Books and Beyond
It’s time again to showcase some of the authors who’ll be appearing at the Arvada library’s Books and Bites program on Friday, September 20th, from 6-8:30 pm.
Our first author is Kathy Harris. Kathy lives in the foothills west of Denver in a cabin built during the 1920s. The cabin’s haunted, so it’s lucky she shares the space with her husband, son, and two untrainable golden retriever mixes. Kathy has been a bestselling author on Amazon.com and her book A Good Kind of Knowing earned the top literary award from the National Federation of Press Women for 2013. She has also just released her first children’s ebook, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas. Learn more about Kathy here.
Readers who enjoy paranormal romance and urban fantasy will want to come see Thea Harrison. Thea is a bestselling author on the New York Times and USA Today’s booklists thanks to her Elder Races series. The first book in the series, Dragon Bound, won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for paranormal romance and was named Book of the Year by the Romantic Times Book Review. It was also listed as one of 2011’s Best Romances on Amazon.com. You can visit with Thea at her website.
Dale Lovin, our third author, definitely followed the old advice to “write what you know about.” Dale was an FBI agent for twenty-five years with a focus on violent crime investigation, and those experiences help him make The Mirror in the River a realistic, gripping suspense novel about human trafficking and a former agent caught in the crosshairs of corrupt politicians. This is a book you will not want to put down.
When Spencer Dew writes a novel set in the Midwest, he does not depict the exceedingly earnest, impossibly polite Midwest of a Garrison Keillor radio show. Instead, he relates a more plausible tale of Midwestern tragedy as told by a group of turpentine-huffing students at a small Ohio college.
Here is How it Happens begins with the promise implied in the title. Rather than constructing a narrative where everything is hidden until the author is ready to reveal it, Dew prefers a more forthright approach, one that suggests the book’s ending from the very first page. We know things will not end well, that the relationships of the characters will not reach fruition, that every desire will be named and promptly frustrated. Dew possesses the artistry and confidence to tell the reader upfront: you know how this will end, but here is how it happens.
Our protagonist, Martin Wheeler, spends much of his time ignoring phone messages from his Cleveland-based girlfriend and passing the hours with his pal Courtney, whose love life revolves around her oft-absent partner Sloan. Both of their romantic relationships have calcified into habit: neither loves their partner, but neither seems capable of separating.
As the narrative proceeds, it’s clear that Martin and Courtney are drawn to one another, but we know, almost from the moment they are introduced, that they will never end up together. Mismatched love is as old as literature itself, and in an American context, it takes on an added degree of poignancy, because America—the home of free will, individualism and seemingly infinite choices—allows Dew’s characters to make every choice but the right one.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Here is How it Happens is Dew’s treatment of nostalgia, a quality we often associate with those whose best years are behind them. In Here is How it Happens, Dew suggests that nostalgia infects the young as well. Whether it’s Martin’s friend Eddie, who spends his time building a precise and detailed diorama of the Kent State shootings, or Courtney’s friend Bear, who buys a seal tranquilizer gun just so he can shoot himself with it, the characters are obsessed with experience and the processing of memories. However, the reader gets the sense that each new experience is the basis of a future nostalgia, that today’s mundanity is tomorrow’s longing, and that for Martin and his friends, the future exists only as a series of returns, so that what lies ahead simply loops back to an idyllic and reimagined past that never actually existed.
The characters of Here is How it Happens desire experience, but are instantly bored by what they create. They do not live in the present: their happiness is dependent on making memories that can then be idealized – memories that are, by definition, unattainable. This brings to mind what the poet William Blake called "gratified desire,” and the frustration of that desire serves as the very life that Martin and his friends build for themselves – in other words, something attained is no longer an object of desire. And nostalgia, at once sweet and bitter, cannot exist if the world it imagines is ever realized.
