Daily Arts
Dagoberto and the Downtown Book Club
For its inaugural Downtown Book Club at the Faulk Central Library, the Austin Public Library is one-upping your garden-variety book club by inviting the actual author to attend and engage in the conversation. With a lesser book, one might worry about the mix (awkward much?), but the book – The Flowers – is highly acclaimed – and the author – Dagoberto Gilb – is already an Austin institution. Here's some of what the Chron's Belinda Acosta had to say when The Flowers came out in February: "From the first measured words of Dagoberto Gilb's new novel to its final, heart-wrenching exclamation, Gilb takes readers through a journey that is both startling and inevitable... [Gilb] writes with enormous acuity, heart, and, most importantly, a deep respect for even the most unsavory of his characters and their deeds." The Downtown Book Club convenes Monday, June 2, at 7pm at the Faulk Central Library (800 Guadalupe St.). More info can be had by going here or by calling 512-974-7400.

5:15PM Wed. May 28, 2008, Kimberley Jones Read More | Comment »

Weighing In
When Austin-based author Stephanie Klein (Straight Up and Dirty) set out to memorialize her years at "fat camp" – first as a camper, later as a counselor – she had plenty of material to work with: namely, her childhood diaries, from which she quotes at length. Weight-obsessed and frequently wincing, Klein's diaries will touch a nerve with any woman who hasn't completely blocked out being a girl. Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp (out today) isn't a rah-rah kind of a book; while Klein comfortably skips between chatty and bracing (and sometimes exasperating), she's always brutally honest about her lifelong battle with her weight. Klein kicks off her book tour tonight at 7pm at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar) with a camp food buffet of hot dogs and s'mores. (Is this some skinny somebody's idea of a joke? Because it's sooooo not in the spirit of the book, unless BookPeople wants you to follow up the party with a weeklong bender of self-loathing and cabbage juice, or some other "miracle" diet directive.) She'll also appear at Barnes & Noble (1000 Research Blvd.) on June 29 from 3-4pm. Fun fact: The UK's Observer recently ranked her confessional blog, Greek Tragedy, as the 26th most powerful in the world.

12:50PM Tue. May 27, 2008, Kimberley Jones Read More | Comment »

Plath Tics
Ah, the iconic typeface (Davida Bold) that composes the title of Sylvia Plath's single novel, The Bell Jar, that long-carried, dog-eared, tear-stained staple of modern (well, Mid-Century Modern) adolescent (well, female adolescent) angst …

It's funny, in a morbid way, we think, when considering how the author gassed herself to death all head-in-the-oven in W.B. Yeats' former apartment on that cold February day in England … It's funny, we suggest, to be driving along the I-35 access road, heading north through increasing generica and noticing that very same typeface, huge on a billboard, forming the words PARTY STOP.

But, yeah, maybe that's just us.

2:09PM Tue. May 20, 2008, Wayne Alan Brenner Read More | Comment »

The Evangelicals Behind the Velvet Curtain
According to bestselling author Christine Wicker, we've been lied to. For years we've been told about the boundless power of the "religious right" – a supposedly homogeneous group comprised of millions and millions of vociferous and devoted evangelical Christians. Think President George W. Bush, or James Dobson and his group Focus on the Family – evangelical Christians whose opinions are heard loudly on talk radio or in the press commenting on various social issues, like abortion or same-sex marriage. Indeed, we've been told, by evangelical groups, that their numbers are, frankly, staggering – that they make up some 25% of the population, more than 50 million Americans. If true, that would make the evangelical religious right a juggernaut. But, as it turns out, there are nowhere near that many evangelicals, Wicker, a former religion reporter for The Dallas Morning News, writes in her latest book, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. Based on numbers provided by the churches themselves, Wicker estimates that they're probably closer to 7 percent of the population – and their numbers are actually in decline. The evangelicals simply aren't out there saving people in droves. And that changes everything. Wicker's book is an engrossing read, a fascinating exploration of how evangelical Christian beliefs have been hijacked by political voices – like, say, that of former Bush strategist Karl Rove – how the media allowed this to happen and, importantly, how evangelical adherence to the Bible as the inerrant word of God has pushed the faith into a corner, making it a branch of Christianity that is increasingly stuck in time, out-of-step with a changing world, and, it would seem, at least in its current form, slowly, but quite surely, fading.

7:51AM Tue. May 20, 2008, Jordan Smith Read More | Comment »

Book Cart Can-Do
Remember when we told you last week about Austin Public Library's awesome and awesomely award-winning book cart drill team, the Bibliofiles? And remember how you felt when you watched the video and thought, "Well, this looks alright for grainy, faraway footage, but what I really want is to see that action live and in living color"? omigod it's your lucky day. Okay, actually Saturday is your lucky day. That's when the Bibliofiles do their book cart dance at the Monster Book Sale in the North Star Home Center (2209 West Anderson Lane). Added bonus – there's a monster book sale... videos, CDs, DVDs, too. All proceeds benefit APL. For more info, go here. UPDATE: We hear the Bibliofiles are set to perform at 2pm.

