CityBeat Blogs - Literary <![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

There’s nothing like being greeted by the bright echoes of music as you step inside from the pouring rain. On this particular day I was visiting the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the monthly Jazz of the Month Club performance, featuring the Jamey Aebersold Quartet. It wasn’t hard to find the musicians, since their tunes bounced all around the library atrium, and as I slipped into my seat I settled down and let the warm jazz beats warm my cold body.

The Jamey Aebersold Quartet, the third performer in the Jazz of the Month Club, featured an extremely talented group of musicians, led by an award-winning Jazz master and educator. Jamey Aebersold, who led the group on the alto sax, received the 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, the highest jazz honor in America. A native of New Albany, Ind., Aebersold has been playing Jazz for more than 50 years, and has gained international recognition as a Jazz musician and educator. It was perhaps the educator in him that couldn’t resist adding tidbits of the pieces and artists they performed.

The quartet played several Jazz tunes, including “Lament” by J.J. Johnson, “Hi-Fly” by Randy Weston and “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington, one of the most famous Jazz compositions. As I listened to the lively beats I couldn’t help but look around at the rest of the audience. While a couple people slept in the back row, most were intently focused on the performers, nodding their heads, tapping their toes or even dancing in their seats. Peeking out at passersby, I noticed a few that were even dancing as they walked, and I saw more than one librarian sneak a peek between tasks.

At one point, Aebersold pulled a Jamaican pianist into the performance and gave him a rehearsal for their next song in “be-dos,” singing the melody in gibberish. As strange as that seemed, Aebersold’s next instruction confused me further: “There’s a two-bar break on bar…something. You’ll hear it.” While we all laughed, I couldn’t help but wonder how the pianist could follow those instructions, but to my amazement he jumped right in without missing a beat, improvising as if he’d known the tune all along.

As a Jazz enthusiast, it was wonderful to hear the different styles of Jazz played in a way that drew crowds from all sections of the library. Older adults sat patiently through the program while younger audiences slipped in and out. But no matter how long they stayed, all seemed to leave with an expression of peace and pleasure at the simple but beautiful tunes wafting through the building. It was evidence of what Aebersold described by saying, “The world’s a mess. But we can make it better by playing some music.”

Did this event sound interesting? Check out similar programs at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s Main Branch:
History of Cincinnati Music Reprise: Explore the musical history of Cincinnati with Musicologist Uncle Dave Lewis.
Jazz Jam Session: Enjoy an evening of jazz with the Blue Night Jazz Band.
Ring in the Holidays: Listen to a holiday performance by the Pyropus Hand Bell Choir.


<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

There was little reading happening at the Boone County Public Library on Native American Day on Nov. 14. A life-size tipi sat on the lawn of the main branch, and inside the sound of drums carried from the second floor. In a corner of the children’s area sat craft tables where kids could make pinch pots out of clay, and Sioux dancers wandered around in traditional dress and face paint.

November, which is Native American Heritage Month, was the perfect time to host this event, although it took library staff several months of planning to get it ready. Adult Programmer Kathy Utz says this was the first-ever Native American Day at the library. “This is totally an experiment for us,” she says. “It’s really turned out to be a good program, and people are interested in it.” Utz added that one of the library’s goals is to expose the community to different cultures. “We always like to broaden the horizon of Boone County and to see something they haven’t seen before,” she said. They certainly achieved the desired effect, for as I wandered through the various stations, I can honestly say I’d never before experienced so much Native American culture in one place.

Chaske Hotain, a group of Sioux drummers, performed with brothers and sisters from around the country, beating the rhythms of their ancestors. Wearing their traditional dress, the dancers presented various Native American styles, at times inviting the audience to join them as they circled gracefully inside the wide perimeter of chairs. “It’s great … I’ve never been to a powwow or anything like that before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” says Kaitlin Barber, public service associate with the library’s local history department and the one who arranged the demonstration. “It’s really surpassed my expectations.” Outside the crowd was just as enthralled, and children could scarcely contain their excitement to enter the life-size tipi. It was surprising how many could fit into what looked like a small space — as I stood there I watched at least 30 people file in and settle comfortably on the floor. As I listened in I heard the owner, Tim Deane of Morristown, Tenn., describe the hand-made, authentic Sioux articles inside.

No matter which corner of the library you found yourself, there was something exciting to greet you. Patrons and performers alike took advantage of the vibrant atmosphere, and all around I could see the results of exposure to a different culture. This is what Jordan Padgett, youth services programmer, says the library strives to provide: “That is part of what we do here at the library, is really engage the community and reach them where they’re at. [And] providing stuff that amplifies what they’re already learning is a big key.”

<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

Every piece of art has a story, but what we don’t often remember is that the story of the artist can be even more enthralling. Donna King of River’s Edge Pottery Studio shared not only her trade but her history with a group during a pottery demonstration at the Covington branch of the Kenton County Public Library. The demonstration, which was scheduled for only two hours, stretched out as King engaged her audience in a series of stories.

She begian by slamming the clay on the wheel, making a large thump. “You’ve gotta get really really tough with it,” she explained. After centering the blob of clay on the wheel, King went to work on what she tells us is going to be a bowl. “With my students, the first thing I have them do is make a bowl,” she said.

