Watermark News & Notes - April 26, 2012
April 26, 2012
In this issue:
News and Notes Worthy: Book Club Girl eBook Sale; KU Barnstorming Tour.
Book of the Week.
“At Home on the Range” a cookbook presented by Elizabeth Gilbert, by her great-grandmother Margaret Yardley Potter, review by Beth Golay.
"Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection" by A. J. Jacobs, review by Melissa Fox.
"Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid with the Cowboy I Love" by Jesse Knadler, review by Wendy Ward.
"Wichita" by Thad Ziolkowski, review by Sarah Bagby.
An interview with Thad Ziolkowski... by Sarah Bagby.
Book Club Girl is back! With a new list of 12 great eBook titles for $2.99 from April 30th to June 4th!
Remember... the sale doesn't begin until Monday!
The 2012 Kansas Barnstorming Tour, featuring KU's Tyshawn Taylor, Conner Teahan and Jordan Juenemann is coming right up! On Friday, April 27th at Wichita East High School, the KU Barnstormers will take on the Wichita All-Stars. Autographs and concessions begin at 6:00 p.m., and the game will begin at 8:00 p.m. Advance tickets are $12 and available at Watermark; tickets are $15 at the door. Proceeds benefit Wichita East Baseball.
Information about all of our event can be found on our website at www.watermarkbooks.com.
April 27, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. - Final Friday reception with artist Brian Hinkle.
April 28. 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. - Gloria Zachgo book signing for "The Rocking Horse."
May 1, 7:00 p.m. Andrew Gumbel book talk and signing for "Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed--and Why It Still Matters"
May 9, 6:00 p.m. Summer Challenge Kick-off!
May 10, 7:00 p.m. Mike Smith presentation and signing for "When the Sirens Were Silent"
May 12, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Wichita Area Sister Cities Scholarship Fund Book Fair.
May 17, 7:00 p.m. Geraldine Brooks reading and signing for "Caleb's Crossing" - this is the 4th event in our Penguin Author Series.
May 30, 7:00 p.m. Alex Grecian reading and signing for "The Yard"
May 31, 7:00 p.m. Dorothy Wickenden reading and signing for "Nothing Daunted"
Watermark's Book of the Week is "Farther Away: Essays" by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, ISBN 9780374153571, originally $26.00)
Jonathan Franzen’s "Freedom" was the runaway most-discussed novel of 2010, an ambitious and searching engagement with life in America in the twenty-first century. In The New York Times Book Review, Sam Tanenhaus proclaimed it “a masterpiece of American fiction” and lauded its illumination, “through the steady radiance of its author’s profound moral intelligence, [of] the world we thought we knew.”
In "Farther Away," which gathers together essays and speeches written mostly in the past five years, Franzen returns with renewed vigor to the themes, both human and literary, that have long preoccupied him. Whether recounting his violent encounter with bird poachers in Cyprus, examining his mixed feelings about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace, or offering a moving and witty take on the ways that technology has changed how people express their love, these pieces deliver on Franzen’s implicit promise to conceal nothing. On a trip to China to see first-hand the environmental devastation there, he doesn’t omit mention of his excitement and awe at the pace of China’s economic development; the trip becomes a journey out of his own prejudice and moral condemnation. Taken together, these essays trace the progress of unique and mature mind wrestling with itself, with literature, and with some of the most important issues of our day. "Farther Away" is remarkable, provocative, and necessary.
Shop online or in the store, this week "Farther Away" is 30% off.
Order "Farther Away: Essays" online here: http://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9780374153571
This week's winner of a free lunch from Watermark Café is Greg Reed of Wichita. Thanks for signing up for News & Notes.
"Gyong-ho fed another pant leg into a powerful, old cast iron machine, counting the stitches as she ran a perfect inseam."
... from "All Woman and Springtime" by Brandon W. Jones (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, ISBN 9781616200770, $24.95)
Order "All Woman and Springtime" online here: http://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9781616200770
1. "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier" by Ree Drummond 2. "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James 3. "Moon Over Manifest" by Clare Vanderpool 4. "Fifty Shades Darker" by E.L. James 5. "Fifty Shades Freed" by E.L. James 6. "The Ex-Nun Poems" by Jeanine Hathaway 7. "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins 8. "Dovekeepers" by Alice Hoffman 9. "Radiating Like a Stone" edited by Myrne Roe 10. "Three Novels of New York" by Edith Wharton
Watermark's book reviews can be heard on alternate Mondays on KMUW 89.1. You can read our most recent review below or listen to it here:
“At Home on the Range” a cookbook presented by Elizabeth Gilbert, by her great-grandmother Margaret Yardley Potter (McSweeney’s, ISBN 9781936365890, $24.00)
Elizabeth Gilbert always believed that her calling as a writer came from her great-grandfather, Sheldon Potter. He had “inspired bookishness” and would give her challenging reading assignments during their visits. But when she unpacked and began to read “At Home on the Range”—a cookbook penned by her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter—Gilbert started to wonder about the existence of a Family Voice.