As an Ohio boy myself, I deliberately choose to call this novel a work of tragedy, because ungratified desire is part of the quiet desperation that pervades small towns throughout the Midwest. Works of tragedy are also rich in humor and Dew’s book is no exception. With a keen ear for dialogue, yet with all the grit and unflinching clarity of a documentary, Dew’s novel is that rarest of things: fiction that so closely resembles its subject that it actually warrants the disclaimer printed on the flyleaves of so many lesser books: This is a work of fiction. All resemblances to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Dew demonstrates that you cannot know the Midwest without knowing its nostalgia, which is, in a curious sense, its idea of heaven.
Our third spotlight on some of the authors appearing at the Arvada Library’s Books and Bites program is themed around what philosopher William James called “the varieties of religious experience.”
Brenda Lee’s Out of the Cocoon fascinates readers with its true account of Brenda’s experiences as a Jehovah’s Witness. Trapped in the cult from childhood, Brenda recalls harrowing psychological abuse and the loss of her family as she finds the strength to escape. But don't be fooled into thinking this book is a dour read. You'll find plenty of deft humor to balance out the horror, as Brenda's memoir also manages to capture the absurdities of her situation. This is a great book for anyone interested in the psychology of cults, written by an author who is a true survivor.
What Would Your Father Say? by Janice McDermott provides readers with quite a different take on a religious upbringing. Janice vividly describes her early life in rural Iowa, where she grew up in poverty after the tragic death of her father. Spending time in an orphanage and then a convent, Janice takes a story that might seem somber and turns it into a quirky and uplifting adventure that teaches the power of faith and hope.
We hope you will come and meet Janice and Brenda, along with our other authors, at Books and Bites at the Arvada Library on Friday, September 20th from 6-8:30 PM.
Evergreen Library presents a series of Westerns for our Sunday Matinees. Coming up...
The Searchers - Sept. 8, 2 p.m.
A classic John Wayne movie and arguably the actor’s best performance. He plays Ethan Edwards, a Confederate soldier. Returning home to Texas after the Civil War, Edwards finds that Comanches have captured his nieces and killed their parents. He embarks on a quest for revenge. Directed by John Ford, the movie is both a big screen adventure and an examination of bigotry and hatred.
Silverado - Sept. 22, 2 p.m.
Stars a young Kevin Costner as well as Kevin Kline, Linda Hunt, Jeff Goldblum, John Cleese, Danny Glover and others. In this modern classic, four unwitting heroes cross paths on their journey to the sleepy town of Silverado. It's up to the sharp-shooting foursome to save the day, but first they have to break each other out of jail and learn who their real friends are. A good plot, humor, action and romance make this movie a thoroughly enjoyable film while looking back to the glory days of westerns.
Our second spotlight on the many authors for adult readers appearing at the Arvada Library’s Books and Bites program on Friday, September 20th from 6 - 8:30 pm includes Paul M. Levitt, Sean Eads, and T.R. Maxus.
Paul M. Levitt is a professor English at the University of Colorado with a diverse publishing history that includes adult fiction, literary criticism, and books for young readers. His 2012 novel Stalin’s Barber, with its rich characterization and immersive storytelling, really shows Paul’s strength as a writer of historical fiction and is a must-read for anyone interested in Russia’s Soviet era.
A reference librarian at the Standley Lake Public Library for the past ten years, Sean Eads has published both fiction and non-fiction. Sean’s novel The Survivors was a 2013 Lambda Literary Award finalist in the science fiction category. The Survivors is a dark comedy about the invasion of Earth by aliens who don’t seem to realize the planet is inhabited. These aliens are as numerous as the Borg, but go ahead and resist them as much as you like—they really don’t mind!
The hallmarks of T.R. Maxus’s writing are ruthless plotting and a deft hand at mixing action, humor, and philosophy. With just the right mix of Vince Flynn and William Johnstone, Maxus’s first novel, Aenamus: Silent Blood is a political thriller that harkens back to the I’ll-take-care-of-this-problem-myself philosophy found in the best of pulp fiction.
You can check out the first Books and Bites spotlight here! And don’t forget to come and meet these and other writers at the Arvada Library on Friday, September 20th at 6 pm.