As we watched, King masterfully poked a hole in the middle of the clay lump, eventually widening it out to form a discernable bowl shape. Once she was finished with it, King set it aside and grabbed a larger lump of clay, which she again threw on the wheel. This one was to become a vase, and King eagerly shared her technique for designing her pieces, which includes using a variety of objects to create patterns. Leaves, feathers and lace are a few of her standard tools, but she’s also used Hot Wheels cars, plastic placemats and pages from adult coloring books. “Sometimes I use a feather, sometimes I use sugar, and one time I actually used cat’s whiskers,” she said, laughing.

The library demonstration was King’s second at the Kenton County Public Library. The artist, who has been creating pottery for nine years, originally asked to display pottery for the Clay Alliance of Cincinnati, but when the library reached out requesting her to come give a presentation last fall, she gladly accepted.  “It’s just fun,” she said. “It’s just been an adventure.” The artist says she’s traveled all over the community doing demonstrations and classes and has worked with several Girl Scout troops and taught classes at Christian schools in the area, as well as teaching private or group classes. “I’ve had them as young as two years old, and up to 86 years old,” she said “People who say, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to try that,’ and I say, ‘Well, now’s your chance.’ ”

Find this interesting? Check out similar events at the Kenton County Public Library:

Nov. 12: Scarf It Up: Learn to knit from a local hobbyist. (Durr Branch)
Nov. 17: Coloring for Adults: Unwind at the Erlanger branch with this creative past time. (Erlanger Branch)
Nov. 19: Holiday Sewing: Machines and fabric are available for you to come make a holiday gift. (Covington Branch)

<![CDATA[Beatles Historian and Author to Speak at Main Library]]>

Mark Lewisohn, the internationally recognized Beatles historian who is working on his epic All These Years biography of the Fab Four’s story, will discuss the first book completed and published in the planned trilogy — Tune In — at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in the Main Library's Reading Garden Lounge, 800 Vine St., Downtown Cincinnati.

Lewisohn’s talk is free. No registration is required, and a book signing will follow his appearance. Books will be available for purchase courtesy of Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

Ten years in the making and consisting of hundreds of new interviews and information learned from access to archives, Tune In follows the Beatles from their childhoods through 1962 when their first hit record, “Love Me Do,” gives indication of the greatness ahead.

The English author began writing about the Beatles in 1983, and had previously published The Beatles Live!, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, The Beatles Day by Day and the Complete Beatles Chronicle before turning to this project.

He is now busily at work on the second volume and has come to Cincinnati to do research at the Main Library.


<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

It was a dim and smallish room I entered for my third library event, and at first I thought I was lost. I was in the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and after searching unsuccessfully decided to follow someone, who mercifully led me to the right room. “Headlines and Dead Lines”, the title of the class, promised to teach me about a library database that would research local history, and as the program began, I contentedly settled in for a good history lesson.

The class, taught by Reference Librarian Cindy Hill, mostly focused on Newsdex, a database that holds listings for local Cincinnati history. As I listened, Hill rattled off various fun facts about the system. “It’s the longest-running publicly available database for the Cincinnati area,” she announced proudly. “It’s a really great place to start.” 

According to Hill, Newsdex is often used for genealogies, but also provides information on companies, neighborhoods, historical sites and local events. You can find death notices, obituaries, wedding announcements, murders, addresses, local events and advertisements. The database includes articles from multiple Cincinnati publications, both current and discontinued, like the Cincinnati Post, Times-Star, Gazette, Commercial and the Western Spy. “[Newsdex] has a totally wide-range of newspapers, but it’s not complete,” Hill said. “It’s being updated all the time.”

As I listened to her, I began to see why Hill sounded so excited about the database.  “As far as we know, there’s not another library that’s done this,” she said. “Many of our databases require a library card, but Newsdex is used all over the world…it’s used across this country and beyond.” She added that people from as far away as Japan have requested information from the index, and that local companies and news organizations have also used the site.

Later I talked to Steve Headley, president of the Genealogy and Local History department of the public library, who told me that the database has been around in one form or another for a long time. According to Headley, Cincinnati librarians began to index newspapers into the library’s card catalog in 1927. In 1940 a concentrated effort began to index obituaries, as well as death notices, and in 1990 the system was digitized and named Newsdex. “There is no other real source [like] it, especially for the number of newspapers that it covers,” Headley said.

However, as great as Newsdex is, it doesn’t contain everything. Hill explained one reason is that some people wanted to live private lives, so nothing was printed about them in the paper. “Not everyone can be traced,” she warned. “There were people back then that didn’t want to be out there.” According to Headley, the information might not be indexed yet, since information is added as librarians have time. “The further back you go, the less complete it gets,” he said, “simply because when the librarians were doing the indexing they were using the individual cards, and it was pretty time consuming.”

