Monday, October 24, 2016

Pop critic Jack Hamilton discusses book Just Around Midnight at Stax Museum

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Scholar and Slate pop critic Jack Hamilton will be signing and discussing his new book, Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination, this Thursday at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

In his book, Hamilton addresses the issue of white artists' appropriation of black music, employing an interdisciplinary combination of historical research, musical analysis, and critical race theory to demonstrate how rock-and-roll "became white" during the 1960s. In doing so, he parallels Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” revealing that despite the songs’ similarities, Dylan was considered a rock genius, while Cooke is perceived as a master of “soul” — a disparity that resonates later in the 1960s with the conflicting perceptions of Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, and Dusty Springfield later in that decade. 

Just around Midnight also details the infatuation that British bands had with African American music, charting the Beatles’ collaboration with Motown artists and the undertones of racial transgression in the Rolling Stones’ hit songs. Hamilton elucidates the implications of Jimi Hendrix’s ascent to stardom amidst an increasingly white rock and roll landscape, and describes how Carlos Santana, one of the major guitar virtuosos of the post-Hendrix era, challenged the boundaries of music’s racial imagination.

In her 1973 Harper’s magazine essay “Ripping Off Black Music,” Margo Jefferson equated white artists’ appropriation of black music to cultural plunder: “The night Jimi died I dreamed this was the latest step in a plot being designed to eliminate blacks from rock music so that it may be recorded in history as a creation of whites.” Just around Midnight enriches our understanding of racial perception and authenticity in America and reinforces that black musicians played a crucial role in establishing the rock and roll sound that came to define second half of the 20th century.

Jack Hamilton
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
926 E. McLemore Avenue
Thursday, October 27th
7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Free admission

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 11:55 AM

It’s autumn! Forget what the thermometer says, I know it’s autumn because it’s time once again for the Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale. Beginning this Friday, Oct. 21st, and going on through Saturday, book (and film and music) lovers have the chance to get some great deals. Books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, sheet music, vinyl records . . . it’s all there for your perusing. 


Prices range from a quarter all the way up to $2. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Memphis Public Library & Information Center, its collections, programs, and resources throughout the18 locations citywide.


For more information about the Friends of the Library Fall 2016 Book Sale, call (901) 415-2840.


Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library meeting rooms

Friday & Saturday, Oct. 21-22

10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

(Members only preview sale is Friday, 8-10 a.m.)


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Meet the Incomparable Julia Elliott

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 3:15 PM

by Jesse Davis

I had not heard of Julia Elliott before I picked up her first novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, but I immediately felt drawn to the book. I liked the cover design — what appeared to be a primeval hog-dragon trampling swampland and belching flame. I flipped the tantalizingly titled tome over for a look at the details on the back cover only to find that Tin House Books, an imprint of one of my favorite literary journals, published the novel.

The New and Improved Romie Futch introduces the reader to the title character as he girds himself for yet another depressing bender. He is balding, pot-bellied, recently divorced, and his failing taxidermy shop is limping along like a maimed animal, not long for this world. A man with limited options, Romie lives in a small, Southern town, and he finds himself consistently in the shadow of one of his high school friends (now more “frienemy” than anything), an ATV salesman and a picture of stereotypical Southern masculinity. With a brief and disastrous encounter with his ex-wife — she glows; Romie glistens with alcoholic sweat; she is accompanied by her new beau; Romie slumps forlornly among his male cohorts — the scene is set for Romie’s transformation. What else, Romie is forced to wonder, could he possibly have to lose?

So after seeing an online pop-up ad promising a radical, life-changing transformation, Romie throws a few articles of clothing into a duffel bag and signs up for the experimental treatment. This, dear reader, is where the novel gets weird, with new genres rearing their heads, chimera-like. What began as a fairly straightforward New-South-meets-Southern-Gothic foray into contemporary fiction is suddenly a story about low and high art verily vrooming with verbiage. It is also a postmodern grotesquerie that attempts to reconcile the varied, mismatched parts of the Frankenstein monster that, so Elliott would seem to suggest, is the essence of compartmentalized, modern existence. And I would be remiss if I did not give a tip of the hat to the novel’s brave willingness to wear the paranoid science-fiction hat from time to time. (The program in which Romie enrolls smacks of MKUltra, the CIA’s illegal, 23-year-long mind control program.)