3:41PM Fri. May 16, 2008, Kimberley Jones Read More | Comment »

Suddenly This Summer
Two announcements from UT's Harry Ransom Center landed in our in-box this morning detailing acquisitions both big and small – although I suppose when you're talking about authors of this stature, no acquisition counts as too small. The first is the addition of two unpublished letters to the HRC's pre-existing Tennessee Williams collection. Both letters are written by the lauded American playwright to Pancho Rodriguez Gonzalez, who inspired the character of Stanley Kowalski in Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and was, as the HRC's press release puts it, Williams' "former intimate" (a rather coy moniker for a man who, according to Donald Spoto's 1994 biography The Kindness of Strangers , was on the losing end of a passionate and devoted affair with Williams).

4:56PM Wed. May 14, 2008, Kimberley Jones Read More | Comment »

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Reading Myself to Sleep
Somewhere nearby, possibly beyond the two filing cabinets and a pile of dirty laundry, lies the corpse of modern literature – mainstream and genre fiction, essays, magazines, graphic novels, Xeroxed zines, nonfiction tomes on every imaginable subject – and, before it fell to whatever angle of repose framed it in death, the side of my bed is where that body of works was rather hastily disemboweled. At least, this is what the (bearded, vaguely sour-smelling) forensics detectives tell me, extrapolating backwards from what evidence is available.

What have we got, among the ichor this week? Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union, perhaps too recently mentioned in this blog (but, fuck it, the novel's strange and gorgeous and employs similes sweeter than a Filipino donut dipped in honey), of which a scant 25 pages are left before the gumshoe-and-gefilte-fish narrative's fully devoured. There's Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, which we're halfway through (and have been halfway through for approximately eight months) and are extremely happy about, especially as T.P.'s previous effort, Vineland, really was a (relatively) lame-ass cartoon of a book (as a lot of the critics had warned), whereas Mason & Dixon returns to the glorious overloads of brilliance and complexity of V. and Gravity's Rainbow and will serve as an appetizer for the daunting feast called Against the Day (which hasn't even made it bedside, yet, but remains on the top shelf of the livingroom's largest bookcase). Deep breath.

5:48PM Tue. May 13, 2008, Wayne Alan Brenner Read More | Comment »

It Worked for Thoreau
It's the stuff deprived-of-light writers dream of – getting away from the big city, nestling into a wooded enclave, and doing nothing but wordsmithing ... and maybe a little yard work. Welcome to the Dobie Paisano Fellowship. Well, not welcome to you, exactly, but certainly to the two latest fellowship winners, just announced today. The Ralph A. Johnston Fellowship goes to former Austinite Michael Erard, who held a crowd rapt at last year's Texas Book Festival, where he was promoting his first book, Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean. The Jesse Jones Fellowship was awarded to Vanessa Ramos, a native El Pasoan who traffics in poetry, playwrighting, and creative nonfiction. Each writer will enjoy a monthslong stay at J. Frank Dobie's historic, 254-acre ranch, located to the west of Austin. If that sounds good to you – and, really, how could it not? – you can apply for the 2009-2010 fellowships come fall. Information and applications will be available on the web in October.

4:22PM Mon. May 12, 2008, Kimberley Jones Read More | Comment »

Get Your Hot, Fresh Short Fiction Right Here
Looking for a short fiction fix? Look no further than the aptly titled American Short Fiction , with a fresh issue on stands now. The locally produced, nationally recognized magazine, which was founded in 1991 by current O'Henry Prize editor Laura Furman, went dormant in 1998, but it was revived in 2006 by local nonprofit Badgerdog Literary Publishing. Back with a bullet: The new issue, with a gorgeous Don Quixote cover, includes five new pieces, including an excerpt from UT prof Scott Blackwood's forthcoming novel We Agreed to Meet Just Here, which won the 2007 Associated Writing Programs Prize for Novel. (Call it his Austin swan song: After 23 years here, Scott leaves us this fall to be the Director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Chicago's Roosevelt University.) We haven't had a chance to do much more than the thumb through the covers, but ASF Managing Editor Jill Meyers is especially keen on Ethan Rutherford's "The Peripatetic Coffin"; she calls it "a darkly funny piece about a young man who, after learning his girlfriend is likely headed to prison, finds consolation in charm school." Did we mention it's set on a Civil War-era submarine? The Spring/Summer issue of American Short Fiction is available now at BookPeople and other fine book-type establishments.

3:24PM Mon. May 12, 2008, Kimberley Jones Read More | Comment »

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