One thing I appreciated about Newsdex is that it’s easy to use. Instead of having to weed through newspapers pages, Newsdex tells you what paper the article is in, what day it printed and what page it’s on. Then you simply work with the genealogy librarians to get that paper. At the end of the hour, I found myself wishing I had something to research, because I wanted to use my newfound knowledge. Instead of being intimidated by the wealth of information in Newsdex, it amazed me how much local history one city could hold. Cincinnati has so many facts to be discovered, and while I know I could never dig through them all, Headlines and Dead Lines made me want to try.

Did this event sound interesting? Check out similar workshops at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County:

Book a Librarian: Get help with job searches, research or resume writing.
Date with an iPad: Learn the tricks to using this Apple device.
Technology Appointment: Schedule a one-on-one workshop to learn basic computer skills.


<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

Writing can be so frustrating. As I sit here trying to spit out a catchy introduction, I struggle to make sense of anything in my brain, which seems to cause an even greater muddle. Most of the time writing is simple; you put a thought into words on a page. But the more I write the more I realize there’s more to crafting a paragraph than simply ordering the words correctly and sticking a period at the end. To be a good writer you must capture the heart of the message, sending it from inside yourself and into the reader. And if you’re a great writer, you’ll get something back.

On Friday night I was settled in a chair at the Fort Thomas branch of the Campbell County Public Library, waiting for the first author visit of the Signature Series to begin. I watched the crowd of middle-aged women around me fidget impatiently in their seats, waiting for the nationally-acclaimed author, Beverly Lewis, to appear. As I, too, waited, I caught snippets of conversations as ladies swapped stories of reading Lewis’ novels, describing what her writing meant to them. I listened, wondering why Lewis didn’t write about her audience, for their stories seemed as touching as the books they seemed to adore. Perhaps one of the most touching tales came from the row right behind me. Paul and Janet Devotto were telling the woman seated beside them about Janet’s twin sister, Joan Braun, who passed away last October. Joan had a stroke several years ago that left her partially paralyzed. Because she couldn’t move her left arm or left leg, Joan came to live with Paul and Janet, so they could take care of her. “She was the greatest person,” Janet said when I caught up with her later, her voice catching slightly.

“She loved to read more than anything else,” Paul explained to me. “Reading was a passion for her.” According to the couple, Joan’s favorite author was Beverly Lewis. “Joan loved her,” said Paul. Although Joan was an avid reader, her partial paralysis kept her from holding a book, so Janet and her husband bought Joan a Nook. “We got all her books to read, and we would sit and read until four in the morning,” Janet recalled.

The couple eagerly relayed their story to Lewis as she signed their book, thanking her for the way her novels touch lives. As Paul later told me, “Not many people know they’ve made a difference, but this woman has. Joan needed something and this woman gave it to her.”

The Devottos’ story is one of many Lewis has heard over the years. “I love to meet [my readers] and hear their stories, because they always tell me little tidbits about how the stories touched their hearts in a particular way,” she confided to me. “They say, ‘I know you, Beverly, I’ve read your heart. I’ve read your heart in all the books you’ve written.’ ”

As I talked with Lewis about her audience, it’s evident from the softness of her voice that she has a very personal connection with her fans. “There’s some sort of a bond between me and my readers I think, now, from all the years and all the books, which I think is important,” Lewis said.  “I always call them my reader friends because, for all these many years, it seems like they have been so faithful to continue to show up for my new books, which is awesome.”

Even as a self-proclaimed compulsive writer with more than 80 published works, Lewis has not lost the heart of her message, that very core that has inspired thousands across the globe. As I walked out the door at the end of the night, I realized all these people came because of a story. They each had one story that in turn influenced their life, providing comfort or peace or inspiration. These women came not to hear a story, but to share their stories, sequels that began in the pages of a book. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s good writing.  

<![CDATA[A Very, Very Vivid Waking Dream: An Interview with Celeste Ng ]]>

"Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These are the opening lines to Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. They are not necessarily shocking or revelatory to readers, but instead reveal a central concern that haunts the entire story: the unknown. The novel traffics in secrets — those between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and brothers and sisters that ultimately threaten to erase a family portrait hung crookedly in the eyes of everyone else in society.

Set primarily in Midwestern Ohio during the late 1970s, Everything I Never Told You deftly examines a mixed-race family before and after a young girl is found drowned in a lake. Ng’s prose, graceful yet powerful, follows the characters as they try to make sense out of a family member’s death and their own grief. Within this narrative is a deeper one, a quietly devastating interrogation of identity and the need to belong.

Ng, who will give a reading at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Thursday at 7 p.m., spoke with me about diversity in diversity, the challenges of writing her first novel and the metaphors to be found in hidden garbage.

This post is the first in an ongoing series of interviews with local and visiting authors.

CityBeat: How did the idea for Everything I Never Told You unfold? Did it turn out to be the same story you thought it would be when you first started writing it?

Celeste Ng: I didn’t expect culture to be such a big part of it. It wasn’t until I started to look at the family. I had an idea about a family tragedy that would happen, and when I started to write about the family I knew that they were a mixed-race family. That was sort of surprising to me.

CB: One thing I enjoyed about the novel was how you took a mystery framework to explore more literary themes of identity and race. Can you talk about that choice of exploring your topics with that aspect of crime/thriller genre?