You might wonder how a voice can present itself through a recipe. But these are not traditional list-of-ingredients-followed-by-instructions recipes. Instead, Potter—also known as “Gima”—tells you how to make these food items. And she doesn’t leave out a single step.
The main goal of this cookbook, it seems, is to teach you how to be a clever and entertaining hostess. Gima’s circumstances diminished through the years, with moves to smaller homes with reduced help, but that was never an excuse for her to stop entertaining. Like her great-granddaughter, Gima never met a stranger. You were always welcome at her table.
And she shares Gilbert’s sense of humor. When Gima’s son came home from boarding school one year, her younger daughter feigned contempt, saying that they “did everything but put up the flag.” From that day forward flag-raising became the first item checked off the list in preparation for his return. Not out of a sense of patriotism, but out of sheer orneriness.
And remember in “Eat, Pray, Love” when Gilbert was on a quest to find the best pizza in the world? In 1918, Gima not only discovered pizza for herself at a small Italian grocery, but she also convinced the proprietress to teach her how to make it at home.
Is there such a thing as a Family Voice? Oh yeah. Even though they are generations apart and have never met, these two women share the same blood, the same voice, and the same appetite for life.
Review by Beth Golay
To order a copy of "At Home on the Range" online, click here: http://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9781936365890
"Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection" by A. J. Jacobs (Simon & Schuster, ISBN 9781416599074, $26.00)
The thing I enjoy best about A. J. Jacobs's books is that he's insane enough to try things that normal human beings don't even consider. I mean, really: who else would read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica? Or spend a year living the Bible to the letter? Or go undercover as woman?
Or how about spending two years becoming the healthiest man alive?
If anyone can go from intellectual, indoor-loving couch potato, to a lean, mean, healthy machine, it's A. J. Jacobs. And then, of course, he has to write about it.
He organizes this book roughly chronological--giving us check-up updates from month 1 to month 25--but also, in a brilliant way to keep us engaged as readers, by body part. He spends a month on his eyes, his ears, his brain, his fingers, his stomach, his heart, even his testicles, right on down to his feet. He shares what he learns as he goes along: the good, the not-so-good, the quackery. Which brings me to the second thing I really enjoy about Jacobs' books: he's game to try just about everything.
From cave man exercise (and diets), to going OCD on toxins (both internal and external), to BluePrintCleanse. He didn't go as far as plastic surgery--his wife forbade it--otherwise there really is no stone he leaves unturned. It's a fascinating way to approach health, but also a trivia-inducing one. If I have become insufferable with "Did you know..." and "I read in 'Drop Dead Healthy'..." statements, it's only because this book is packed with So. Much. Information. And a good portion of it is incredibly fascinating.
It helps, I think, that his books are so readable: he's self-deprecating, but not to the point where it's annoying. He's funny. And he is more than willing to write about his family--from his wonderful, long-suffering wife, adorable boys, fantastic grandpa, and crazy aunts--which helps give the book some humanity; he really is devoted to them, and they really are wonderfully tolerant of his insanity.
So, did I learn anything? Yes. There was possibly way too much information thrown at me, but some did sink in. Will I incorporate anything I learned in my life? I don't know. Perhaps. Was it an enjoyable way to spend my time? Most definitely.
Oh, and for the record: I think Jacobs would be proud that I read this book entirely while on the elliptical at the gym. I hope so, anyway.
Review by Melissa Fox
Order a copy of "Drop Dead Healthy" online here: http://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9781416599074
"Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid with the Cowboy I Love" by Jesse Knadler (Berkley, ISBN 9780425245682, $24.95)
Missing the Pioneer Woman? You might want to try "Rurally Screwed: My Life off the Gird with the Cowboy I Love" by Jesse Knadler.
Jesse thought of herself as the quintessential New York City girl. Having left Montana for the big city she had achieved her dream (or so she thought). Jesse was an editor for a big time women’s magazine, splurges on Miu Miu, loves yoga and dates an architect.
Suddenly things start to fall apart. Her job crashes, her boyfriend is creepy (and I mean icky creepy) and Jesse wonders what's next. Jesse decides to freelance and accepts a job that will take her back home to Montana--she’ll cover a rodeo where all of the cowboys are amateurs and none of the animals have ever been ridden. Jesse isn’t crazy about going back to Montana but does like the thought of a fling with a cowboy.
Jess does meet a cowboy--his name is Jake. Jake moved to Montana from the East Coast and loves being a cowboy. Jake is kind, hardworking, optimistic, a member of the army and a good man. Jake and Jesse buy a farm and Jake starts his own business building fences. Jesse soon finds herself chopping wood, building fences, canning and raising chickens. Things aren’t easy and Jess wonders if she can really make it.
