May Events at The Booksmith: All in One Place

A number of folks have asked for all of a month's Booksmith events in one, handy, text-only spot, so we're posting the entire May list here. This way, if you're one of those lovely people who share with friends, you're welcome to cut-and-paste into your own emails, blog postings, etc. We'll add the same material in a PDF format, should that be more useful. Let us know if either is useful to you!

 

May 2011

All our events are free of charge unless otherwise noted. Seats may be reserved with the advance purchase of our featured books; request seat card at time of purchase, in the sotre, on the phone, or online. 

 

 

Tuesday, May 3

7:30 PM

FRANCINE PROSE

MY NEW AMERICAN LIFE

 

With My New American Life New York Times best-selling writer and National Book Award finalist Francine Prose returns to the trademark social satire that she perfected in such novels as Blue Angel and A Changed Man. With lacerating wit and searing intelligence, Prose takes readers back to the Bush-Cheney years, as refracted through the experience of a young Albanian woman living in America. As she compels readers to examine the culture we have created and to reconsider what it means to be an American, Prose entertains with a hilarious and dreadful story, peopled with her customary cast of flawed yet fascinating characters.

 

Lula, the 26-year-old woman at the center of the novel, is indomitable and clear-sighted. Living on an expiring tourist visa in a cramped apartment in Manhattan’s Alphabet City, she hopes to stay in America and build herself a better life. The opportunity arises when she is hired by a Wall Street executive to be a live-in caretaker for his teenage son in their suburban New Jersey home. As Lula’s idealistic boss works to straighten our her legal status, things take a darkly comic turn: Three Albanian “brothers” arrive at Lula’s doorstep in a brand-new black Lexus SUV, asking her to do something that could compromise her future security.

 

“Almost thirty years ago, a young woman told me how she’d been taught to drive by a bunch of Albanian gangsters,” Francine Prose recalls when discussing the genesis of the novel. The anecdote lay dormant until she was asked to write a short story and had “a waking dream in which a big black SUV pulled up in front of a suburban house. Eventually I realized that the guys in the SUV were the guys in the young woman’s story. I was about halfway through a first draft of what would become the novel before I understood what I was actually writing about—immigration, how our country looked to the native born and to new arrivals in the year 2005. I really began writing it when I taught, for a semester, at Baruch College in Manhattan, where my students—mostly first generation immigrants, many with visa problems, and all of them (it seemed to me) geniuses—were experiencing many of the same longings and problems that I gave to my heroine, Lula.”

 

In addition to her sixteen works of fiction, Francine Prose is author of a number of nonfiction books, including Reading Like a Writer and Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Price, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her reviews and critical essays have appeared in Harpers, the New York Times, and The New York Review of Books. She is a former president of PEN American Center.

 

 

Wednesday, May 4

7:30 PM

ZYZZYVA SPRING CELEBRATION

With EDITOR LAURA COGAN, MANAGING EDITOR OSCAR VILLALON, and contributors TOM BARBASH, ROBIN EKISS, and VANESSA HUA

Featuring West Coast poetry and prose and art, ZYZZYVA’s Spring issue includes a little bit of everything for everybody. (Not least of which being a cover by acclaimed Bay Area artist Richard Misrach.) Robin Ekiss, Vanessa Hua, and Tom Barbash are a few of the contributors reading selections from their work in the spring issue.

The issue also marks a major change in the journal’s masthead – Laura Cogan is the new editor (the first new editor since Howard Junker founded ZYZZYVA more than 25 years ago). She’s joined by Oscar Villalon, formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle and McSweeney’s, as the new managing editor. Meet them this evening, along with these contributors:

Robin Ekiss is a former Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford, recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award for emerging women writers, and author of The Mansion of Happiness, winner of the 2010 Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize and a finalist for the Balcones Poetry Prize, Northern California Book Award, and California Book Award.

Tom Barbash is a former Wallace Stegner and Scowcroft Fellow at Stanford University and the recipient of an NEA fellowship. He is the author of a novel, The Last Good Chance and a nonfiction book, On Top of the World, the Story of Cantor Fitzgerald and September 11.

