On Friday, Nashville's literary nonprofit The Porch brought Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr together for a night of music and song. The two artists read from their works—Chinaberry Sidewalks and The Liar's Club, respectively—and performed music from their 2012 album, Kin.
Four regulars from The Porch's workshops—Tiana Clark, Kate Parrish, Joshua Moore and Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay—opened the event with readings of their work, and testimonials to the power of storytelling, an idea that certainly seemed to resonate with the audience. As she took the stage, Karr said how impressed she was by their work. "You're all going to heaven, but first you're going to be writers, which is hell."
Karr, who referred to storytelling as "communion," read an excerpt from The Liar's Club to uproarious laughter, but was at first reluctant to sing. She eventually joined Crowell in a rousing rendition of "If the Law Don't Want You, Neither Do I," a song she and Crowell wrote that was recorded by Norah Jones.
The two longtime friends maintained an easy banter, sharing the story of how they met (Crowell included Karr's name in a list of writers in the song "Earthbound," which inspired her to get in touch with him). Crowell had already written an autobiographical album, Houston Kid, but he wanted to stretch his muscles and write a memoir. When he mentioned as much to Karr, she tried to discourage him. "She said, give me 250 pages and I'll cut it down to 50," Crowell remembers. "I didn't write anything for a year [after that]."
After their performaces and readings, the two had a discussion with local interviewer Craig Havighurst. When asked about the Venn diagram of prose, poetry and song. Karr and Crowell agreed that music was the emulsifier—a surprising answer for a memoirist.
Other memorable quotes:
Karr: "Being a writer is hard and it's lonely and you're a weirdo."
Crowell, on his parents: "They were sent out into the world with bad directions and got lost from there."
Karr: "I'm in my body a lot. . . . If I hadn't been a writer I might have been a massage therapist."
Listen to a few other excerpts here.
Emma Straub is quickly making a name for herself as an author who can deftly toe the line between literary and popular writing—her books are easy to breeze through, but there's also food for thought for the discerning reader. Her 2014 novel, The Vacationers, was one of the biggest beach reads of the year, and we think the same might be said a few months from now about novel #3, Modern Lovers, which will be published on May 31 by Riverhead Books.
Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe have been friends ever since college, when they were 3/4 of a moderately successful rock band. Now in their 50s, they've settled in Brooklyn with families and real jobs, but it's not until their own children leave for school (and start sleeping together) that the trio is forced to confront the "shock of middle age"—and the truth about what happened to the fourth member of their group.
The Hogarth Shakespeare series continues on June 21, as Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler tackles The Taming of the Shrew. In Vinegar Girl, she brings Kate, Bianca (here called Bunny) and their father into the modern era by casting Kate Battista as a preschool teacher who is popular with her students but occasionally a bit too abrasive when it comes to managing their parents. At home, she's running things for her father, a scientist, and the rather flighty Bunny.
So far, so good, but a forced marriage plot is hard to swing for an adult woman in 2016. Enter the complexities of the U.S. immigration system, which is attempting to deport Dr. Battista's invaluable lab assistant, Pyotr. Can Battista convince Kate to make the ultimate sacrifice?
With more than 20 novels under her belt, Tyler is an accomplished chronicler of family dynamics. It will be interesting to see if she can also capture the comic spirit of her source material. Will you read it?
Most men in 1920s Alabama would be delighted to receive land as an inheritance, but for Roscoe T. Martin, taking over his father-in-law's farm was nothing but a burden—mostly because it meant leaving his burgeoning career at Alabama Power. Electricity has fascinated Roscoe since he first saw the lamplit streets of Birmingham as a child, and he has a talent for understanding it. The failing farm holds little interest for Roscoe, and his disappointment has turned him angry and bitter, damaging his relationships with his wife and young son. Then one day Roscoe sees an opportunity: He'll siphon off the grid and electrify the farm, allowing him to harvest more efficiently and save the farm. But this decision has deadly consequences, sparking a chain of events that will affect the family for decades to come.
Reeves conjures 1920s Alabama with an astounding level of detail, managing to convey the spirit of the time and place in a way that feels effortless. The sense of newness and excitement surrounding electricity, as well as Roscoe's passion for it, also come through loud and clear.
Back on their land, they tethered the horses to the fence and positioned the ladder against the pole that belonged to Alabama Power. Roscoe grabbed a wooden stick and climbed to line height. "If we failed, there will be sparks," he shouted to Wilson. "Best stand clear." A binder was on the line, coupling wires together. He needed to make the lines touch—different currents on different wires. If they touched quietly, the lines were cold. If not, Roscoe could be thrown from the ladder by the shock. He hesitated, knowing the power he might touch.