CN: I never intended to write a mystery or a thriller. What I’ve always been interested in with my fiction is family relationships, and how families react to each other. How parents and children get each other, don’t get each other, drive each other crazy. It’s that idea that introduced that mystery element into it — I wanted to look at how a family might deal with a tragedy.

CB: What kind of research did you do for the novel?

CN: In terms of getting the details right, I grew up in the early ’80s so a lot of things came from memory — the telephone cords and the record player that skips a little, all that sort of stuff. I researched the history of interracial marriage and about how it’s become more common. That’s when I learned that it wasn’t legal in the United States until 1967, which was a real surprise to me. For the characters themselves, I did the kind of research that writers do, which is just digging deeper and deeper into the characters, writing them until I felt like I knew what they would do or say.

CB: Another thing I noticed throughout the book was how adept you were at weaving between past and present tenses. You begin the novel at the middle, with Lydia’s death, and that’s what everything else in the story orbits. Was this challenging?

CN: I’m glad you mentioned that, because it was actually the main thing that I struggled with in writing the novel. I wrote four drafts of the novel, but the story basically stayed the same throughout — what really changed was the structure. The past imbues the present and the present echoes the past, and so I knew that there was a lot in the family’s background that I wanted to explore, and that was part of the story just as much as the story of what happened after Lydia’s death. And so I had to figure out a way to fuse this together so that the reader could see the connections between present and past. It took a lot of experimenting and restructuring and revising.

CB: Why did you set the story in the past, in ’70s Midwestern Ohio? How would the story be different today, with technology and more access to books like yours?

CN: As I was getting to know the family and the issues they were facing, I found the ’70s was a period that encapsulated that. It was a period where women would see their daughters getting opportunities that they themselves had missed out on. I don’t know if this a story that couldn’t happen today. I would like to think so — I think we’ve made a lot of progress — but another thing I researched was how public attitudes toward interracial marriage had been changing, and it was only very recently — I think in 1997 that a majority of people felt OK with interracial marriage, which is kind of mind-blowing to me, because I remember 1997, you know. I would like to think that things would be a lot different for the family now, but a lot of the issues about viewing cultures and balancing personal life and dreams with children — these are still issues that are with us.

CB: Is your recent success validating to you as a writer, and do you think it might change the way you write? Do you feel the need to keep or appeal to a wider audience now that you’ve reached this level of recognition?

CN: That’s a great question. The answer to how it feels to get all of this is probably surreal — that’s the best adjective I can come up with. I work alone, in my house or in the corner in the library and I write these things from my head, not knowing if anyone else will believe them or will ever connect with them, and so to have the book go out into the world and have a lot of people connect with it has been really amazing and kind of mind-blowing. I say to my husband, ‘Is it possible that I am having a very, very vivid waking dream, and I’m just hallucinating this?’ and he very nicely says, ‘It’s possible, but seems unlikely that that’s happening.’ I’m just kind of touched and thrilled, and that sounds very boring and cliché but it’s true. If it’s changing my writing, I don’t know yet. I’ve started to work on another novel but it’s on pause at the moment while I’m on book tour. But I’m thinking about it a lot, and I have to see if it changes my writing style. I like to think that it won’t, but that just having written a book will have taught me something.

CB: In 2010, before publishing your novel, you wrote an essay published in Huffington Post titled “Why I Don’t Want to be the Next Amy Tan.” After publishing the book, have people seen you as the next Amy Tan, or have things changed?

CN: You know what, no one has made that comparison, and I don’t know if that’s because they went and Googled me and they found that and decided not to do it or not. Amy Tan and I are both Chinese-American women writers and we write about families, but we write very different kinds of books. We have different subjects, even if broadly speaking we are writing about the same thing — families. When you get into particulars, we’re very different authors, and so I would rather be compared to Tan in terms of language style and technique, but I don’t think our books are a lot alike. We’ve had different experiences. I’ve been very encouraged in the past few years to see that people have been moving away from that kind of comparison — that there is Amy Tan and then she will be replaced by the next Amy Tan. That there can be diversity within diversity, that there can be lots of Asian American voices, and they can all be somewhat different from each other. That it something that is more possible now that wasn’t even an issue up for discussion a few years ago.

CB: Who are your general influences in storytelling, literary or not?

CN: There are some readers I love to read as a writer to study, but I also read because I love their work. Toni Morrison is one of them — I think she does an amazing job at writing about really big important subjects and always keeping it on a human level and making the writing beautiful. There’s a book called The God of Small Things by an Indian writer named Arundhati Roy, which again I love as a reader and teach from it. I pick it up to find passages I want to give to my students and I just end up reading it at the bookshelf because I love it so much. She handles language in such an amazing way and she moves through time in away that was an inspiration for the book. I looked at that a lot as a touchstone to figure out — how do I weave together past and present? I watch a lot of TV, so I like seeing some of the long form TV shows that have developed over a long season. I’m a huge Downtown Abbey fan — it’s so soapy, but it’s on PBS and so you feel very virtuous when you’re watching it. There’s something about watching characters develop in that long arc in shows like Mad Men or Sopranos. Writers tend to sort of downplay TV as an insulin, but I feel that film and TV do influence the way I tell a story in the way you cut back and forth between characters or in the way that you show things. So that’s an influence for sure.