The program works, however, and Romie gets smart. He gets super-smart, Flowers for Algernon smart. So are the voices he’s hearing in his head just in his head, or are they some sort of Project Monarch-like intervention undertaken by secretive men and women in lab coats? Is the so-called “hogzilla” terrorizing the countryside also the product of clandestine genetic modification? Is the world ready for a conceptual taxidermy art installation based, in part, on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison?

The New and Improved Romie Futch is absurd in the most satisfying of ways. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the novel adequately interfaces with the inherent absurdity of contemporary life. While it would be easy to say that Romie’s sadness and loneliness — the original impetus for his enrolment in the experiment in the first place — get lost in the genre shuffle, it is really up to the reader not to let that happen. Romie’s loneliness is right there all along, just under the surface of the fizz and bubble of verbiage and concepts. In fact, it is only accentuated by Romie’s improvement. Whereas before, he hardly fit in with his contemporaries, post-treatment Romie has no peers. He is a true freak — too redneck to fit in with the academics with whom he can suddenly converse and too brilliant to be content pounding domestic beer with his old high school buddies.

Julia Elliott has crafted an achingly heartfelt novel, propelled by a page-turner of a plot all the way until Romie’s inevitable confrontation with the hopped-up “hogzilla.” The New and Improved Romie Futch, true to its postmodern and chimera-like form, deftly balances its strange mix of Southern Gothic and science-fiction, heartfelt and thought-inducing prose, and the result is an infinitely readable offering. Though the novel, with its gene-spliced hero and monstrous boar, is ideal for the Halloween season, it will surely stand the test of time. I’m calling it here and now — this one is destined for cult classic status.

Jesse Davis is a copy editor for The Memphis Flyer and a bookseller for the Booksellers at Laurelwood.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, comes to story booth

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 3:22 PM

Memphis is becoming a literary hotspot and has had its share of renowned authors visit its bookstores, libraries, and reading spaces this year — Jess Walter, Chris Offutt, Jacqueline Woodson, Erik Larsen, Lauren Groff, and Jesmyn Ward, to name a few. Add to this list Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler, coming to story booth on October 13th to discuss his new novel, Perfume River.


Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti-Vietnam-war protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert's own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. William Quinlan, Robert and Jimmy's father and a veteran of World War II, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across all their lives once again, when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father's bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert meets at a restaurant and at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert, but on his entire family.

“What I so like about Perfume River is its plainly-put elegance. Enough time has passed since Vietnam that its grave human lessons and heartbreaks can be — with a measure of genius — almost simply stated. Butler’s novel is a model for this heartbreaking simplicity and grace.” — Richard Ford

“This is thoughtful, introspective fiction of the highest caliber, but it carries a definite edge, thanks to an insistent backbeat that generates suspense with the subtlest of brushstrokes.” — Booklist (starred review)

From one of America's most important writers, Perfume River is an exquisite novel that examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family. 

Robert Olen Butler
story booth
438 N. Cleveland Street
Thursday, October 13
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

An Evening With William Ferris at The Cotton Museum

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 11:42 AM

Acclaimed folklorist and author, William Ferris, will be presenting his newest book, The South In Color: A Visual Journal, this Saturday at The Memphis Cotton Museum.

Ferris is Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
and a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. With Ferris’ two previous books — Give My Poor Heart Ease and The Storied South — The South in Color completes an informal trilogy of his documentation of the South’s tumultuous 20th century.

Since the moment his parents gave 12-year-old Ferris a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera for Christmas in 1954, he passionately began to photograph his world. He has never stopped. The 1960s and '70s were a particularly significant period for Ferris as he became a pathbreaking documentarian of the American South. This beautiful, provocative collection of 100 of Ferris’ photographs of the South, taken during this formative period, capture the power of his color photography. 