"Rurally Screwed" is a real love story--about a woman who gives up everything she’s ever known and wanted (or thought she knew and wanted) for a life with the man she loves. It’s about falling in love with an unexpected person and figuring out what really matters when things get tough.
I started out laughing at the beginning of the book and ended the book with a tear in my eye. It was a treat to follow Jesse’s life as she came to realize what life is really about.
Review by Wendy Ward
Order a copy of "Rurally Screwed" online here: http://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9780425245682
"Wichita" by Thad Ziolkowski (Europa Editions, ISBN 9781609450700, $16.00)
Europa Editions, the publisher who brought us Muriel Barbery's surprising bestseller "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" has just released a debut novel entitled Wichita. I picked up the novel with both affection and suspicion—who writes a book entitled "Wichita"?
Author Thad Ziolkowski spent a couple of years in Wichita with his mother, brother, and step-father who worked for Boeing as an engineer. Their home was in the Forest Hills neighborhood and Thad attended Southeast High School where he played football. Displaced from Florida, Thad, a passionate surfer, experienced culture shock but did his best to survive the next few years landlocked in Kansas. Drawing on the profound impressions of his time in Wichita, Ziolkowski has written a compelling novel about an unblended "blended" family told through the prismatic eyes of a young man trying to reconcile the disparate characters his parents have turned out to be and to find his way in their misguided universe.
Wichita is the story of Lewis Chopnik, a young man adrift after graduating from Columbia University in New York City. Dumped by his girlfriend for a more promising suitor, Lewis leaves the stifled world of his father’s family, a clan of ambitious Ivy League academics, and seeks respite at his mother’s home in Wichita.
Abby, Lewis’s mother, lives with Donald, her up-tight husband. She is launching “Grateful Gaia Storm Tours" offering organized tornado-chasing tours for seekers of a new age experience as they look for the eye of the storm. Donald barely tolerates Bishop, Abby’s lover who lives in a tent in the back yard of their Forest Hills home. Seth, Lewis’s bi-polar brother, is unexpectedly visiting as well rounding out this cast of myriad characters moving in and out of the unstructured household.
Ziolkowski is at his best when depicting the details of domestic family scenes as they gather for breakfast or dinner, simply put away groceries, or do errands with the big sons, their step-father, and mother all talking to and around each other. Tensions and issues go unresolved until the next scene, when they find each other in the same rooms again—not as destiny, but by circumstance and chance. They bounce into and off each other. This amusing and painful connected but disconnectedness is done with such aplomb that you can't help but recognize some of yourself. Ziolkowski has the gift of a writer in tune with the emotional landscapes of families. Over the course of the novel, we learn the details of Seth’s mental health problems which lead to his ousting from his father’s provincial family, we suffer through Abby’s husband’s tension with life, and learn of Bishop’s drug lab in the basement of their home.
I love the way Ziolkowski carefully moves his characters through Wichita, revealing details that develop character and guide the reader through their family history.He has a great eye for the details of our world: “the backyard has gone dramatically to the weeds, golden rod, Queen Anne’s lace, a tall tobacco-like plant with floppy dark- green leaves. Ivy cascades over the patch where Abby made an attempt at a Zen garden; over the mound where there was a compost heap during her Alice Waters/organic garden moment; over the collapsed remains of a plywood skate ramp built by Seth and Cody; up and over the fence into the yard of the neighbor, lawn-proud…Oren, who can’t be too pleased with that.”
This bedraggled backyard flourishes through the summer until “the tallest plants come up to Lewis’s chest, his chin, dim the light in his room so that he has to read with a light in the middle of the day. The vine beginning to snake its way up the legs of the patio furniture when he arrived now blankets the porch like kudzu, the heart shaped leaves tracing the seams of the louvered windows and sliding doors, seeking entry.”
Lewis and Seth have unfinished business, and their mother does her haphazard best to nurture and protect her boys. They do what bored and maladjusted young men do in every city to entertain themselves—drive around, abuse drugs, go to dive bars, and hang out with a fringe group of friends at night. Then during the day, they try to make sense of it all... and they fight. Lewis is simultaneously a caregiver and foe.
Things come to a head when Abby departs on her first storm chasing gig with out-of-town guests. As this misguided group comes upon a storm, everyone is changed when the tornado violently and fatally touches down near the Great Gaia Storm Tourists.
There are some minor inaccuracies in the novel, and as a lifelong Wichitan I feel the need, even if petty, to point them out. We have no CVS or Whole Foods in Wichita and we really do know who Horace Mann is. But the dead on accuracy of his description of Towne East Square allows all to be forgiven.
I applaud both Europa for publishing a book entitled Wichita—think of the marketing possibilities—and Ziolkowski for setting his novel in our city... the city that we all embrace with equal doses of suspicion and affection.