I’ve always admired Thomas Pynchon’s second novel, a short comedic work called The Crying of Lot 49. Crying is a wild paranoid romp about the secret history of Tristero, a conspiratorial mail service, visually symbolized by a muted horn, operating in defiance of the United States Post Office. People are willing to fight and die defending the secrets of this subversive mail system—though befitting the novel’s hallucinatory sensibilities, Tristero's actual existence remains unproven in the end.
About twenty years ago, as e-mail became popular on college campuses, I remember a professor describing electronic mail as a form of Tristero, since it lets people send letters they’d otherwise have to put a stamp on and mail. Besides being quicker, e-mail was also perhaps a better venue for sensitive messages since it was supposed to be more private.
How times have changed!
I was thinking of Pynchon’s novel and the professor’s comment recently in light of Google’s statement on the privacy of its Gmail service. Librarians pride themselves in assuring the privacy of patron information needs, but we seldom consider privacy when recommending an email service. We suggest Gmail to patrons all the time. Yet Google now states Gmail’s users have no privacy rights, and it employs all data it can find on you—emails, photo attachments, and so on—to better target advertisements to you and your friends. Google argues that since they provide the service, everything transmitted through it is fair game for their prying eyes.
Do all email providers do this? If they’re free, like Yahoo, it’s pretty likely. Is it the end of the world? I guess that depends on your privacy expectations. Generally speaking, it’s not like Gmail’s employees are intercepting your messages and reading them out loud in their staff room. With millions of emails transmitted every day, Google can’t afford that extra-special personal touch when it comes to snooping. Software filters and algorithms do the job for them, leaving their eavesdropping tactics coldly impersonal.
Can you avoid having your email analyzed? Yes, for a price. There are some email providers who guarantee privacy safeguards against both government and corporate spying, but users must pay a minimal charge. Some notable examples are Runbox and Countermail. You could also try sending your messages by carrier pigeon, but good luck including an attachment! In the meanwhile, just keep in mind what Pynchon has to say elsewhere in his novel: “This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl.”
Let me start with a confession: Mark Rothko is among my favorite contemporary artists, so I’m already in the tank for the guy. And when a loved one is wronged, you stand up for him – that’s a big part of being a good friend, a supportive family member, or in the case of Rothko, a devoted admirer. But part of loving someone faithfully and well is not hesitating to tell him when he’s fallen short, because honest criticism, like love and affection, is also part of the arrangement.
Most notably associated with Abstract Expressionism (or “Action Painting”), Mark Rothko immigrated to the United States from Latvia as a boy, grew up in Portland and later moved to the East Coast. In the years that followed, he rose through the ranks of the abstract artists who came of age in the wake of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Many say that this generation of painters helped turn art into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today—both for better and for worse.
While never an obscure artist, Rothko spent many years in the shadows of his more famous contemporaries, such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Rothko has enjoyed more public attention in recent years, as many of the world’s top museums, including MOMA and the Tate Modern, have hosted major exhibitions of his work. Denver Art Museum (DAM) is only the most recent to join the Rothko admiration society, with the opening of Figure to Field: Mark Rothko in the 1940s, which is on view at DAM through September 29th.
Figure to Field lays the groundwork for Rothko’s mature work of the 1950s and 60s and recounts his early development, from surrealist-inspired work to early representations of his famous field paintings, the pieces for which he is best known. One room of the exhibition includes works by Rothko’s contemporaries, which places Rothko in dialogue with other works and styles that emerged during and immediately after the Second World War. As with many young artists, we see the echoes of other painters in Rothko’s early work: namely, the influence of Surrealism and Cubism is plainly evident (many prominent Surrealists went into exile in New York during the Nazi occupation of France and exerted considerable influence on young American artists of the period).