 

Vanessa Hua is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Economist, The New York Times, and Newsweek, and is a graduate of UC Riverside’s MFA program. In 2008, she won the Atlantic Monthly’s student fiction contest, and in 2005 won Cream City Review’s fiction contest. She’s working on a novel and collection of stories

 

Thursday, May 5

7:30 PM

 

CHRIS ADRIAN

THE GREAT NIGHT

 

One night in the middle of June three broken-hearted people walked into Buena Vista Park at nearly the same time, just after dark. One came from the north, out of the Haight, another climbed up out of the Castro from the east, and the last came from the west, out of the Sunset and Cole Valley: this one was already going in the wrong direction, and shortly all three of them would be lost. They were going to a seasonal party of the famously convivial Jordan Sasscock, at his home at 88 Buena Vista West (Molly was headed, mistakenly, to 88 Buena Vista East.) Jordan’s parties were as famously convivial as he was, and the invitations, while prized, were not exactly exclusive, because it was in the nature of his conviviality never to leave anyone feeling left out. There were swarms of people who trudged up the hill in the middle of every summer to drink Jordan’s beer and wine and stand on his roof and dance in his expansive garden. He was a lowly resident at the hospital nearby, but his grandmother had died five years before when he was still a medical student, leaving him the house and the garden and all the treasures and garbage she had stuffed into it in the eighty-nine years she had lived there: ruined priceless furniture and money under the mattresses and case after case of fancy cat food in the basement, and fifteen cats, only five of which were still alive on the night of the party, because affable as he was, Jordan didn’t much like cats, and he didn’t take very good care of them.

 

Acclaimed as a “gifted, courageous writer” (The New York Times), Chris Adrian brings all his extraordinary talents to bear in The Great Night -- a brilliant and mesmerizing retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

On Midsummer Eve 2008, three people, each on the run from a failed relationship, become trapped in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, the secret home of Titania, Oberon, and their court. On this night, something awful is happening in the faerie kingdom: in a fit of sadness over the end of her marriage, which broke up in the wake of the death of her adopted son, Titania has set loose an ancient menace, and the chaos that ensues will threaten the lives of immortals and mortals alike.

Adrian has created a singularly playful, heartbreaking, and humorous novel -- a story that charts the borders between reality and dreams, love and magic, and mortality and immortality.

Chris Adrian is the author of Gob’s Grief, The Children’s Hospital, and A Better Angel. Selected by The New Yorker as one of their “20 Under 40,” he lives in San Francisco, where he is a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology.

 

Rivka Galchen interviews Chris Adrian

 

Friday, May 6

7:30 PM

PAUL MADONNA

EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD

(a second collection of All Over Coffee)

A Behind-the-Scenes Talk, with Visuals

 

 

This evening, Paul Madonna considers his art, his imagination, his thoughts, and how he works, in a rare “behind-the-scenes’ talk (with video).

 

Starting in his hometown of San Francisco and traveling to cities such as Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires and Tokyo, Paul Madonna offers his second body of drawings and writings. This stunning new collection, a testament to the artist and storyteller's careful observation of both the external and internal worlds, outdoes the masterful performance of his first book, All Over Coffee, offering an even richer catalogue of pen-and-ink cityscapes, short stories, conversations and thoughts. Entertaining and moving, gorgeous to look at, Madonna's work remains unique and unclassifiable. This full-color, hardbound edition comes complete with a removable poster.

 

"The book is fantastic.

Of time and tenderness.

Beautiful drawings. Beautiful text.

Ethereal and serious at once.

The book is its own reward."

-- Maira Kalman, author of And the Pursuit of Happiness among many other titles

 

Paul Madonna produces the strips All Over Coffee in the San Francisco Chronicle and on SFGate.com, and Small Potatoes on TheRumpus.net. In 2007 the first book collection of All Over Coffee was published by City Lights Books, and is currently in its fifth printing. In 2009 Paul launched the artbook series Album. Paul's drawing and prints are shown in museums, galleries, restaurants and cafes and his work has been reprinted in various book collections and publications, including his coverage of the U.S. 2009 Presidential Inauguration for several international newspapers. Paul is the comics editor on TheRumpus.net and also teaches drawing at the University of San Francisco. In 1994 he received a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, and that same year was the first (ever!) Art Intern at MAD Magazine, for which he proudly received no money.

 

This evening, join us to find out what goes on at the artist’s work space…really.

 

 

 Monday, May 9

7:30 PM

 

SLOANE CROSLEY

HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER

 

“Perfectly, relentlessly funny.” -- David Sedaris

 

From the author of the sensational I Was Told There’d Be Cake comes a new book of personal essays brimming with all the charm and wit that have earned Sloane Crosley widespread acclaim, award nominations, and an ever-growing cadre of loyal fans. In Cake readers were introduced to the foibles of Crosley’s life in New York City -- always teetering between the glamour of Manhattan parties, the indignity of entry-level work, and the special joy of suburban nostalgia -- and to a literary voice that mixed Dorothy Parker with David Sedaris and became something all its own.