Review by Sarah Bagby
To order a copy of "Wichita" online, click here: http://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9781609450700
An interview with Thad Ziolkowski...
Thad Ziolkowski is the author of "Our Son the Arson," a collection of poems, and a memoir, "On a Wave," which was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award in 2003. In 2008, he was awarded a fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Bookforum, Artforum, Travel & Leisure and Index. He directs the Writing Program at Pratt Institute.
1. Tell me about your novel. Is it your first?
Yes, Wichita is my first novel. It took longer to see the light of day than I would have liked, this debut, but if writing a novel asks anything of you, it’s doggedness.
2. The book is set in the unlikely setting of Wichita and focuses on a loving family who are in a constant state of missing each other. The bond of two brothers with very different experiences in the same family is a dominant theme. What came first in your constructing this novel? The relationship of the brothers? The exploration of family systems? The contrast in the cultural dynamics of each family?
I don’t actually believe Wichita to be any more unlikely than any other small-city setting, than Newark, say, or Knoxville (I’m thinking, respectively, of various of Phillip Roth’s novels and Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree). In its favor, Wichita has a relatively strong regional profile: the middle of the Middle West (which brings to mind William Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, a mannered title I loved in my youth).
The foundation of the novel was always the relationship between the two brothers. Out of that rose the rest, the family dynamic or “systems,” as you interestingly term it, and the contrast between the microcosms within the novel.
3. Why did you choose to call this novel “Wichita”? And how did you come to even consider such a title and setting? Why the Forest Hills neighborhood?
The novel had several other working titles, none of which satisfied me for long, but “Wichita,” when I hit on it, had a lasting appeal—that of a certain resonant opacity. I also liked the way a place name—instead of the name of one of the characters, for instance, or something more abstract, such as The Corrections—could maybe soak up or stand for the meaning of the novel’s action.
As for how and why Wichita to start with, I lived there in the mid-1970s. I attended Southeast High, even played (briefly) on the football team. There’s a chapter or so devoted to Wichita in my memoir, "On a Wave."
4. What would have happened to this novel if you had the settings reversed—the family with no boundaries in NYC and the rigid status obsessed provincial family living in remote Kansas?
That’s a great question but contemplating it makes my head feel like it’s going explode!
5. How is writing a memoir different than writing a novel?
While a memoir has an abiding fictive or creative component, the memoir is bound to conform to the broad outlines of events as they occurred in the life of the memoirist, hence the aesthetic expectations are commensurately lower than with a novel, every aspect of which can be shaped down the finest granularity, its action invented from whole cloth, its characters composites or what have you. Thus with the novel, aesthetic unity is at least theoretically within the writer’s grasp. No one comes to a memoir with such a horizon of expectation; the stakes are lower. But these very lowered expectations can actually allow for a special sort of aesthetic experience, hence, in part, the popularity of the memoir form.
6. When writing a memoir, do you have to distill the episodes in life to a very focused and compartmentalized aspect of your life? Is the ability to contextualize your experience in a memoir expansive or limiting?
“Distillation” is certainly how the process of memoir writing often struck me.
7. And, on the same theme, is writing fiction drawn from incidents (assuming your fiction is drawn from experience) in your own life limiting or expansive?
I do draw and depend on my personal experiences for my fiction and that both limits my range but also, I hope, lends authority to what I end up depicting.
8. Why did you kill off Seth? Why in a tornado? Have you ever seen a tornado? (Most people in Wichita have not seen a tornado, including me.)
I can’t really articulate why it seemed right to have Seth die and in the manner in which he dies. I’ve never witnessed a tornado but I’ve watched so many videos of tornadoes that when I first read that question, I thought, “Sure, I’ve seen a tornado.”
9. Are you working on a new novel?
I’m working alternately on a book of linked short stories about sexual treachery and idealism in graduate school and a novel about a former pro surfer who’s washed up in Montauk, where he’s giving surf lessons to celebrities.
10. I thought the novel had a sort of timeless quality—only gadgets and popular culture dated the novel. Was setting the incidents in a certain time period important?
One of the chief attractions of setting the novel in the 2000s is the existence of cellphones and email, which are wonderful narrative vehicles, allowing for events to turn on a dime. This was something I first noticed when watching The Sopranos: the great, disruptive uses of the cellphone.
11. How do the natural landscape of Kansas and the urban landscape of the east coast cities support/or help develop the characterization of Abby and Bishop and Seth and Lewis and Virgil?
That’s a great question. I’m not sure how to answer it succinctly, though, or without risking sounding fatuous or grandiose. But there is often a kind of bleed-through that occurs between characters and the land- or cityscape in which they move.
12. Anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your novel?
I can’t think of anything more to add at the moment. My hope, naturally, is that the novel has the last word, speaks for itself.
Interview by Sarah Bagby