CB: You mentioned a book you were working on earlier, can you talk more about that project? 

CN: I think it’s going to be another family story, set in my hometown of Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. It’s very pretty, there are lots of trees and beautiful houses, and they like it that way. What comes along with all that beauty and trying to be progressive and consciously working to be diverse is that there’s also a lot of focus on appearance and worry about what other people will think. They have these tiny little golf-cart sized garbage trucks that drive down every driveway to pick up the garbage in the back and bring it up to the truck in the front. There’s never garbage in the front, and I feel like that’s really metaphorically rich, that you have to keep your garbage hidden. So I think it’s going to involve a family that’s living in this community and then a mother and daughter come in from outside and have secrets, and about the way those two families get kind of intertwined and tangled.

CB: That whole environment sort of reminds me of Twin Peaks, going back to that TV influence.

CN: Exactly — there are other things too, like you were only allowed to paint your house certain colors so that the entire street could be harmonious aesthetically. They don’t do that anymore, but there’s still a lot of things like that there.

CB: Is there a question you wish someone would ask you about your work that hasn’t been asked yet?

CN: One question I was asked in an interview and then I was sad that they cut it was after being asked if there would be a movie of my book, who would I want to be in it? I can tell you the news that was just made official about a week and a half ago — the film rights have sold to Relativity Media, a studio in L.A. So I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. One of the things that excites me a lot about the fact that the book might become a movie — besides the fact that that’s cool — there would be roles for Asian Americans and mixed Asian actors, and I feel that right now those people are on the sidelines as extras, or maybe the sidekick. And so it would be really cool for someone like John Cho to play James the father. That’s what I’m excited about — the idea that maybe this could be a place where Asian American or mixed Asian actors could get roles, that there would be a spotlight for them.

CB: The whole prospect must be terrifying and wonderful, having your film in someone else’s hands.

CN: It is, but I’m trying to think of it as its own thing. I love film adaptations, and what I love about them the most is when they take the opportunity to make a slightly different thing. It’s like when you cover a song: it’s better when they don’t try to sound exactly like the original. When they do something completely different with it, that’s when I think it’s cool, and so I think of the movie as its own thing. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it.

Celeste Ng will read at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on June 4 at 7 p.m.

<![CDATA[Nick Spencer: Acclaimed Graphic Novelist]]>

Early last year we wrote about Nick Spencer's successful, somewhat surprising transition into the world of graphic novels. Now Spencer — the former Cincinnati City Council candidate, club operator and music promoter who moved to New York City in 2008 and whose grand ambitions sometimes got him into trouble — is garnering even more attention within the world of his new endeavor, recently nabbing four nominations at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards 2011: Best Short Story, Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer. ---

Published by Image Comics, Morning Glories, which Spencer writes and Joe Eisma illustrates, centers on “six brilliant but troubled new recruits at Morning Glory Academy, a prestigious prep school hiding sinister and deadly secrets.” Spencer has described the series, which debuted in August 2010, as Runaways (the comic, not the band) meets Lost.

Winners in each category will be announced during this weekend's San Diego Comic-Con, the annual smorgasbord for comic-book geeks everywhere.

<![CDATA[Donald Ray Pollock: Badass Writer, Nice Guy]]> Donald Ray Pollock's debut short-story collection, 2008's Knockemstiff, was something of an unexpected sensation —unexpected in that Pollock was a first-time author at age 53; a sensation in that the stories were driven by a visceral, sharp-edged prose style and a narrative thrust as sensitive as it was savage.

Knockemstiff was rightly praised by everyone from The New York Times to Chuck Palahniuk (“more engaging than any new fiction in years”) to literary savant Michael Silverblatt, whose incisive KCRW radio show Bookworm featured an interview with the author. ---

Born and raised in the actual Knockemstiff (a small, decaying town about an hour east of Cincinnati), Pollock quit high school his junior year (several decades later he would earn a graduate degree in English at Ohio State) to work in a meatpacking plant. It wasn’t long before he moved on to a paper mill in nearby Chillicothe, Ohio, where he worked for nearly 30 years and which was no doubt the inspiration for many of Pollock's dead-end characters and depraved narrative turns — think Harmony Korine's Gummo as described by Raymond Carver.

Now comes Pollock's first full-length novel, the unsurprisingly grim-titled The Devil All the Time, freshly published in hardback this week by Doubleday. I've yet to partake (my copy arrived at the office late last week), but it's already garnering rave reviews, including this blurb from Esquire magazine: “So humid is The Devil All the Time with moral grime that the characters seem always to be gasping for a breath of divine intervention — some through prayer, others through murder and creepy sex.”

(Here's a roundup of reviews: Entertainment Weekly, Columbus Dispatch, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly.

Given the tough, perpetually debauched subject matter of Pollock's stories, it might come as a surprise to know that he's one of the most genial, accommodating author's I've ever encountered. In 2008 I moderated a short-story panel at the Books by the Banks festival called “The Short Story: Dead or Alive (We’d Like to Know)." It featured Pollock, whose Knockemstiff was getting a lot of attention at the time, and Moira Crone, a gifted short-story writer from New Orleans (check out her collection Dream State, among others). (Read my 2008 pre-Books by the Banks feature on Pollock here.)

