Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dateline: The Amazon

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 3:08 PM

That's where Wil Tustin has been for a couple weeks and where he was reached by email (despite the internet being "hard to find" and "spotty") before his book-signing in Memphis on March 2nd.

Brazil, Columbia, and Peru: Those are the countries Tustin's been visiting as a board member of the Memphis nonprofit Orphanos, which serves 20 orphanages across the globe, five of them in South America.

But we're here to talk about Ambushed, Tustin's new novel, which concerns the life of the Apostle Paul. It's a story that follows Paul from childhood to persecutor of Christians to conversion to being persecuted as a Christian, and, according to the author, the story all started with the author's own life-changing event: a life-threatening illness.

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Ideal Bookshelf: Memphis Edition

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 11:12 AM

Books you keep close by. Books that changed your life. Books you reread. Books you want to share. Books you think you couldn't live without. Come up with 10. Or narrow it down to 10. Burke's Book Store is asking for your entries in its "My Ideal Bookshelf: Memphis Edition."

Think of it as a city self-portrait. Dozens of Memphians already have — via a bookshelf smartphone snapshot, a simple listing of titles and authors, or on the page provided by Burke's on its website. But do so by June 30th. That's when Burke's will randomly draw from the submissions they've received. That's when you could be the winner of a custom painting of your ideal bookshelf by artist and illustrator Jane Mount.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

The "Wonder" of It

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 6:20 PM

March is Read Across America Month, and to mark the occasion Literacy Mid-South is kicking things off with a special event at The Booksellers at Laurelwood on Friday, March 1st.

Literacy Mid-South's 2013 "Book of Choice" for Read Across America is Wonder (Knopf Books for Young Readers) by R.J. Palacio. It's a novel about a fifth-grader coming to terms with a facial deformity. But it's a story about how that boy's family, his classmates, and the larger community come to terms with it as well.

The book, published a year ago, is plenty special. It's for readers 8 and up (that includes adults), and it's been praised by every name in the book, including The New York Times, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, the Huffington Post, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, and Entertainment Weekly. Literacy Mid-South is on board too. Executive director Kevin Dean and his staff have chosen Wonder for its lesson in kindness and its call against bullying.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

At the Edge: A Novel Concert

Posted By on Sun, Feb 24, 2013 at 8:39 AM

How's this for taking matters into your own hands? A book-signing tour engineered by the writer of a novel that the writer self-published. A concert tour to go with the book-signing tour by the writer's singer-songwriter husband with his own album to promote. Add in the couple's 4-year-old son. And there you have it: "The Novel Music Tour," which is stopping in dozens of cities over the course of several months.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

"Ground Zero Imam" To Speak

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 3:04 PM

He's founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. He's chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, a multinational, multifaith organization inspired by the Spanish city that once saw the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Christians, and Jews. But he's also known as the "Ground Zero Imam," the distinguished turned controversial cleric behind New York City's "Ground Zero Mosque" — which was never meant as a mosque and isn't at Ground Zero.

He is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and he'll be at Rhodes College as guest of the college's "Communities in Conversation" series on Monday, February 25th. The time is 7 p.m.; the McCallum Ballroom of the Bryan Campus Life Center is the location; and the event, which is free and open to the public, will include a booksigning.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Library To Go Punk ...

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 2:36 PM

... Steampunk, that is, which is a way of going back to the future via the 19th-century, steam-powered past. It's a literary genre, under the heading of fantasy, and even a lifestyle if your taste turns to Victorian clothing and customs. You can watch the steampunk aesthetic in popular films. You can role-play computer games according to the steampunk mindset too. And on Saturday, February 23rd, kids can join the "Clockwork Mechanalists" (the Memphis-based Steampunk fan group) to learn more about the library and increase their information literacy.

The program, "Reaching for Aether: Literacy Through Steampunk," is at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library (3030 Poplar) and runs on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., with an opening address and shared stories by participating steampunks, a fashion show (picture-taking encouraged), and a crafts area. A trivia hunt throughout the library, with costumed "Mechanalists" to help those in search of answers, will follow. And after the trivia challenge: a live reading/"shadow play" drawn from the pages of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. For more information about "Reaching for Aether," contact Geoff Harris at

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Al Gore's Future

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Al Gore's new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (Random House), came out in late January, but the chief topic every interviewer has been asking the author isn't the future. It's the recent past: the sale of Current Media, co-owned by Gore, to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, a sale announced in early January. And so: Al Jazeera America will replace the Current TV cable channel.