While I’m a big fan of Rothko’s work of the 1950s and early 60s, my favorites are his later works—chiefly the Seagram murals—which were commissioned by the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York but never permitted to hang there, owing to Rothko’s reservations about the suitability of the venue. Instead, his Seagram pieces made their way into a number of collections: The National Gallery in Washington DC, the Tate Modern in London, and the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Sakura, Japan, where they reside to this day.
While Figure to Field provides valuable context and contributes to our appreciation of Rothko as a colorist, it also makes the mistake of emphasizing some of Rothko’s weakest work. I’d hate to think that thousands of people could potentially be prevented from ever experiencing Rothko’s best, simply because they saw this exhibition first. It’s like teaching schoolchildren Robert Frost and then wondering why they don’t grow up to become readers of poetry.
And this is less Rothko’s fault – because after all, every artist has weaker pieces – than it is a failure of curatorial vision. I’ve noticed this tendency before at DAM, with the work Henri Matisse, for instance. With its traveling exhibitions, DAM often seems to go for the lesser work of major artists, perhaps thinking that name recognition alone will be enough to draw curious onlookers. It could be due to a lack of resources, as I don’t doubt the considerable expense (not to mention the sheer difficulty) involved in borrowing a canonical artist’s best works. But in the end, I’d much rather that DAM featured the best work of underappreciated or emerging artists, rather than opting for the weaker works of known names. When DAM chooses the latter, it does a disservice to both the artist and the venue itself.
Figure to Field: Mark Rothko in the 1940s runs from June 23rd - September 29th, 2013 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 W. 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver, CO 80204.
On Friday, September 20th from 6 to 8:30 PM, the Arvada Library will host Books and Bites, a casual opportunity to meet more than thirty Colorado writers, many of them award winners. With authors for children, teens, and adults, Books and Bites promises to be a fun and relaxed literary event for everyone.
For the next few weeks, we’ll be spotlighting some of the fascinating authors you can expect to meet at Books and Bites. This week we want to introduce you to Lois Lindstrom Kennedy and Carol Turner, two authors with unique insights into Colorado history.
A former schoolteacher, Lois Lindstrom Kennedy specializes in non-fiction of the local history variety, and has published several books and monographs about Arvada since dedicating herself to the subject in 1971. In books like Ralston’s Gold, Lois has written in detail about Lewis Ralston, the prospector from Georgia who made the Rocky Mountain region’s first documented gold discovery in 1850.
You may know Carol Turner from the history column she writes in the Broomfield Enterprise. Carol’s most recent book, Notorious Jefferson County, describes the dark and seamy side of Jeffco’s frontier days, amazing readers with a wild cast of rogues, frauds and murderers. Take a shot of bourbon while you peruse this book and you’ll feel like you’re in a saloon!
You can check out their books from the library or purchase them at the event. Until then, be on the lookout for more Books and Bites author spotlights in the days ahead!
Dearie: the Remarkable Life of Julia Child begins with a hilarious description of the first show of the French Chef series on WGBH-TV when Julia Child prepared an omelet using her favorite pan and a hot plate. These were the days on cooking shows when ingredients were not prepared beforehand. What you saw was what was happening right at that moment. And Julia was a character with a big personality and presence. In this lengthy (Mastering the Art of French Cooking had to be separated into two volumes) and thoroughly engaging biography of the queen of the cooking show, Bob Spitz portrays Julia Child with warmth and humor and tells of her cooking in peoples' living rooms at a time when most American housewives were besotted with Cheez Whiz, Hamburger Helper and TV Dinners. With that unmistakable warble in her voice she became an iconic cult figure and joyous rule breaker who began a revolution in America's kitchens.
In Proof of Heaven, a neurosurgeon has a near death experience which contradicts his lifetime of studying science and medicine. In dealing with his patients, Dr. Alexander has always gently explained away afterlife events as hallucinations, or any number of injured brain illusions. But then it happened to him. Now he is in the unique position of being a scientist/neurosurgeon and having an unbelievable experience in the great beyond to report, explain and understand. This fascinating book takes us on that afterlife journey with Dr. Alexander.