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Lit Picks: John Jodzio, Colson Whitehead, Mary Mackey, Amor Towles, and More

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Colson Whitehead  (Photo: Knopf Doubleday/Erin Patrice O'Brien) )

Thursday, September 8: John Jodzio at The Booksmith, SF

johnjodzioGrief and a desire for redemption lie underneath the first story in Knockout (Soft Skull; 2016), the latest collection from Minneapolis-based writer John Jodzio. “Great Alcoholic-Owned Bed and Breakfasts of the Eastern Seaboard” is narrated by a Jim Beam-swilling bed-and-breakfast owner with a dead wife and a stepson left over from the foiled marriage. He begrudgingly loves the boy, despite the fact that they don’t share the same blood. When a guest, supposedly a travel writer, with her own secrets comes to stay at the crumbling B&B, all hell (quietly) breaks loose.  Jodzio’s concise stories of losers,  bruisers, and outcasts have also appeared on This American Life and in McSweeney’s and One Story. He’ll e reading on Sept. 8 with a superstar cast of local writers: Kate Folk, Dave Madden, and Kara Vernor, whose debut short story collection Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song came out this summer on Split Lip Press.  Details here

*Jodzio also reads at Babylon Salon on Sept. 10 along with Ramona Ausebel, J Ryan Stradel (Kitchens of the Great Midwest), Frances Stroh, and poet Tess Taylor.

Tuesday, September 13: Mauro Javier Cardenas at Green Apple Books on the Park, SF

revbMauro Javier Cardenas’ debut novel The Revolutionaries Try Again (Coffee House Press; 2016) has evoked comparisons to great Latin American novels like Roberto Bolaños The Savage Detectives and Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch. Of course, you don’t have to have read those books to enjoy this exciting, experimental book by one of San Francisco’s most daring novelists (look for a full review in next week’s column). It tells the story of three childhood friends — an expat, a bureaucrat, and a playwright — who are grappling with a dictatorship in Ecuador, and fear of closer betrayals, of the kind that happens between friends. Cardenas will be in conversation with Zyzzyva Magazine editor Oscar Villalon.  Details here


Thursday, September 15: Colson Whitehead at Green Apple Books, SF

Those of us who discovered Colson Whitehead’s writing talent a few years back, thanks to his excellent coming-of-age novel Sag Harbor, weren’t surprised when Oprah declared that she’d stayed up all night reading h9780385537032-1is latest novel, The Underground Railroad.  And yes, it has been anointed Winfrey’s  latest book club pick. Still, I think we are all happy to see Whitehead, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, gain even wider acclaim. In the novel, Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, attempts to escape by way of the underground railroad, which, it turns out, is no mere metaphor. In the book, it’s the real thing: a secret network of tracks and train stops underneath the Southern soil.  Never one to shirk from narrative challenges, Whitehead once again slays the novel form in an entirely new way.  Details her

Thursday, September 15: Mary Mackey at Modern Times, SF

MISTS-OF-AVALON_612x380_0There was a period of time, somewhere in the mid-nineties, when my friends and I obsessively read The Mists of Avalon,  the proto-goddess fantasy novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which tells the story of King Arthur from the perspective of the women in his life.  It was like the feminist version of all the adventure novels and movies we’d grown up with. Mary Mackey’s novels inhabit similar territory, with a focus on the goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe, and the struggle to save them from nomad invaders. The Village of Bones, Mackey’s latest, is about Sabalah, a young priestess in 4386 B.C. who gives birth Marrah, a girl with the power to save womankind. But first, Sabalah must keep her alive.  Details here

Sunday, September 18: Amor Towles at Book Passage, Corte Madera

The Bolshevik revolution, and all that happened in Russia after the 20th century communist revolt against an entrenched aristocracy, stands as one of the most fascinating periods of the last 100 years. Amor Towles follows up his New York Times bestseller The Rules of Civility, with a new novel, A Gentleman in Moscow (Viking; 2016) set in 1922, just after the revolution. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. The prison sentence ends up giving Rostov an opportunity to do some deep soul-searching into the true purpose of his life. For a man whose never worked a day in his life, this is a big deal. Details here

Amor Towles also appears at Copperfield’s in Petaluma on September 17, Rakestraw Books in Danville on September 18, and at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton on September 19.

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