Was this sale a wise move for Gore and his business partners, interviewers want to know. It was a sound move, good business, Gore has said repeatedly. Which may be true, but it was also certainly an odd move, bordering on hypocrisy, given that the global-climate-minded Gore would do business with an oil-rich country and a news organization that many believe too fairly treats the actions of Islamic fundamentalists.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Alice Kaplan at Rhodes

Posted By on Sat, Feb 9, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Jacqueline Bouvier, a student at Vassar before she became a Kennedy. Susan Sontag, a 24-year-old American well on her way to being Europeanized. And Angela Davis, daughter of a prominent African-American family in Birmingham, Alabama, a junior at Brandeis, but already revolutionized: What did these women in their early 20s have in common? All three spent time in Paris, an experience that, according to author Alice Kaplan, helped to define their later selves. That's the subject of Kaplan's Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis (University of Chicago Press). And it's the subject that Kaplan, head of the department of French at Yale, will address in a lecture at Rhodes College on Monday, February 11th, at 7 p.m. The event, part of this year's "Communities in Conversation" series at Rhodes, will take place in Blount Auditorium of Buckman Hall. The lecture is free. It's open to the public. Questions? Contact Jonathan Judaken at Go here for a handy introduction to Alice Kaplan and Dreaming in French.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Books Read 2012

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM

The past couple years on my Twitter account, @gregakers, I've kept tally on each book I read, with a tiny review of each and a link to where readers could get more information on the work in question. (Here's my list for 2011 and my list for 2010.)

Now here, for your ease of browsing, are the books I read in 2012, listed in reverse order they were Tweeted, which is to say chronologically with the most recent first.

My favorite book of the year was Habibi, the gorgeous new-ish graphic novel from Craig Thompson (Blankets, another masterpiece). Habibi swallowed me whole; I'm somewhere in its snake esophagus still. So I was a little surprised when I looked up the critical response prior to this blog post and found that it got panned by The New York Times and derided as racist by Racialicious.

To me, Thompson was clearly and knowingly wading in Orientalism and fantasy Arabia. (If he wasn't, well, that'd be a problem.) I suppose only Joe Sacco-type documentarians are allowed to consider the Middle East and Islam? And when such subjects are broached, one must do so at an emotional remove and with equal time given to all possible perspectives? And only by non-Westerners?

No. Habibi is a work of fiction, not a textbook. And, though artistically beautiful in general, it depicts the brutalization and exploitation of women, children, and men. If it included such acts but fled from the scenes without showing them/showing them demurely, that is what would be worthy of criticism. No one escapes Habibi unscathed, and Thompson achieves a baptismal degradation: It's a human coming-of-age story both universal and specific, taking place over millennia, where hope is achieved only after swimming a river of shit. Sounds to me more honest about the human condition than 99 percent of anything else I've read.

On a completely different line of discussion, an interesting thing happened to me as I was reading book #28 of the year, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: I struggled to an almost existential degree to keep reading it. It was the opposite of a page-turner. But it had nothing to do with my lack of interest or dislike of the writing. Quite the opposite. I had to make an effort to read the book because it was so powerful and thematically upsetting.

I had seen the movie and cried a fair bit about what happens in it (no spoilers), so I knew what the bad juju going on was. But I was unprepared for how upsetting it would be to read it. Ishiguro has created a novel that's relentlessly nostalgic for a sci-fi alternative 20th century that never existed. He managed to make me despair for a loss of humanity's soul that never happened. And somehow made that feel like nostalgia. It's almost uncomprehendingly brilliant. I still struggle to process the novel.

Anyway, it took me a long time to read it — far longer than the novel's length would suggest. Hence, part of the reason why my total number of books read is pretty low.

A housekeeping note for the list: I've aired out the entries a little since I'm not as limited in space on the blog as I was on Twitter.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Welcome to Screwpulp

Posted By on Sat, Feb 2, 2013 at 5:14 PM

"I want to change a broken industry. It's been broken for a while. I'm not just someone trying to start a business to make money."

So says Memphian Richard Billings. The broken industry he's referring to is book publishing. And the business he's starting is called Screwpulp, which is designed to bypass existing business models and that includes traditional paths to publishing and self-publishing. But Billings needs your help now. He'd like your vote. It could mean $10,000.

That's the grand prize in a contest sponsored by Everywhere Else, a business conference for startups that will take place in Memphis from February 10th to 12th. Contest participants submit a video describing their startup, and YouTube viewers can vote on their favorite. That's where you come in, and here's the Screwpulp video if you'd like a look.

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