The event is open to the public and includes a reception with light hors d’oeuvres, local craft beer, and live music by The Side Street Steppers. Tickets are $25.00 for museum members and $35.00 for non-members, and are available for purchase online. A portion of your ticket purchase is tax deductible. Attending this event supports the mission of the Cotton Museum: Preserving and promoting a historic space open to the public and devoted to sharing the story of cotton — a crop that created empires, transformed American culture and changed the history of a nation and the world.

An evening with William Ferris
Saturday, October 8th
The Memphis Cotton Museum
65 Union Avenue
6:00 - 9:00 p.m.
$25.00 for members, $35.00 for non-members

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Burke's Book Store welcomes Corey Mesler to read and sign his new novel

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2016 at 2:45 PM

"If you could see the writer’s mind as a living, breathing thing, it might look like Ishmael wandering the narrow streets of New England before climbing aboard the ill-fated Pequod. Or perhaps like Sal Paradise passing a bottle among Okies on a flatbed bound for California. It might look like Captain Nemo diving 20,000 leagues below the surface of the sea. Or it might look like Robert Walker, the aptly named protagonist of Corey Mesler’s latest novel by the same name, as he walks the streets of Memphis from Overton Park to the Mississippi River, to the University of Memphis and back again."

That is the opening to my review of Robert Walker in the September 2016 issue of Memphis magazine. Since reading Corey's newest offering, I feel as though I've seen this traveling man, Robert Walker, at every turn — as I ride my bike through Overton Park, stop into Memphis Made for a pint, or even visiting Burke's Book Store, the 140-year-old shop that Corey and his wife Cheryl own in Cooper-Young. This will be the site Thursday, September 29th, of a reading and signing by Corey.

From Goodreads: "Robert Walker is homeless. He awakes one morning in his box to find half his face paralyzed. In anguish, he walks to mimic normality. He also walks because walking for him is life. Eventually, in opposition to his dedication to desired anonymity, he is forced to rejoin the world. The novel follows two crucial days in his journey while he traverses Memphis, encountering the familiar, the foreign, the desolate, and the joyous."

Corey has published more than 30 novels and poetry collections. He's been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times, and two of his poems have been chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. His fiction has received praise from John Grisham, Robert Olen Butler, Lee Smith, Frederick Barthelme, Ann Beattie, Peter Coyote, Steve Yarbrough, and Greil Marcus, among others. If you stop by Thursday evening, be sure and pick up one (or all!) of Corey's other books, I'm sure he'd be happy to sign those for you as well. 

Corey Mesler
Burke's Book Store
936 S. Cooper Street
Thursday, September 29th
5:30 p.m.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Memphis author Lisa Turner to read and sign at Booksellers

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 12:04 PM

Memphian Lisa Turner splits her time between her hometown and Nova Scotia working on police procedurals such as The Gone Dead Train and A Little Death In Dixie. Her new novel, Devil Sent The Rain (William Morrow), once again featuring Detective Billy Able, will be released on Tuesday, September 27th, with a reading and signing at the Booksellers at Laurelwood.

"Fresh from solving Memphis’ most sensational murder case, Homicide Detective Billy Able and his ambitious new partner Frankie Malone are called to a bizarre crime scene on the outskirts of town. A high society attorney has been murdered while dressed in a wedding gown. Billy is shocked to discover he has a very personal connection to the victim. When the attorney’s death exposes illegal practices at her family’s prestigious law firm, the scandal is enough to rock the southern city’s social world.

In a tale of the remnants of Old South aristocracy and entitlement, twisted by greed and vengeance, Billy must confront the secrets of his own past to have any chance at solving the murder of the girl he once knew. But as he seeks the truth, he’s drawn closer to an embittered killer bent on revenge— and eliminating the threat Billy poses."

Kirkus Reviews: “A well-wrought procedural that takes a hard look at the old South’s influence on the new. ” 

Publishers Weekly: “[A] shifting narrative, a keen sense of place, and a steady stream of suspects and red herrings propel the mystery to a satisfying conclusion.” 