Sloane Crosley still lives and works in New York City, but she’s no longer the newcomer for whom a trip beyond the Upper West Side is a big adventure. She can pack up her sensibility and takes us with her to Paris, to Portugal (having picked it by spinning a globe and putting down her finger, and finally falling in with a group of Portuguese clowns), and even to Alaska, where the “bear bells” on her fellow bridesmaids’ ponytails seemed silly until a grizzly cub dramatically intrudes. Meanwhile, back in New York, where new apartments beckon and taxi rides go awry, her sense of the city has become more layered, her relationships with friends and family more complicated.

As always, Crosley’s voice is fueled by the perfect witticism, buoyant optimism, flair for drama, and easy charm in the face of minor suffering or potential drudgery. But in How Did You Get This Number it has also become increasingly sophisticated, quicker and sharper to the point, more complex and lasting in the emotions it explores. And yet, Crosley remains the unfailingly hilarious young Everywoman, healthily equipped with intelligence and poise to fend off any potential mundanity in maturity.

“Laugh-out-loud essays drip with sarcasm and silliness abound in How Did You Get This Number…[It] moved me to laughter that had my [airplane] seatmates wondering what exactly I was being served. The answer? The witty, smart, skilled workings of a wordsmith that thrust the reader into laugh-out-loud territory…” -- San Francisco Examiner

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 10

7:30 PM

 

JAMES J. PATTERSON and JOANNA BIGGAR

Introduced by LINDA WATANABE McFERRIN

 

In clothing, Bermuda shorts are casual formal wear – and in this collection of essays, Bermuda Shorts is the perfect metaphor for James J. Patterson’s fundamentally serious but playful literary style. Patterson writes like the love child of Henry Miller and Mary Karr, with all the contradictions that implies — a philosopher who thinks best over a glass of fine wine; an ex-Catholic still haunted by the image of the Crucifixion; an irreverent political satirist whose patriotism flies the flag of another iconoclast, Thomas Paine.

Patterson grew up with a foot planted in each of two worlds — one in Washington DC, the Capital of the Empire as he calls it, and one in rural Ontario, where his Canadian mother insisted the family spend their summers. His father, one of the wizards of 20th Century newspaper publishing, introduced him to the city’s wheels of money and power, which he would later navigate as an entrepreneur, starting his first business at 20. But those Canadian summers introduced him to a different world – one where a cedar strip boat was better than any car, and where the ghosts of those who’d previously inhabited the family’s island house floated out over the water of Lovesick Lake. It is those two worlds that blend in Bermuda Shorts, a collection on what it means to be a man, an artist, an iconoclast, a patriot, and a lover, as the 20th Century rolls over into the 21st.

 

As a singer-songwriter, Patterson was half of the political satire folk music duo, The Pheromones, one of the first acts to be featured on MTV. With the Pheromones, he toured the US for over fifteen years.

 

Joanna Biggar has a key connection to Jimmy – she’s been his writing instructor. And he is now her publisher. Joanna Biggar is a writer, journalist, and teacher who has published fiction, poetry, personal and travel essays and hundreds of feature articles for newspapers and magazines. She has traveled solo in the most remote corners of China, chaired a school boarding Ghana, worked as a journalist in Washington, DC, and taught school kids in Oakland, where she lives. A member of the Society of Women Geographers, the author’s special places of the heart remain France and the California coast.

 

In That Paris Year, five smart, adventurous young women arrive on the banks of the Seine in 1962 for their junior year abroad. What they get is an education of a different sort. As they move from the grueling demands of the Sorbonne by day to late nights of discovery in smoky cafes, the young Americans discover a mythical country shaped not only by the upheavals of history, but by the great French writers of the 20th century, a place where seduction is intellectual as well as sexual. Ten years later, our narrator, J. J., is asked to speak at her old college on the virtues of going abroad. Drawing on the emotionally charged tools of memory and imagination, as well as old journals, letters, and telegrams, she chronicles and re-creates the story of that momentous year. Biggar has written a novel in which intellect, eroticism, and art reverberate, an American book with the sweep and elegance of French literary tradition.