After the panel — during which we decided that the short story wasn't in fact dead, just under-appreciated — I grabbed lunch with Pollock, who proceeded to tell me about his Ohio roots, his encounter with the slightly eccentric Rosenblatt and more about his unconventional route to published author. I told him about my Ohio roots, my odd fascination with Rosenblatt's Bookworm and my slightly unconventional route to published journalist.

Of course, you don't have to take my positive, reassuring opinion of Pollock seriously — stop by Joseph-Beth Booksellers, where the he'll with be talking about The Devil All the Time, tomorrow night (7 p.m. July 14, to be exact) to find out for yourself.

<![CDATA[Michael Griffith Drops 'Trophy' Tonight]]>

Listen up, fans of crafty, post-modern fiction: Local author/professor/all-around good guy Michael Griffith christens his freshly minted new book, Trophy, 7 p.m. tonight at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. ---

Published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, Trophy centers its narrative on a Vada Prickett, a 29-year-old “Hose Associate” at a car wash in South Carolina who finds himself trapped under a gigantic, stuffed grizzly bear —a predicament that leads him to look back on his life via 104 mostly brief chapters.

Here's an interview I did with Griffith a few weeks ago wherein the author discusses his use of stylistic quirks and esoteric pop culture figures, as well as his views on the employment of fractured, non-linear narratives. And, if you can't make it out tonight, or to a bricks-and-mortar book store in the near future, he's a link to the Trophy's Amazon page.

<![CDATA[UC to Hire Novelist Chris Bachelder]]>

The Cincinnati literary scene suffered a loss last summer when Brock Clarke moved to Portland, Maine, to take a job teaching creative writing at Bowdoin College. Through his work as a writer (via two short-story collections and three novels, including 2007's well-received An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England) and educator (he taught creative writing at UC where he brought in such guest speakers/authors as Chris Bachelder, Sam Lipsyte, Heidi Julavits and Jonathan Lethem), Clarke was a one-man literary juggernaut who produced, nurtured and promoted the written word with unwavering commitment, creativity and good taste. ---

Now for the good news: word is that the aforementioned Bachelder will be filling Clarke's vacated spot at UC this fall. Long a favorite writer of Clarke's and fans of crafty post-modern fiction everywhere, Bachelder will no doubt bring a unique perspective to his students — in addition to his three novels, the most recent of which, Abbott Awaits, was published in March, the 40-year-old author has long been affiliated with two of the better literary magazines around (McSweeney's and The Believer), was an early champion of e-books (see 2004's Lessons in Virtual Tour Photography) and has taught at variety of schools (most recently at the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts). He joins an already impressive UC English department that includes Michael Griffith, whose new novel, Trophy, will be published next week. (Click here to read my recent interview with Griffith.)

I interviewed Bachelder in 2007 when Clarke brought him to town to discuss his novel U.S.!, a hilarious political satire that exhumes muckraking depression-era writer Upton Sinclair because, in the words of Bachelder, “I wanted to write a political novel that was also a novel about political novels.”

Besides being funny and smart (especially about the state of contemporary fiction), he was (and presumably still is) uncommonly genial and accommodating.

Sweet hire, UC.

<![CDATA[Nicholson Baker Speaks!]]>

Just a reminder for the discerning literary types out there: Ace wordsmith and impressively bearded Nicholson Baker stops by the Mercantile Library tomorrow (May 3) at 7 p.m. to read from and discuss his work.

The 54-year-old New York City native has tackled a number of topics and genres — from nonfiction to fiction, from books about phone sex and bottle feeding babies to historical investigations about about the insidious nature of war — in a writing career marked by his playful use of language, biting humor and interest in the “moments between the big moments.”---

Since he'll be speaking at a revered library, look for Baker to mention Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, his 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award winner about the American library system. Then there's his most recent book, The Anthologist, a funny, metalicious tale of a poet with writer's block.

CityBeat recently tracked down Nicholson in cyberspace. Here is our brief emailed correspondence. Oh, and for those interested in checking out what he has to say tomorrow night, admission for the event is $5 for Mercantile Library members; $10 for everyone else. To reserve a spot, call the library at 513-621-0717.

CityBeat: What role will libraries — or book stores for that matter — have in a future that is rapidly devaluing physical objects?

Nicholson Baker: I think we'll survive the tumultuous times we're in. Books will be books and they will also be electronic groat-clusters of words. Sometimes we'll read them on silent screens and sometimes on rustling pages.  Libraries and bookstores are nice places to go because each one serves up a piece of the literary universe in its own idiosyncratic way.  It's fun sometimes to read near other readers and crowds of multicolored bookspines.  And big libraries have the important job of holding onto the printed output from previous centuries--that won't change.  Paperback book covers have never looked better--those clean pale colors and the nubby, slightly matte texture of the paper.  I often like book covers better than the books they enclose.

CB: Your work defies easy classification and often discards conventional narrative techniques. Is this an organic turn of events or is it an overt decision on your part?

