Friday, September 25, 2015

Memphis Reads Dave Eggers

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2015 at 2:06 PM

Memphis Reads, the city-wide book club, has chosen What Is The What by Dave Eggers as its next community read. 

Memphis Reads selects one book annually to be read by the Memphis community at large. 
The month-long event consists of discussions and related arts events, and culminates in an event with the author on November 5th. All events are free and open to the public.

What Is The What is an epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children, the Lost Boys, was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, while crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges.

Eggers, born in Boston, is also the author of the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), the novel You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), and the story collection How We Are Hungry (2004). He founded McSweeney's, an independent book publishing house in San Francisco which puts out a quarterly literary journal, the monthly magazine The Believer, the website, and a DVD quarterly of short films, Wholphin. With Ninive Calegari, he has written Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers.

Memphis Reads began as a program from Christian Brothers University as part of their "First Year Experience" wherein all incoming freshman participate in the reading of a selected book and hold discussions and other events throughout the school year. In 2014, the University teamed up with local partners, including Memphis Library, Rhodes College, and Facing History and Ourselves, to expand the program city-wide.

Last year, Memphis Reads featured The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu.

For more information on the program and all events, please visit

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Books Read: Booker Prize Edition

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 11:00 AM

So recently, a coworker was talking about a book he accidentally downloaded — something about witches and vampires. He called it “a horrible piece of filth.”
This is exactly how I would describe a book I’ve been thinking about a lot about lately because of the recent announcement of the shortlist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

I had seen a link about the Man Booker and clicked to see if I had read any of the titles and to get suggestions. One of the books I had read — the horrible piece of filth, aka A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Now, it wasn’t exactly a surprise about the nomination. After I read the book, incensed, offended, and confused, I googled other reviews and, while I saw similar opinions as mine about the book, the majority of it was effusive praise. I was stunned.

Many, many years ago, I was at a barbecue where a young girl of about four or five told her mother to stop eating her plate of barbecue while she, the girl, ate her meal of McDonald’s or whatever. The mother looked at her incredulously, to which the daughter responded, “I’m not wrong about this.”

I’m not wrong about this.

A Little Life starts follows four men, starting in college and through decades after. They are: the handsome Willem with a gift for people and a sad past; the privileged Malcolm working out his place as a biracial man; the coddled Jean-Baptiste, the artist who demands to be the center of attention; and the brilliant Jude, wracked by a painful but mysterious condition and a more mysterious backstory.

The novel starts out promisingly enough. There’s a St. Elmo’s Fire vibe to it. But then it starts to almost exclusively focus on Jude.

His story is parceled out little by little. And it is horrific. Truly and absolutely. He was abandoned as an infant in a dumpster and ended up in a home with a bunch of monks … you can see where this is going. But then it gets worse and worse yet again to the point where it pushes at the ridiculous. (I’m not wrong about this.) Humans can be bad, sadistic, and it seems the worst of society’s worst ills — all of it — had befallen Jude.

Jude is enveloped by the acceptance of the other three men and finds true, unconditional love in a professor and a doctor. But his demons make him do horrible things to himself. Those around him are terrified and beg him to stop, and Jude pleads, “I’m so sorry” so much over the course of 700-plus pages I was moved to count it. “Sorry” appears 193 times. (That’s about every four pages. To be sure, not all of them are from Jude’s lips but the vast majority are.)

Things start to look up again for Jude, but then …

Jude’s story and A Little Life is straight-up suffering porn. That uneasy feeling you get is not art.

A Little Life is a horrible piece of filth. I’m not wrong about this. 

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Upcoming book events for the remainder of September 2015

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 11:23 AM

Taylor Kitchings
Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015
6:30 p.m.
The Booksellers of Laurelwood

Taylor Kitchings will be discussing and signing his new middle-grade novel Yard War


It’s 1964 in Jackson, Mississippi, deep in the civil rights movement, and the one black person 12-year-old Trip Westbrook knows well is Willie Jane, the family maid, who has been a second mother to him. When Trip invites her son, Dee, to play football in the yard, Trip discovers the ugly side of his smiling neighbors. Even his loving grandparents don’t approve. But getting to know Dee and playing football, being part of a team, changes Trip. He begins to see all the unspoken rules he lives by but doesn’t agree with, such as “respect your elders.” What if he thinks their views are wrong? This engaging, honest, and hopeful novel is full of memorable characters, and brings the civil rights-era South alive for young readers.

Taylor Kitchings’ roots in Mississippi run many generations deep, though it took him a while to circle back to them. As a college freshman, he recorded the original album Clean Break, now considered a collector’s item. As a junior, he wrote music for mallet and giant Mobius strip, and performed at Manhattan’s Café La MaMa. In the years between his BA from Rhodes College and MA from Ole Miss, he traveled from Memphis to New York to Europe, writing and performing songs on piano. He and his wife Beth have two children and live in Ridgeland, Mississippi, where he teaches English at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. His short story “Mr. Pinky Gone Fishing” was published in the collection Tight Lines from Yale University Press. Yard War is his first novel.

Audrey Taylor Gonzalez
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 2:00 p.m.
The Booksellers of Laurelwood

Memphian Audrey Taylor Gonzalez will be discussing and signing her coming-of-age novel South of Everything


Set in 1940s Germantown, South of Everything is a magical coming-of-age story about the daughter of a plantation-owning family, who, despite her privileged background, finds more in common with the help than her own family. She develops a special kinship with her parents’ servant Old Thomas, who introduces her to the mysterious Lolololo Tree, a magical, mystical tree with healing powers that she discovers is wiser than any teacher or parent or priest. Her connection with the Lolololo Tree opens her eyes to the religious and racial prejudice of her surroundings, and readers will root for her to fight against injustice and follow her heart to meet her fate.

Reverend Audrey Taylor Gonzalez was born in Memphis in 1939. In the span of her long career, she has been a journalist, TV host, art gallery owner, racehorse breeder, mountain climber, world traveler, breast cancer survivor, and the first woman to be ordained to holy orders in the Southern Cone of South America at Uruguay’s Holy Trinity Cathedral in Montevideo. She’s a philanthropist, mother, and grandmother to her own children, as well as many people in need who have crossed her path over the years. As a deacon at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, Audrey received the prestigious Juvenile Court Judges Award for Outstanding Service in 2012 and 2014, and she was selected by the governor of Tennessee as a Commissioner on TCCY (Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth). She is the author of three books, the fictional memoir The Lolololo Tree and two collections of writings and homilies, Sermons and Such and The Shady Place. South of Everything is her first novel. Gonzalez resides in Memphis.

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