"Ross," Wilson called from below. "This is what you do."
Roscoe nodded. Camaraderie, companionship, a joint destination. This was what he did. These were his elements, his knowledge, his home.
He felt everything pause—the breeze, the birds, the trains on their tracks and the fish in their ponds. Even the great turbines at Lock 12 stopped spinning, the water holding back its movement, the powerhouse winding down. The lines had gone cold.
"Clear?" Wilson said.
Now, Roscoe would work.
What are you reading this week?
With so many fascinating books scheduled for publication this year, it wasn't easy to pare our list of highly anticipated titles down to 15. Here are the books that our editors—and readers everywhere—will be most eager to get their hands on.
The mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold tells her family’s story in full for the first time. Drawing on her own journals and her son's writings and videos, Klebold reconstructs the events leading up to the horrific 1999 school shooting and its aftermath. Profits from the book will be donated to mental health research and charitable foundations.
The author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand makes a much anticipated return and branches out into historical fiction, with stellar results. It's the summer of 1914, the last peaceful summer that Europe would see for many years, but the tiny village of Rye is more shaken up by the arrival of its first female Latin teacher. Simonson's comedy of manners charms with its lovable and very human characters, as well as its wry wit and wisdom. (read more)
A jazz musician as well as a memoirist (The Color of Water) and National Book Award-winning novelist (The Good Lord Bird), McBride idolized Brown in his youth and was puzzled to see the multi-million-selling soul singer fade into musical history soon after his death in 2006. This biography/cultural journey seeks to right that wrong and place Brown's life and music in the broader context of the South's racial struggles.
Saying that a DeLillo novel is his "wisest, richest, funniest and most moving" in years is a strong claim, but the early buzz for this new book, the author's 17th, backs up his publisher's assertion. Though a somewhat typically surreal work that contains DeLillo's signature ruminations on humanity and its foibles, the book is also a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between a father and a son—and of our responsibilty to future generations. It's sure to be one of the most talked-about releases of the year.
Hamilton presents the inspiring true story of what happened to Scottish track star Eric Liddell after the events depicted in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire (Liddell refused to compete in a Sunday race at the 1924 Olympics, citing his Christian beliefs). Like his parents, Liddell went on to become a missionary in China. During World War II he was captured by the Japanese and held in an internment camp, where his grace and unselfishness became a source of support to his fellow internees. The book is being compared to another moving WWII story, Unbroken.
The Revolutionary War appears to be the hot “new” topic for authors of popular history. Exhibit A: this gripping depiction of the relationship between Washington and Arnold, by the author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea. Contemporary readers will find some familiar elements in this 18th-century story: corrupt politicians and a dysfunctional Congress, both of which played into Arnold's fateful decision to switch sides.
The Twelve—the initial clutch of scientifically created vampires who infected the world in The Passage—have been defeated, but danger still lingers in this 600-page-plus finale to the bestselling Passage series, which promises thrills and chills, plus some resolution to the stories of Amy, Peter, Alicia and Michael. The first two volumes in the trilogy have sold more than 1.2 million copies, and a Ridley Scott-helmed movie version is in production.
What happens to the 1 percent when the U.S. economy takes a serious tumble? Lionel Shriver investigates in her new novel, which follows the youngest generation of an American dynasty after the dollar plunges and pulls their cushy inheritances with it. This won't be the first time that Shriver, a National Book Award finalist, has skewered our society through fiction, and we can't wait to see her let loose on the foibles of the rich and mighty. (read more)
An Atlanta attorney writes about his father’s defense of a black man charged with raping a white woman in Alabama in the 1930s and draws parallels between this true story and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee reportedly acknowledged some similarities between this real case and her fictional one in a letter to the author.
Australian author Moriarty is setting American bestseller lists aflame with her irresistable novels, which combine page-turning plots with pinpoint-accurate observations on the absurdities of modern life. Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon count themselves among her fans; filming for an HBO limited series of Moriarty's second U.S. bestseller, Big Little Lies, began this month.The only details available so far about her seventh novel come from Moriarty herself: In an interview she revealed that "it's about the consequences of something that happens at a neighbourhood backyard barbecue."
Woodson, whose books for young readers have sold more than a million copies, folllows up her National Book Award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming with her first novel for adults. Set in 1970s Brooklyn, it's a story about "the promise and peril of growing up" that begins when August finds long-buried childhood and teenage memories emerging after a surprise encounter with a long-lost friend. Friendship and coming-of-age are common themes in Woodson's work; seeing how she reframes them for an adult audience is something to look forward to indeed.