Lisa Turner
The Booksellers at Laurelwood
Tuesday, September 27th
6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Memphis Reads hosts discussions and screenings, and welcomes author Jesmyn Ward

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2016 at 10:56 AM

I’ve written quite a bit about the upcoming Mid-South Book Festival in this space and in the print edition of the Flyer, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the events surrounding Memphis Reads. The program touting itself as “the city’s largest book club” this year chose Salvage the Bones by award-winning author Jesmyn Ward.

Jesmyn Ward
  • Jesmyn Ward


Memphis Reads, with its first event of 2016 on Monday, Sept. 12th, comes on the heels of the Book Festival, which has its last event the day before. Now, I don’t understand the politics and inner workings of promoting reading and literacy, but it seems to me that the organizations in charge of these two book-loving affairs should get together — maybe have a little affair of their own — because the Book Festival is timed perfectly to be the opening event to a month-long celebration of books, reading, and literacy. Bringing nationally regarded authors into town to speak with school-age kids and would-be writers only ensures that future generations will make reading and education a priority. The sheer marketing power behind presenting organizations and sponsors such as Literacy Mid-South, Christian Brothers University, the Memphis Public Library system, Rhodes College, MLGW, Hilton, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Shelby County Schools, among many, many others could ramp city-wide reading up to a whole new level.


But I digress.


Christian Brothers University associate professor, and the planner of Memphis Reads, Karen Golightly, said, “We hope to break down the physical and metaphoric walls that exist between Memphians by giving them a common reading experience. Through the events scheduled in September, attendees can learn about the issues addressed in the book through art exhibits, documentaries, films, panel discussions, and author/expert talks. The point is to find a way in which Memphians can participate in different aspects and viewpoints of the issues at hand, in order to build community one book at a time.”


Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood awards for essays, drama, and fiction. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford, from 2008-2010, she has been named the 2010-11 Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was an Essence magazine Book Club selection, a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award recipient, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.


From Salvage the Bones: “A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.


“As the 12 days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.”

Memphis Reads 2016 events:


Purchased Lives: New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808 – 1865

National Civil Rights Museum (State of Tennessee Gallery)

September 12 – mid-November 2016 (Free with museum admission; Tennessee residents may enter free of charge on Mondays after 3 p.m.)


Screening: Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke (Parts 1 – 2)

University of Memphis (304 University Center, Bluff Room)

Thursday, Sept. 15th

5:30 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. film screening (Free and open to the public)


Screening: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library (3030 Poplar Avenue, meeting room C)

Monday, Sept. 19th

5:30 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. film screening (Free and open to the public)


Panel Discussion: My Whole City Underwater – Race, Trauma, and Surviving Katrina

University of Memphis (342 University Center, Shelby Room)

Thursday, Sept. 22th

5:30 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. discussion (Free and open to the public)


Jesmyn Ward discussion and book signing

Christian Brothers University (650 East Parkway South, CBU Theatre)

Wednesday, Sept. 28th, 7 p.m. (Free and open to the public)


Q & A with Jesmyn Ward and book signing

Rhodes College (2000 North Parkway, Bryan Campus Life Center)

Thursday, Sept. 29th, 6 p.m. (Free and open to the public)


Great Conversations with Rhodes Professor Ernest Gibson

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library (Memphis Room, 4th floor)

Thursday, Oct. 4th, 5:30 p.m. (Free and open to the public)


For more on Memphis Reads, visit


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Author Jacqueline Woodson is coming to story booth

Posted By on Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 2:42 PM

Listen up, readers, there is a lot going on this weekend with the Mid-South Book Festival. It kicks off Wednesday with the Literacy Summit, but Thursday night is the first literary event with a reading and signing by acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson at story booth.



Woodson, known and celebrated as a young adult writer, has just released her first work for an adult audience, Another Brooklyn (Amistad).