 

And Linda Watanabe McFerrin is a fan of both Jimmy and Joanna and their work, and joins them for this evening’s fun.  Linda’s newest book is Dead Love, a novel about love, possession, Japan and zombies, Poet, travel writer, and novelist, she is the author of two story collections, a young adult novel,  two poetry collections, co-editor of several anthologies, including Hot Flashes, and a winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction.  She has judged the San Francisco Literary Awards and the Kiriyama Prize, served as a visiting mentor for the Loft Mentor Series and been guest faculty at the Oklahoma Arts Institute. A past NEA Panelist and juror for the Marin Literary Arts Council, and member of Left Coast Writers, she has mentored a long list of accomplished authors toward publication.

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 11

7:30 PM

 

PAUL LISICKY

THE BURNING HOUSE

 

RYAN VAN METER

IF YOU KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW

 

 

“Paul Lisicky’s The Burning House smolders with muscular, beautiful language,and shines with love for two sisters as each blossoms darkly into her own future.Lisicky’s odd man out finds his way deeply inside the reader’s desires and hopes. The answer to the question, ‘what do (good) men want?’ may well be answered in this elliptical, pitch-perfect gem of a novel.” — Jayne Anne Phillips

 

When Isidore Mirsky’s sister-in-law Joan loses her apartment, she moves in. Mirsky’s world is already in flux—his job lost, his bayside town under siege by developers—and now he must struggle with his bewildering attraction to Joan, who evokes for him all the qualities that once drew him to his wife. How can a warm, unpredictable man remain true to himself and to the woman he loves? Desire, and the renewal it brings, might just be the thing that causes damage. Outrageous, tender, and alive with the sound of Isidore’s voice, The Burning House captures a man at his most vulnerable moment, on the brink of something new.

 

"The Burning House is an achingly lovely novel about the things that bind us together in this life and the things that pull us apart. Paul Lisicky has an extraordinary gift for exploring emotional nuance and the rhythms of desire. With this book he yet again asserts himself as one of the select writers who continues to teach me about the complexities of the human heart.” -- Robert Olen Butler

 

 

Paul Lisicky  is also the author of the novel Lawnboy and the memoir Famous Builder. His work has appeared in The Iowa Review, StoryQuarterly, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Hotel Amerika, Prairie Schooner, and has been widely anthologized. His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the James Michener/Copernicus Society, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has taught in the graduate writing programs at Cornell University, Rutgers-Newark, Sarah Lawrence College, and Antioch University Los Angeles. He currently teaches at NYU.

 

The middle-American coming-of-age has found new life in Ryan Van Meter’s coming-out, made as strange as it is familiar by acknowledging the role played by gender and sexuality. In fourteen linked essays, If You Knew Then What I Know Now reinvents the memoir with all-encompassing empathy -- for bully and bullied alike. A father pitches baseballs at his hapless son, and a grandmother watches with silent forbearance as the same slim, quiet boy sets the table dressed in a blue satin dress. Another essay explores origins of the word “faggot,” and its etymological connection to “flaming queen.” This deft collection maps the unremarkable landscapes of childhood with compassion and precision, allowing awkwardness its own beauty. This is essay as an argument for the intimate -- not the sensational -- and an embrace of all the skinned knees in our stumble toward adulthood.

 

“Ryan Van Meter’s is both a charming and wounding intelligence. To read a book this observant, this fiercely honest, and this effortlessly beautiful isto feel the very pulse of contemporary American essays.” -- John D’Agata

 

Ryan Van Meter’s essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Arts & Letters, and Fourth Genre, among others, and selected for anthologies including Best American Essays 2009. In the summer of 2009, he was awarded a residency at the MacDowell Colony. He currently is an assistant professor of creative nonfiction at The University of San Francisco.

 

 

Thursday, May 12

7:30 PM

 

ARTHUR PHILLIPS

THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR

 

Over the past decade, Arthur Phillips has dazzled readers and critics with his elaborately constructed literary labyrinths and his talent for cerebral twists in thrilling novel after novel. The Miami Herald called one plot “A brave, deft, high-wire act of storytelling” and Kirkus praised another as “A symphony of psychological complexity and misdirection.”

 

Now the tensions between truth and fiction, sincerity and trickery, authorial trust and literary betrayal reach new heights in THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR.