NB: I don't know what I'm doing — I'm just trying to figure it out as I go. The next book is the book that wants to be finished. Often I get impatient with "big" plots because they're so familiar: murder, end of the world, divorce, a big sack race. How many times have we seen movies about the end of the world? The best and most human moments are usually the moments between big moments.

CB: I often see in your work an acute yearning to change certain things about the world, which admittedly is the goal of most writers. Do you think books and/or writers can still have a profound impact on the way we see the world and/or influence public opinion? Did they ever?

NB: Recently I wrote an article for Harper's called "Why I'm a Pacifist." I'd like to stop the U.S. government from flying drones around in distant countries and killing people but I probably won't be able to. You pick your battles.

CB: You often write about writers and the act of writing or reading. Where does this obsession with writing, reading, language and words come from?

NB: Am I really that bookish? I've got a book about riding an escalator, a book about bottle feeding a baby, a phone sex book, a book about stopping time, a book about World War II. I'm not sure I wholly believe in obsessions. Life has too many interesting things to think about to spend too much time on one patch of turf.  

<![CDATA[David Foster Wallace Takes on IRS]]>

It’s no coincidence that the late David Foster Wallace’s new novel, The Pale King, was published on April 15. Actually, “new novel” might not be the best wording — the 560-page book, which carries the telling subtitle An Unfinished Novel, was crafted from Wallace’s papers after he committed suicide in 2008.

I’ve yet to read The Pale King, but after perusing several reviews in recent days (including Tom McCarthy’s incisive piece in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review), I have a pretty good handle on its setting: the seemingly banal inner workings of the Internal Revenue Service. ---Or as one of Wallace’s characters reportedly says in the book, “a system composed of many systems.”

Wallace’s interest in “systems” is longstanding — see his 1996 breakthrough novel Infinite Jest, a postmodern fascination that is at once intricately crafted, funny and oddly moving. (For more on Jest's complex patterns, listen to Michael Silverblatt's revealing interview with the author here.) But setting a novel within the IRS? It’s no wonder he didn’t let anyone know of its presence before his death. On the other hand, if anyone can enliven the arcane world of the IRS and accounting, it’s Wallace.

Given his difficulties in following up Infinite Jest (Wallace published a number of relatively less ambitious books ranging from nonfiction essays to short stories in the dozen years after it cemented his reputation), one wonders if he ever would have unveiled what is now known as The Pale King to the world had he lived.

No matter, it’s here. I suppose an “unfinished” Wallace novel is better than none at all.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati Library Rules!]]> I like books, magazines and movies. I, as you might have guessed by now, like newspapers, too. It should then come as no surprise that the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is one of my favorite places on planet Earth and that it continues to offer a smorgasbord of information, almost all of it available for the bargain basement price of $0 across its 40 branches.---

The library announced today that a variety of other people like it, too.

Among the impressive facts:

• It ranks as the 10th busiest library in the nation with a circulation of 16.3 million

It offers a sweet, ever-expanding collection of movies

It was called a “Star Library” by Library Journal, a designation I'm assuming is a good thing

It allows those otherwise without computer access a place to log on

It was ranked No. 7 — its highest placement ever — among libraries serving populations of 500,000 or more by Hennen's American Public Library Rankings

It counts 350,000 cardholders

It's among the top 10 libraries — alongside Harvard University, the Library of Congress and New York Public Library — in terms of collection size with 9.2 millions items

It, for the first time ever, surpassed the 5 million mark for number of items borrowed

It jumped on the e-book craze as usage went up 55 percent

It garnered 6.5 million visits, an all-time high

Last year the library also received two of the largest gifts in its history, as well as a sizable grant, all of which will help it continue to thrive in the future and allow it to add more impressive bullet points to the list above. More than that, it means it will continue to impact lives in lasting and meaningful ways. And don't forget its many hardworking volunteers and employees, a group that has been helping me since at least the fourth grade when I did extensive research for a report on Vincent Van Gogh — a report that ended up being so impressive as to compel the girl in the next row to lean over and kiss me when I finished presenting it in class. Sweet! Maybe that's why I still find stacks of books oddly alluring.

For the record, my favorite library memory was waiting more than an hour in a long, snaking line of eager citizens to vote in the 2008 presidential election at the Main Branch downtown. If only every Election Day yielded as much enthusiasm. Then there was the time I read Don DeLillo's hilarious and slightly sinister White Noise in one breathless eight-hour marathon session, altering my then-19-year-old perspective forever.

For more information on its various offerings or to find out how you can help the library remain vital, go to www.cincinnatilibraryorg.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati Native Makes New Yorker List]]>

The New Yorker magazine recently published its Summer Fiction issue. It includes a list of what its editors deem as the 20 novelists under the age of 40 worth watching, an endeavor destined to be as contentious as it no doubt was excruciating to craft. (There's a reason the magazine hasn't published such a list in more than a decade.) ---

Their “20 Under 40” includes 10 women and 10 men from places that range from Chicago to Ethiopia. Several familiar names appear (Nicole Krauss, ZZ Packer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Gary Shteyngart and Wells Tower) alongside a few I'm not familiar with, let alone read (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dinaw Mengestu and Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum).