Another Brooklyn is a short but complex story that arises from simmering grief. It lulls across the pages like a mournful whisper. “For a long time, my mother wasn’t dead yet,” the narrator begins, which perfectly conveys the novel’s suspended sorrow. Now an anthropologist who studies the way different cultures honor their dead, August is an adult looking back at her adolescence in the 1970s. She came to Brooklyn with her younger brother two decades earlier when their father hoped they could all start a new life away from the tragedies that shattered their family back in Tennessee.

But August and her brother aren’t so much renewed as arrested in this alien, dangerous place. Unable to acknowledge her mother’s death, young August pines for her return while staring out the window, month after month. “If someone had asked, Are you lonely? I would have said, No,” August says. “I would have pointed to my brother and said, He’s here. I would have lied even as the empty street on rainy afternoons threatened to swallow me whole.”


The signing is presented by The Booksellers at Laurelwood and Nicole Yasinsky, marketing manager for Booksellers, was recently quoted about the novel for a story in Bookselling This Week from the American Booksellers Association, which chose it as last August’s “Next List” pick.


“Effortlessly weaving poetic prose, Woodson tells the story of the relationships young women form, their yearning to belong, and the bonds that are created — and broken,” said Yasinsky. “Brooklyn itself is a vivid character in this tale — a place at first harsh, but one that becomes home and plays a role in each character’s future.”


Author Ann Patchet has said, “Another Brooklyn is a sort of fever dream, containing both the hard truths of life and the gentle beauty of memory. The story of a young girl trying to find herself in the midst of so many conflicting and desires swallowed me whole. Jacqueline Woodson has such an original vision, such a singular voice. I loved this book.”


Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children, including the New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.


Jacqueline Woodson

story booth at Crosstown Arts

438 N. Cleveland

Thursday, September 8th

6 p.m.








Thursday, September 1, 2016

Jamey Hatley to receive a 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Jamey Hatley
  • Jamey Hatley
Memphis fiction writer Jamey Hatley has won a 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, given annually to six women writers who demonstrate excellence and promise in the early stages of their careers, the awards are $30,000 each.

Jamey Hatley is working on her first novel, The Dream-Singers. It is the story of twins, one born at the moment Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers his final speech and the other at the moment King dies. After the devastation of the assassination, the people in an all-black neighborhood of Memphis fixate on the babies as a symbol of hope. Their hope is short-lived when the boy twin dies under mysterious circumstances just three months later. Her nominator writes, “Reading her work is like witnessing past, present, and future on one page. She creates a very convincing community and voice through her use of fable.”

Hatley has recently returned to her hometown of Memphis to care for her elderly parents. She says, “So many of the themes that were already present in my novel have become starkly real since my return: dreams as debt, who gets to leave home and who must stay, the responsibility to home, and collective amnesia. It attempts to interrogate the cliché to ‘just follow your dreams’ and reveal what a complex proposition that is for a community where one of the most famous dreamers of all time is killed.”

Her work has appeared in CallalooThe Account, and Oxford American, among others. She has attended Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference for the past five years and is the recipient of a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She received her B.S. from the University of Tennessee, her M.A. in journalism from the University of Memphis, and her M.F.A. from Louisiana State University. Hatley plans to use her award to cover living expenses during the next year so she can write full-time and complete her novel.

Novelist Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) established The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program in 1995. Now in its 22nd year, the awards have helped women to build successful writing careers by offering encouragement and financial support at a critical time. It is the only national literary awards program of its kind dedicated to supporting women writers exclusively. Since the program began, the Foundation has awarded more than $2 million to emergent women writers, including several who have gone on to critical acclaim, such as Elif Batuman, Eula Biss, Lan Samantha Chang, Rivka Galchen, Rebecca Lee, ZZ Packer, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Tracy K. Smith, Mary Szybist, and Tiphanie Yanique.