The main character is a frustrated writer named, ahem, “Arthur Phillips,” who is struggling with the legacy of his larger-than-life father, a con artist capable of working wonders of deception. Arthur learns of a secret family legacy -- an undiscovered play by William Shakespeare titled The Tragedy of Arthur -- which is either a great gift to literature, or his father’s last great con.

 

THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR ecompasses a rollicking family narrative as well as the entirety of the rediscovered five-act play The Tragedy of Arthur. Is it by Shakespeare? Or “Arthur Phillips,” or, for that matter, Arthur Phillips? Phillips has delivered a virtuosic work on the nature of memoir, the anxiety of influence, and literary mythmaking.

 

“I have been reading a "newly discovered" Shakespeare play, The Tragedy of Arthur, that's going to cause a stir in the coming year. Said to have been first published as a quarto edition in 1597, Arthur predates Love's Labours Lost, and has been cleverly unearthed by the American novelist Arthur Phillips. Random House/Modern Library will publish the text in 2011 together with a "unique appreciation" by Phillips, who has been described by the Washington Post as "one of the best writers in America". The text of Arthur demonstrates that there are few limits to Mr Phillips's imagination.” --  Robert McCrum, The Guardian

 

“A funny, sad, absurd, moving, and very, very smart book. I don't know if it's fiction or non-fiction or both or neither, and ultimately it's irrelevant. The best books tell great stories, and they make you laugh and piss you off and make you sad and make you happy you've read them and spent time with them. Phillips absolutely does that with this book.” --  James Frey, author of Million Little Pieces

 

Arthur Phillips was born in Minneapolis and educated at Harvard. He has been a child actor, a jazz musician, a speech writer, and a five-time Jeopardy! champion. His first novel, Prague, was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and received the Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for best first novel. He is also the bestselling author of The Egyptologist, Angelica, and The Song is You.. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.

 

 

Friday, May 13

8:00 PM

 

LITERARY CLOWN FOOLERY

 

Performers announced soon!

 

$10 / tickets in the store or at Brown Paper Tickets

 

 

 

Saturday, May 14

7:30 PM

 

TIM SANDLIN

LYDIA

 

“My mother, Lydia Callahan, walked out of the Dublin, California, federal women’s penitentiary at noon on Mother’s Day 1993, a free woman, with nothing but the clothes on her back and a Lands’ End fanny pack full of credit cards. She took a taxi to the Holiday Inn in Walnut Creek, where she checked in as Lydia Elkrunner and gave her address as hell. Then she washed her hair in complimentary Pert and fell asleep.  Lydia was fifty-eight years old; in her dreams, she was twenty.”

—Lydia’s opening paragraph

 

 

Fifteen years ago, Tim Sandlin concluded his “GroVont” triology, a string of books that included a New York Times Notable Book and earned such accolades as “funny and compelling” (LA Times), “zany” (Cosmo), and “dazzling and moving” (New York Times). 

 

But some characters call a writer back.

 

And so begins Tim Sandlin’s return to the wild, welcome, and warm characters of GroVont, Wyoming.  In Lydia, Sam Callahan is managing the Virgin Birth Home for Unwed Mothers.  The women in Sam’s life keep his world interesting, but it’s his family members that really take the cake. His daughter may be having a nervous breakdown, and his mother’s just out of prison for attempting to poison the president’s dog. And when they hit the road with a geriatric, an adoptive son trying to discover his parentage, and an enraged psychopath on their tails, all hell may break loose.

 

Variously compared to Jack Kerouac, Tom Robbins, Larry McMurtry, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, and a few other writers you’ve probably heard of, Tim Sandlin has published nine novels and a book of columns. He wrote eleven screenplays for hire, two of which have been made into movies. He turned forty with no phone, TV, or flush toilet and spent more time talking to the characters in his head than the people around him. He now has five phone lines, three TVs he doesn’t watch, three flush toilets, and a two-headed shower. Oh, and a Wii that he uses to pretend to do things he used to do for real. He lives with his family, including a new daughter born in China, in Jackson, Wyoming, where he is director of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. His “Sandlinistas” follow him at www.timsandlin.com.

