Faulkner, Judy Blume, William Peter Blatty, some parenting books, and more wound up in my bag. Yes, I left overloaded.
Overall, the weekend was great. The weather cooperated and everyone seemed in a good mood. I will definitely return next year – though I’ll be pushing a stroller, so we’ll see how that goes – and am looking forward to another great weekend.
**UPDATE: Dear Readers — I am a moron, and the list of events I was using was from 2004. I know, right? So, please ignore what used to be posted here – and please visit the very up to date and super official Chicago Tribune schedule for Printer’s Row Book Fair 2011. Where you can find an ACTUAL schedule for THIS year’s event. Totally my bad. Blame my pregnant brain.**
What’s better than free books, right?
The Friendly Folks at OpenRoadMedia have offered me the chance to give away a copy of Andrew Kessler’s new non-fiction book – “Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and my 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission.”
All YOU have to do is share the below excerpt (or part of it) with the world!
If you have a personal blog, share it there. If you want to share it on facebook, do that too! If you want to share it on twitter, use the hashtag #martiansummer and tweet it to @suchabooknerd and @openroadmedia. Or, you can leave a comment on this post, or send me an email and let me know where you’ve shared.
The winner will receive a digital copy of the book for review. Winner to be selected June 13th, 2011!
Excerpt to share is below.
Date: June 04, 2007
The story begins two months before the launch of the Phoenix Mars Lander. One year before the landing. It takes ten months to fly at 74,000 mph to arrive on Mars. It’s far.
The subject of the story is a Martian photographer.
“Don’t call me that,” Peter Smith, the world’s greatest Martian Photographer says dryly. “It really diminishes the science.”
This is a story about the world’s greatest Mars picture-taker and his robot, Phoenix.
“And don’t make me look like some wacko mad scientist,” Peter says. He has a hard enough time with the mission’s image as it is. Peter is particular about the mission’s image because he knows how getting it right has the potential to inspire children and adults alike. More than half his team is here because they grew up watching Apollo and Viking missions.
“What’s going to inspire the next generation?” he wants to know.
We’re sitting in the back yard of Peter’s Tucson home. We’re getting off on the wrong foot and I can’t stop imagining Peter working in his Martian photo studio posing little aliens on the Red Planet. Stupid, I know.
Peter is intimidating. He is tall—very tall—with a shock of white hair, bushy eyebrows, big mustache, a robust Buddha-like belly and an alpha-male cowboy swagger. He towers over me and says little. Only grimacing and asking if I’m sure I’m up for the task, correcting me when I say things like “Martian photographer” or make other interplanetary gaffes. I blabber to fill the silence. It’s not uncommon to feel this way when you first meet the brilliant, geeky—
“Please don’t make us look like geeks, either” says the brilliant John Wayne of space.
“Go collect some firewood for dinner,” he says. I do it. When I return, Peter breaks the wood with his hands, starts a small fire, and tells me a story.
JUST FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, MARS WAS A DOT, A SPECK OF LIGHT.
Then came the first telescopes, and Mars ceased to be a dot. It became, instead, a world which scientists claimed was much like our own. Imaginations ran wild, and before long, rather than see vast, won- derful possibilities, we feared a Martian attack. As a war of the worlds loomed, Mars became a source of fear and anxiety.
It wasn’t until our first stumblings into the solar system in the 1960s, when Mariner 4 snapped photos of Mars’s surface that we caught a glimpse of what it might actually be like. Rather than an advanced civilization poised for an attack, Mariner 4 showed us a lifeless, deso- late place. A few years later, in the 1970s, Viking I confirmed those first impressions: Mars was nothing to fear. Just a dead planet; barely worth exploring. The missions stopped. The scientific dreamers lost sleep and became depressed.
Then a discovery in the 1990s changed everything. ALH84001, a piece of Mars ejected by a cosmic collision, was thrust through the solar system and somehow landed on Earth. It was found in Antarctica in 1984 but no one took much interest. When scientists at NASA finally cut it open to take a closer look, they found something shocking: evidence of life. Tiny microbes, simple little guys with evidence of a few of the basic structures of life, like a cell wall. It was the basic innards of something you might find in the extreme environments of the Earth—sulfur vents at the bottom of the ocean, the dry valleys of Antarctica, or the Andean desert. Clearly there was more to discover on Mars. So, we headed back.
Peter Smith is a master at conjuring these little Mars vignettes.
That’s not his only virtue or why we’re here. Peter built an excavator to operate on Mars. It took five years of construction and nearly a lifetime of dreams. In a few months, he will watch a Delta II rocket blast off into space carrying his 800-pound lander with a long arm that can dig into the surface of Mars. Past Mars missions toted along soup-spoon style digging equipment, but Phoenix brings a mini backhoe to do real interplanetary digging. His mission is called The Phoenix Mars Lander. Phoenix for short.
Peter builds cameras for space. Capturing the universe on film is a great gig. He built almost half of the cameras that have operated on Mars, and got to where he is by working his way up from research assistant to Mission Captain—or Principal Investigator to NASA insiders. It’s a classic photon-to-Charged-Coupled-Device story.
You might remember waking up one summer morning in 1997 to a well-cropped ocher-colored Martian landscape on the front page of your newspaper or computer screen. Remember? Peter took that image. His camera, fixed to a robot called Pathfinder, captured the alien landscape using a simple yet brilliant trick to get non-scientists to imagine themselves on Mars and bask in its glory.
His scientific images looked like tourist photos. And Peter, betting that scientists wouldn’t be the only ones who wanted to look at them, made a secret handshake deal to thwart NASA protocol and post the images on the Internet as they came down from Mars. It was arguably the first ever viral marketing campaign—undoubtedly the first for space. The traffic he brought to NASA’s site nearly crashed the whole Internet. The coolness factor re-awakened a waning interest in not just the Red Planet, but space exploration itself.
This is Peter’s whole raison d’etre, as well as his gift of empathy—a rare trait among scientific minds: obsessed with discovery, but never forgetting to stop to smell the roses. Peter wants people to care about space and science, so he does everything possible to make it romantic and within arm’s length. Get through that gruff exterior, and I’m just positive we’ll find an old softy.
NOW PETER HAS TAKEN ON SOMETHING BIGGER. HE DIDN’T JUST BUILD the cameras for this mission, he’s the captain of this whole ship and he won’t take no jive from no one—except NASA. They control his $420 million budget and can cut him off at any moment, if he goes rogue. Not that I’m implying he would ever hijack a Mars lander.
Peter Smith invited me to his rocket-ship-shaped home—a design rendered when he was a swinging space bachelor—because he wanted to revive the great space narrative, begun a generation ago, but now in need of a new chapter. From our scant conversations before I arrived in Tucson, I learned he was looking for an outsider to join the mission and articulate to the world a story starring one lovable but tough- as-nails hero, Peter Smith, on one crazy, heroic, funtastic mission to explore the innards of another world.
This is our first face-to-face Mars accord. Peter wants someone on his mission that’s not a brilliant scientist. Check. He’s got enough headaches with 130 of those. He’s looking for someone who might see Mars with a fresh approach and could write about it from a new perspective. Check. And there’s one thing Peter can see clearly—I’ve got naïveté in spades.
Still, this whole project is a risk. Letting an outsider into Mission Control makes Peter’s current P.R. chief nervous.
“You’re a liability.” she says. Then again, she used to work for the folks that make shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, cluster bombs, and the like. Transparency doesn’t come naturally for her. I just have to gently remind her, this is the Martian arctic, not Afghanistan.
So share and share away! I’ll pick a winner on June 13th, 2011!