Set Warp to 1997

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 11:43 AM

Lev Grossman’s debut novel gets the rerelease treatment.

by Jesse Davis

As I selected my latest find from the ever-growing stack of Advanced Reader Copies that looms on my bedside table, I felt the tendrils of expectation reach into my stomach, anticipation pupating and breeding the butterflies of excitement. Not only was I going to make a dent in my to-read stack, but this time I was probably in for a real treat. Why? Because I was about to, at last, read Lev Grossman’s first



Though I had read and loved Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy (Viking/Penguin Books), I had never gotten around to scouring the library or Amazon for a copy of his long out-of-print debut, Warp, (originally released in 1997 by St. Martin’s Press). Based on the success of his recent work, or perhaps in celebration of the debut novel’s 19th anniversary, St. Martin’s is rereleasing Warp.

Why they chose to republish the novel a year before the more auspicious 20-year mark, I can only guess, but the whole rerelease — and the novel itself — feels a little underdone to me.  

Warp rests comfortably in the coming-of-age-tale category. It is replete with references to famous literary and cinematic wanderers, from Joyce’s Leopold Bloom to Picard’s Enterprise, suggestive perhaps that Hollis, the book’s protagonist, has become unmoored, never having found the tether that should have kept him grounded in adulthood. As the plot unfurls, there is no shortage of a conspicuous consumption of alcohol and resulting rum-soaked repartee, and the archetypal proto manic pixie dream girl shows up right on cue, leaning against a phone in an ATM vestibule, stealing long-distance calls from the bank, ready to rock Hollis’ world and waken in him something unnamed or unnamable.

The primary movement of the novel centers around Hollis’ decision to eschew the settled, office-bound career path and lifestyle his ex-girlfriend and most of his friends have chosen. Since Hollis’ friend, Peters, is housesitting for a wealthy couple, the irreverent pair set up shop, drinking down copious amounts of their unsuspecting host’s expensive wine. I remained uncertain as to why exactly the two cash-strapped loafers had to sneak into the house if Peters had been engaged as its temporary caretaker, but that small hurdle in logic was hardly the biggest thing troubling me as I read.

It wasn’t until about this point — page 166, the end of chapter 11 — that I realized I had read Warp when it was originally released, back at the tail end of the ’90s. Rarely do I find myself reading over half a novel only to have my memory jogged by an interesting plot device or some particularly memorable bit of dialogue. No, as such an avid supporter of Grossman’s later work, I find myself uncomfortably compelled to admit that the novel fails to significantly differentiate itself from any other bildungsroman.

It’s a decent first foray, but Hollis reads like little more than an early-model Quentin Coldwater, the hero of Grossman’s infinitely more mature and fully realized Magicians trilogy. Like Quentin, Hollis makes abundant references to popular culture, particularly to other flaneurs and antiheroes. Like Quentin, Hollis suffers from a post-collegiate ennui as he affects a halfhearted search for meaning and direction. The key difference is that, by the time he has written The Magicians, Grossman has something to say, and he has the polished skill and familiarity with his craft to get his point across. Warp finds him still searching for those tools, hanging lumpy dialogue on poor Hollis, making him a mouthpiece instead of letting him just be a character.

Warp serves as a portrait of an artist on the cusp of hitting his stride, still grappling with the ideas and methods that will propel the rest of his career. While it may not have been the most memorable novel, it was Grossman’s first step on what I sincerely hope will be a long career. And there is something to be said for first steps. Without them, the destination remains nothing more than a dream. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Odie Lindsey to Discuss and Sign New Story Collection

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 2:03 PM

Nashville-based Army veteran Odie Lindsey has had stories published in Best American Short Stories, the Iowa ReviewColumbia, and the anthology Forty Stories, among others. This week, his short story collection, We
Come to Our Senses (W. W. Norton & Company), will be released and Lindsey will be at The Booksellers of Laurelwood on Thursday, July 28th, to read from and discuss the book.

We Come to Our Senses centers on men and women directly and tangentially affected by combat, and the ways in which war touches their lives back home.

“Evie M.” is the story of a veteran-turned-office clerk whose petty neuroses derail even her suicide. In “11/19/98,” a couple obsesses over sitcoms as a distraction from darker complications. In the story “Colleen,” a young woman redeploys to a small town in Mississippi where she must confront the superior who abused her while at war, and “Hers” addresses the sexual politics of a combat zone.