 

 

Sunday, May 15

4:00 PM

 

PAUL LINDE, MD

DANGER TO SELF:

On the Frontline with an ER Psychiatrist

 

The psychiatric emergency room, a fast-paced combat zone with pressure to match, thrusts its medical providers into the outland of human experience where they must respond rapidly and decisively in spite of uncertainty and, very often, danger. In DANGER TO SELF, now in paperback, Paul Linde takes readers behind the scenes at an urban psychiatric emergency room, with all its chaos and pathos, where we witness mental health professionals doing their best to alleviate suffering and repair shattered lives. As he and his colleagues encounter patients who are hallucinating, drunk, catatonic, aggressive, suicidal, high on drugs, paranoid, and physically sick, Linde examines the many ethical, legal, moral, and medical issues that confront today's psychiatric providers. He describes a profession under siege from the outside -- health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, government regulators, and even “patients' rights” advocates -- and from the inside -- biomedical and academic psychiatrists who have forgotten to care for the patient and have instead become checklist-marking pill-peddlers. While lifting the veil on a crucial area of psychiatry that is as real as it gets, Danger to Self also injects a healthy dose of compassion into the practice of medicine and psychiatry.

 

Danger to Self is an excellent account of treating acute mental illness. Dr Linde presents powerful stories of disturbed minds and circumstances, of lives in upheaval due to psychosis, addictions, and despair. It is also the story of the story of a psychiatrist who tends to those who are ill enough to warrant treatment in a psychiatric emergency room. This is a well-written book, compassionate, and well worth the reading.” -- Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind

 

Paul R. Linde, MD, is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and the author of Of Spirits and Madness: An American Psychiatrist in Africa. DANGER TO SELF earned the 2011 Media Award from the Northern California Psychiatric Society.

 

 

Monday, May 16

7:30 PM

 

SUSAN FREINKEL

PLASTIC: A Toxic Love Story

 

Plastic built the modern world. Where would we be without bike helmets, baggies, toothbrushes, and pacemakers? But a century into our love affair with plastic, we’re starting to realize it’s not such a healthy relationship. Plastics draw on dwindling fossil fuels, leach harmful chemicals, litter landscapes, and destroy marine life. As journalist Susan Freinkel points out in this engaging and eye-opening book, we’re nearing a crisis point. We’ve produced as much plastic in the past decade as we did in the entire twentieth century. We’re drowning in the stuff, and we need to start making some hard choices. 

Freinkel gives us the tools we need with a blend of lively anecdotes and analysis. She combs through scientific studies and economic data, reporting from China and across the United States to assess the real impact of plastic on our lives. She tells her story through eight familiar plastic objects: comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. Her conclusion: we cannot stay on our plastic-paved path. And we don’t have to. Plastic points the way toward a new creative partnership with the material we love to hate but can’t seem to live without.

 

"In a world glutted and fouled with fake plastic crap we never missed during nearly our entire history, Susan Freinkel's timely book on the subject is the real thing. No animals or children were harmed by its writing, I'm sure -- but,thanks to her diligence, a whole lot of them just might be saved." -- Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us

 

"The first step to creating change is understanding, and the first step to understanding anything to do with plastic is reading Susan Freinkel’s compelling, much-needed, and truly brilliant book." -- David de Rothschild, leader of the Plastiki Expedition

 

"Who’d have thought that combs, Frisbees and lighters could have such secret histories and such disturbing futures? Susan Freinkel’s page-turner brings together history, science and culture to help us understand the plastic world that we have wrought, and has become part of us. Although we should all worry that plastics will persist for centuries, Plastic deserves to endure for years to come." 
-- Raj Patel, author of
The Value of Nothing

 

Susan Freinkel has written for the New York Times, Discover, Smithsonian, and Health, among other publications. She is the author of The American Chestnut, which Mary Roach called "a perfect book".

 

 

 

A Merry Prankster Evening at The Booksmith:

Tuesday, May 17

7:30 PM

 

KEN BABBS

WHO SHOT THE WATER BUFFALO?

 

Who Shot the Water Buffalo?, the long-awaited first novel from the famous Merry Prankster Ken Babbs, is an unforgettable story tale of friendship, honor, and survival in the Vietnam era.

 

Set in 1961-62, this powerful novel offers a startling account of two young men just as the Vietnam War was underway.  Major Tom Huckelbee, “leathery as any Texican come crawling out of the sage,” and Major Mike Cochran, a “loquacious, Ohio gangster”, make an unlikely pair of Marine chopper pilots on their way to Vietnam.  From their training squadron in Southern California to the darkest regions of Vietnam in 1962, Huckelbee and Cochran valiantly struggle to find themselves in the middle of something they don’t fully understand.