The only debut on our list was acquired by legendary editor (and novelist!) David Ebershoff at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, and buzz has been building ever since. When Jonde, an African immigrant, gets a job driving for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, he believes he's on his way to achieving the American dream. He and his wife become more and more invested in the lives of the Edwards family, even as the economic collapse of 2008 hovers on the horizon. Mbue, a Cameroonian writer living in Brooklyn, is already being compared to novelists like Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri.
Nashville's own Ann Patchett returns this fall with a seventh novel, her first since the 2011 bestseller State of Wonder. The story centers on a two families "broken apart and brought together by marriage and divorce," according to the deal announcement. Patchett has written at least one moving essay about her own marriage; we bet that her fictional take on the topic will be equally perceptive and engaging.
Author image courtesy of Parnassus Books.
Foer's third novel—and his first in 10 years—is sure to be one of the literary events of the season. Though the plot description ("a Jewish family with three sons falls apart after the parents’ marriage falters") and setting (Washington D.C., where Foer himself grew up with two brothers) makes the novel sound autobiographical, Foer has long used the personal as a jumping-off point for stories that end up being completely original (see Everything Is Illuminated). His editor at FSG likens the book to Portnoy's Complaint. All we know for sure is we can't wait to read it.
We loved The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, a humorous yet heartfelt story of a teenage heartthrob, so news of Wayne's third novel was extremely welcome. The title refers to David Federman, a high school outcast who hopes that he'll find his tribe at Harvard. Instead, he becomes obsessed with a smart, popular and beautiful female classmate, and his pursuit of her takes over his life and school career. S&S promises that the book "turns the traditional campus novel on its head"—we're intrigued.
What happens to the 1 percent when the U.S. economy takes a serious tumble? Lionel Shriver investigates in her new novel, coming from Harper on June 21, 2016. The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047 follows, well, the Mandibles, an American dynasty (think the Vanderbilts or Hiltons) led by a 97-year-old patriarch. With cushy inheritances ahead, most of the Mandible clan haven't bothered to worry about finding practical or lucrative employment. But when the dollar falls, they have to start making some changes.
This won't be the first time that Shriver, a National Book Award finalist, has skewered our society through fiction. Novels like So Much for That and Big Brother showcase her ability to make discerning and, at times, scathing, observations on human nature. She also has a deep understanding of family dynamics, a strength that should be on full display in a family saga like The Mandibles. Anyone else looking forward to this one?
The latest installment of the Austen Project finally has an on-sale date: April 19, 2016. Eligible is bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld's take on what is perhaps the ultimate Austen novel, Pride & Prejudice. No pressure!
Fortunately, it sounds like Sittenfeld has spent plenty of time considering her approach. Since it no longer makes sense for a mother to be worried about whether her teen- and 20-something daughters will be married, Jane and Lizzie are now in their late 30s. They're working in New York City when their father's health scare causes them to return home to Cincinnati, where they find their younger sisters' lives, in disarray—but also meet two handsome, single doctors. Intriguing!
RELATED CONTENT: Don't miss our interview with Sittenfeld about American Wife, and check out our coverage of previous installments of the Austen Project from Val McDermid, Alexander McCall Smith and Joanna Trollope. You can also read more news about 2016 releases.
Happy New Year! Let's start things off right with an update on an author who's been a book club favorite for years: Chris Cleave. The British author returns on May 3 with a new novel, and it's his first foray into historical fiction.
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven (great title) is set during World War II and stars a courageous young socialite who volunteers to teach evacuees despite her highbrow family's diapproval. But Mary's work draws her into the orbit of best friends Tom and Alastair, and she soon finds herself involved in a love triangle that could have tragic consequences.
Cleave's publisher, Simon & Schuster, says of the book: "A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled."
Will you read it?
Mark your calendars, horror fans: Joe Hill will publish a new story of supernatural suspense on May 17. In The Fireman, people worldwide are suddenly bursting into flames, thanks to an unstoppable, contagious virus known as Dragonscale. When Harper Grayson, a nurse who has made caring for infected patients her life's work, realizes she has been infected with the virus, she's desperate to survive long enough to give birth to the child she carries. Could a mysterious stranger, known only as the Fireman, teach her to control the disease and save her child's life as well as her own?
Terry McMillan, the acclaimed author of modern classics of popular fiction like Waiting to Exhale, returns June 7 with I Almost Forgot About You. Like much of McMillan's work, the book is centered on a woman who is accomplished and intelligent but still feels something missing from her life. Can Georgia Young, a successful doctor, make changes that will get her out of her comfortable rut—and maybe even find a second chance at love?
The publisher, Crown, promises this book "will show legions of readers what can happen when you face your fears, take a chance, and open yourself up to the world." It certainly has a fabulous cover. Will you read it?