“I read Odie Lindsey’s We Come to Our Senses in a way that books rarely compel me to…Not only compulsively readable, the thoughts these war stories stirred were rich and complex and heartening in their universal humanity. This is a remarkable collection by a splendid new writer.”  — Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“Lindsey writes with quiet confidence and sometimes arch humor that invites comparison to Ben Fountain and Phil Klay, but that wouldn't displease Flannery O'Connor. Superb atmospherics coupled with arresting story lines.” — Kirkus starred review

Odie Lindsey
Thursday, July 28
6:30 p.m.
The Booksellers at Laurelwood
387 Perkins Road Extended

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Choosing the Perfect (or not so) Beach Book

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 3:45 PM

The clothes were packed and the sunscreen accounted for. Google Maps had been consulted as to the best route and the kids were giddy with anticipation for the eight-hour drive. And then the hard decision had to be made: What will I take to read at the beach?



Like George Costanza who said, “I happen do dress based on mood,” I can never be sure what I’ll want to read next. Because it’s always about “next,” isn’t it? I’m reading this novel now, and enjoying it, but what will I read next? Sitting on the beach, slathered in SPF 70 and sand, I wouldn’t have the luxury of my home’s bookcases close at hand. No, I had to make the decision while standing in my library 500 miles from the Gulf Coast.


But how do we decide what to give our precious downtime over to? Murder mystery? Classic? Chick Lit? It doesn’t really matter because all we crave is to get away from our day-to-day responsibilities, it’s why we’re on vacation. But do we forget our anxiety and cares by jumping into another world of anxiety and cares? It seems that I do. As I sat on Dune Allen Beach in Florida’s South Walton County and flipped eagerly through page after page of Chris Cleave’s fabulous Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Simon & Schuster), I couldn’t help thinking there was something familiar about the whole scene. Same sand as last year’s vacation . . . same strength of sunscreen . . . same kids screaming for my attention . . . same swimsuit (sadly) . . . Oh, right, last summer I was reading All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner) by Anthony Doerr. That novel covers World War II in France, while my current beach read takes place in London during the German blitzkrieg. Then it occurred to me that the year before that, I read The Invisible Bridge (Random House), Julie Orringer's story of Hungarian Jews during the same war.


Why would I do this? Why immerse myself in the misery and pain of fictional characters as I sip a cocktail and inch back into the shade of an umbrella? My greatest worry during my vacation was the way the ice melted and watered down my beverage. Meanwhile, Mary ducked into a bomb shelter with her students as yet another air raid siren squealed all around them.


Escapism. That’s it. We need time away from our lives and that’s what novels have always promised us. Sure, they may take us down the rabbit hole of war or heartbreak or dead-end jobs, but that’s not our war or heartbreak or dead-end job. And we’re okay with that.


Cleave does a masterful job at placing us in a certain place at a certain time so that we are able anticipate things we’ve never experienced. As Mary awaited the bombers over London, and as Alastair dreaded the sound of engines roaring over the island of Malta, I lounged with only the soothing sound of waves tippling on the beach nearby. But when a plane from nearby Tyndall Air Force Base ripped through the blue skies, I almost jumped out of my squatty little beach chair. Reading isn’t always the relaxing pursuit it should be.


I also read (or at least began, the cocktails seemed to get stronger as the week progressed) The Bourne Identity (Orion) by Robert Ludlum. I’m a fan of the Bourne movies and have always wanted to at least read the seminal novel to see if it holds up, and with the latest installment of the film series due out next month, it seemed like the perfect time. This is a case of the movie being better than the book, I’m afraid. The problem, for me, is that we’re let into the mind of Bourne on the page while I prefer the spontaneous actions onscreen without the inner dialogue.


But, again, I was on the beach, escaping, so even a less enjoyable book — or the promise of an air raid siren — makes for a good day.



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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Writing in a Pinch

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Our good friends at the Pinch Literary Journal have put together a series of writing workshops to be held in early June. Writing is a craft, and it's hard, so if you want to get better it's a good idea to listen to those who do it.