 

Caught up in an ill-defined war, not always sure what roles to assume, and knowing they can die in country, these young pilots not only test the limits of friendship, but the limits of courage. This is the story of men away from their homes and families in a far away tropical, exotic country, kept mostly isolated from the locals and locales -- situations that are current and meaningful no matter what time in history, and still resonating strongly for the world today. Tough and comical with a razor-sharp eye for detail, Ken Babbs pulls out all the stops in his debut novel. 

 

Ken Babbs attended Stanford University – and is the last member of the legendary Wallace Stegner Stanford writing class (Ken Kesey, Wendell Berry, Ernest Gaines, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone) to write a novel.  Babbs served in the USMC from 1959 to 1964, and was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. A famous Merry Prankster who became one of the psychedelic leaders of the 1960s, he, along with best friend and Prankster leader, Ken Kesey, wrote Last Go Round (1994) about the oldest and largest rodeos in America.  He lives in Dexter, Oregon and is the founder of the Sky Pilot Club.

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 18

7:30 PM

 

GREIL MARCUS

OLD, WEIRD AMERICA:

The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes

 

"This book is terminal, goes deeply into the subconscious and plows through that period of time like a rake. Greil Marcus has done it again." -- Bob Dylan

 

Previously published as Invisible Republic and already considered a classic of modern American cultural criticism, The Old, Weird America is Greil Marcus's widely acclaimed book on the secret music (the so-called "Basement Tapes") made by Bob Dylan and the Band while in seclusion in Woodstock, New York, in 1967 -- a folksy yet funky, furious yet hilarious music that remains as seductive and baffling today as it was more than thirty years ago.

As Mark Sinker observed in The Wire: "Marcus's contention is that there can be found in American folk a community as deep, as electric, as perverse, and as conflicted as all America, and that the songs Dylan recorded out of the public eye, in a basement in Woodstock, are where that community as a whole gets to speak." But the country mapped out in this book, as Bruce Shapiro wrote in The Nation, "is not Woody Guthrie's land for made for you and me . . . It's what Marcus calls 'the old, weird America.'" This odd terrain, this strange yet familiar backdrop to our common cultural history -- -which Luc Sante (in New York magazine) termed the "playground of God, Satan, tricksters, Puritans, confidence men, illuminati, braggarts, preachers, anonymous poets of all stripes" -- is the territory that Marcus has discovered in Dylan's most mysterious music. And his analysis of that territory "reads like a thriller" (Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly) and exhibits "a mad, sparkling brilliance" (David Remnick, The New Yorker) throughout. This new edition of The Old, Weird America includes an updated discography.

 

"We owe God a death, and Greil Marcus owed all God's children a lifework on Bob Dylan. And here it is, one heaven of a book . . . What Marcus brings to these songs is a variety of good things: fierce fervor, social convictions, a loving discrimination, never a touch of envy, and an extraordinary ability to evoke in words the very feel (throaty, threatening, thorough, thick with thought) of a man's voice, of this man's voice."—Christopher Ricks, The Guardian (London)

 

One of America's most original and incisive critics of pop music and pop culture, Greil Marcus is the author of Double Trouble, Dead Elvis, Lipstick Traces, and Mystery Train. He lives in Berkeley.

 

 

Thursday, May 19

7:30 PM

 

RODES FISHBURNE

GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT          

 

One of The Booksmith’s all-time bestsellers in hardcover is just now in paperback, giving us cause to once again celebrate it and its author!

 

He got the idea for the novel from a ferocious thunderstorm in Alaska that trapped him in a tent for twenty-one days with only a pair of headphones and a Walkman radio  You’ll understand when you read the book…

 

Because a small pocket radio transforms our main character from the greatest unknown writer in the history of the world…to the most powerful newspaperman on the west coast…

 

So is it any wonder the story was selected for the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Notable Books” and the Denver Post’s “Editor’s Pick”? Or for that matter, Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month,” the “Indie Next List,” The Week magazine’s “Must Reads,” and San Francisco magazine’s “Hot List”?

 

Is it romantic, you ask? Clever? Magical? It’s all of those, we’d say!