From their website:

"If you are a fan of the Pinch, you know that we pride ourselves on selecting and publishing diverse poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. We are also a hardworking staff of graduate students in the English Department at the University of Memphis. We take and teach classes in creative writing at the university and we work hard for the Pinch. We write, we publish, we are the people we want to see in literary journals. We'd like to share some of that experience with the creative community in Memphis. We've got a plan. It's a good one. Won't you join us?"

Classes will be held at story booth (438 N. Cleveland), and run June 4th, 11th, and 18th. These dates correspond to classes in creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Classes are taught by instructors and MFA candidates from the University of Memphis, which sponsors the Pinch.

For more information and guidelines on how to apply, visit the Pinch.

Friday, May 6, 2016

What I’m Reading: A writer, a baby thief, snake-handling, the ‘70s, and a sequel

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 9:53 AM


It’s been a productive time of reading around here, despite the demands of work and family and the beautiful weather luring me into outdoor activities.


Lee Smith is an acquaintance and sent her new book, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life (Algonquin Books), to my wife when it came out last month. I quickly claimed it as my own and devoured it. Smith focuses her superpowers of acute observation of characteristics, mannerisms, and personalities, and the culture of a region, to her own life in this series of essays. She touches on her time growing up in Grundy, Virginia, and what she gleaned from its people and time spent in her father’s dimestore. From her childhood comes a love of books which would lead (lucky for us) to a life of writing. It hasn’t always been an easy life, but Smith handles the stories of depression, divorce, and suicide with the tenderness that has resounded in her prose for decades.


Reading Dimestore led me immediately to our bookshelves and the first Smith novel I could lay my hands on, 1995’s Saving Grace (G.P. Putnam’s Son’s). It is everything I wanted after reading about the author’s life and where she grew up. Florida Grace Shepherd is part of a devout family led by a charismatic, snake-handling, preacher as father. The book follows her life in and out of that family, and explores a person’s ties to religion and faith, and the feeling of comfort within one’s own skin. I plowed through it in a matter of days, rushing through Grace’s life with an eagerness to learn where she might end up.


City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf), by comparison, has been a slog. Good story, interesting characters, but a length and various plotlines that have left me feeling as though I’ve walked uphill through Lee Smith’s Appalachian mountains in the dead of winter. More on this book in a forthcoming issue of the Flyer.


I’m reading The Baby Thief by Barbara Bisantz Raymond (Carroll & Graf Publishers) for purely information purposes for another project I’m working on. Not so much reading, really, as taking it up now and then to pick my way through it as I tend to do with nonfiction. The story of Georgia Tann, who turned the world of adoption on its ear with her business of selling babies through her children’s home in Memphis, is a fascinating and heartbreaking one. The book is well-written, too, and I look forward to getting in deeper and learning just how and why a person might do what she did, and of what happened to some of her victims.


I have read everything Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo has ever written. Much of it more than once. When I first saw he had a new novel coming out, I was beside myself with anticipation. Then I looked closer at the advertisement and realized it’s a sequel to 1993’s fabulous Nobody’s Fool (Random House). That book was the third in his Upstate New York novels, following Mohawk (Knopf) and The Risk Pool (Random House). Russo’s ability to bring a place to life is unparalleled in my opinion (though Lee Smith does give him a run for his money). My fear was that he would take the beautifully wrought characters of Sully and Rub and even Wacker, and wring their stories dry like a dishrag. I’ve been burned before. I anticipated 1997’s voluminous Bridge of Sighs (Knopf) — which took Russo from his comfort zone of New York State and academia to fine art and Venice, Italy — as much as any book ever, and was disappointed in its ramblings. (He would vindicate himself in my eyes two years later with That Old Cape Magic [Knopf].) Anyway, I got Everybody’s Fool (Knopf) the day it came out earlier this week and, though only on page 20 or so, I’ve already laughed out loud twice. I have a good feeling about this one.


What are you reading?

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