 

Rodes Fishburne has been praised by Tom Wolfe and compared to Tom Robbins. For over ten years he has written for magazines and newspapers, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and Forbes ASAP, where he was the editor of the “Big Issue,” an annual magazine of literary essays from leading writers and thinkers. “Big Issue” essays have been included in the popular anthologies, “Best American Essays,” and “Best American Science Essays” and nominated for a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. He edited and wrote introductory essays for the book, The Best of the Big Issues. The Drilling Company in New York City has performed his one-act plays, “Note to Self,” “Gaggle” and “Waiting for Henry to Snow” at the West 78th Street Theatre. He was commissioned by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to write a play addressing timely scientific themes, called “Eternity: A play in 30 minutes.” A native of Virginia and a graduate of Emory & Henry College, he attended St. Peter’s College, Oxford, where he studied Religion and Irish Literature. He’s a member of the Grotto, a collective of professional writers and lives with his family San Francisco.

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 24

6:30 PM

 

FOUND IN TRANSLATION

Book Group Discussion – NO MEETING

 

Found in Translation is taking a month off – next meeting is June 28!

 

Join us each month for spirited conversation about some of the newest writing hitting the U.S. from all over the globe. No foreign language knowledge necessary and no continental savvy required (but will be appreciated!)  -- just bring your desire to read some excellent new books, hand-selected for you by Scott Esposito, of the Center for the Art of Translation and The Quarterly Conversation, who also fearlessly leads the discussion, brilliantly.. You'll also meet some great new people and chat with them about the best new fiction from around the world. New participants are always welcomed!

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 25

7:30 PM

 

STEVEN T. JONES

TRIBES OF BURNING MAN

How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture       

 

From its anarchic early days to its present dreams of world domination, this is the untold story of Burning Man -- the most popular, unique, and enduring countercultural event of recent times in which alternative lifestyle enthusiasts erect a giant statue and construct a temporary city to live in for about a week in the Nevada desert. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have made the dusty pilgrimage to Black Rock City to take part in this experiment in participatory art, gift culture, and bacchanalian celebration -- and many say their lives were fundamentally changed by the experience. The Tribes of Burning Man offers an insider's view of what makes this dynamic event tick.

 

This current look at the expansion of the lifestyle reveals how in recent years Burning Man has taken on a new character, with the frontier becoming a real city and the many tribes of the event -- the fire artists, circus freaks, music lovers, do-gooders, grungy builders, and myriad other burner collectives -- developing a perennial presence in sister cities all over the world. Chronicling Burning Man’s renaissance years from 2004 to the present, this epic journey features some of the culture’s most inspiring and colorful leaders and is a search for meaning in the most unexpected places.

 

Jones also examines groups that work from the artist workshops American Steel, The Shipyard, The Box Shop, CELLspace, NIMBY Warehouse, and other Bay Area work spaces and art collectives, and interviews internationally acclaimed DJs Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox, Lee Coombs, Dylan Rhymes, DJ Dan, Christopher Lawrence, Scumfrog, Syd Gris, and more, including a candid, six-year running conversation with Burning Man founder Larry Harvey.

 

Steven T. Jones, aka Scribe, is a native Californian who has worked full-time for newspapers in this state for 20 years. Before becoming City Editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, he worked for Sacramento News & Review, New Times in San Luis Obispo, Coast Weekly in Monterey, Santa Maria Times, Auburn Journal, and Lassen County Times. Steve has won numerous writing and reporting awards along the way, including a Maggie and awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (he also serves on AAN’s Editorial Committee).

 

 

 

Thursday, May 26

7:30 PM

 

ANN PACKER

Swim Back to Me

 

From Ann Packer, author of the New York Times best-selling novels The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and Songs Without Words, comes a collection of burnished, emotionally searing stories, framed by two unforgettable linked narratives that express the transformation of a single family over the course of a lifetime.

A wife struggles to make sense of her husband’s sudden disappearance. A mother mourns her teenage son through the music collection he left behind. A woman shepherds her estranged parents through her brother’s wedding and reflects on the year her family collapsed. A young man comes to grips with the joy -- and vulnerability -- of fatherhood. And, in the masterly opening novella, two teenagers from very different families forge a sustaining friendship, only to discover the disruptive and unsettling power of sex.


Ann Packer is one of our most talented archivists of family life, with its hidden crevasses and unforeseeable perils, and in these stories she explores the moral predicaments that define our social and emotional lives, the frailty of ordinary grace, and the ways in which we are shattered and remade by loss. With Swim Back to Me, she delivers shimmering psychological precision, unfailing intelligence, and page-turning drama: her most enticing work yet.

 

Ann Packer is the author of two best-selling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, the latter of which received a Great Lakes Book Award, an American Library Association Award, and the Kate Chopin Literary Award. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Vogue, and Real Simple. Also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories, she lives in northern California with her family.