There was also one slight surprise: C.E. Morgan.

A Cincinnati native who currently calls Berea, Ky., home — she studied English and voice at Berea College and earned a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School — the 33-year-old writer made a splash last year with her first novel, All the Living, about an orphaned woman who moves to rural Kentucky with her lover.

I've yet to read All the Living (it's been sitting in a pile with other intended reads at my house), but The New Yorker previously said of it, “This lyrical tale of grief and grueling love on a tobacco farm takes place in the mid-nineteen-eighties but, if not for glimpses of linoleum and double-wides, might recall an earlier time. … Morgan is an expansive stylist, fond of rare words (“letheless,” “mortise”) and of the circumlocutions that can pass for plain speaking, but her pacing is shrewd. By the time the harvest is done, two lonely people are fused, if not consoled.”

Preceding The New Yorker's list, The National Book Foundation last year named Morgan one of its “5 Under 35.” (The only other writer who appears on both lists is Karen Russell.)

Here's video of Morgan reading at the NBF gathering last year:

Even more intriguing than Morgan's inclusion on The New Yorker list is the setting of her short story the magazine ran in the June 14 issue. Entitled “Twins,” it centers on 5-year-old twin brothers — one white (Mickey), one black (Allmon) — whose mother is black and father is white. Set in Northside and featuring numerous mentions of Cincinnati in general (from Mill Creek and Over-the-Rhine to its seven hills and porkopolis past), Morgan's 11-page story is an evocative, detail-rich look at the young lives of two boys who yearn for the love of their mostly AWOL truck-driver father and who yield fascination from their Northside neighbors, some of whom refer to them as the “Oreo babies."

One can't help but wonder how much of "Twins" comes from the author's own first-person Cincinnati experience.

From the opening sentence: "The boy and his twin brother grew up on the streets of Northside, down in the little choke valley, befouled by industry, between the university hill to the southeast and the neighborhood to the north, College Hill, which had no college, despite its name, only modest white houses hinting at the white suburbs to come."

Here's a short Q&A Morgan did with The New Yorker following the publication of the story. It mentions that she's currently working on a novel about "horse racing and race relations."

<![CDATA[Artists in Parks]]>

Cincinnati Artists are invited by the Cincinnati Park Board to participate in their new Artist Registry by submitting a portfolio or work and a resume. This is the beginning of the process whereby artists will be commissioned to crate public art for the Cincinnati Riverfront Park and other future projects.

The deadline for first application review is April 10.

To learn more visit the Park Board Website.

“All mediums and techniques are eligible as we gather information from visual artists, writers and poets, video and audio artists and Composers,” says a press release from the board. “Our intention is to build multidisciplinary teams able to collaborate on conceptual design work, as well as production teams for final design and fabrication.  We also actively seek great stories to tell about Cincinnati Riverfront history through artworks.”

Have questions? Contact Jan Brown Checco, art administrator via or call the Administration Building at 513-357-2604.

<![CDATA[The Culmination of Corso Fest]]>

The local multimedia festival celebrating of the life and legacy of Beat poet Gregory Corso, dubbed "I Gave Away the Sky," culminates this week with two events.

From 7-9 p.m. Thursday is “The Nightest Night: A Reading Honoring the Poetry and Posey of Gregory Corso” at the Reed Gallery in UC’s DAAP building. Among those taking part is local poet Matt Hart, who was gracious enough to let CityBeat publish his tribute to Corso on our Web site.---

The festival closes with an advanced screening of Corso — The Last Beat, an incisive and surprising personal documentary by Cincinnati native Gustave Reininger. (Read my interview with the director here.) The free screening is 5:30 p.m. Friday in room 4400 at UC’s DAAP building. Reininger will be on hand to introduce the film and for a post-screening Q&A.

<![CDATA[Nikki Giovanni Publishes a New Book of Poems]]>

Earlier this week, Bicycles: Love Poems by Cincinnati-native and Virginia Tech professor Nikki Giovanni went on sale. The poems in this collection are meant to serve as a companion to her 1997 work, Love Poems. This is her 27th work. In the book, she addresses, among many things, the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Hear an interview with Giovanni and read an excerpt on NPR here.---

Giovanni taught Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman who killed 32 people before killing himself at Virginia Tech. She stated publicly that she removed him from her poetry course because the content of his work was so trouble two other students dropped the class.

Bicycles: Love Poems is on sale now at most bookstores.

<![CDATA[Mercantile Library Announces 2009 Season]]>

The Mercantile Library announced its 2009 lineup of guest speakers today. It’s an impressive list. ---

British writer A.S. Byatt, who won the Booker Prize in 1990 for her novel Possession, is the featured speaker at 22nd annual Niehoff Lecture — a ritzy, black-tie affair replete with high-priced dinner in the Netherland Plaza’s famed Hall of Mirrors — on Oct. 10. Byatt is the latest in a long line of heavy-hitting Niehoff speakers — past participants include John Updike, Calvin Trillin, Salman Rushdie and William F. Buckley.

Denis Johnson, one of the planet’s best writers of fiction, visits the library April 22. That hyperbole stands despite my not having read his latest, Tree of Smoke, which garnered praise from all kinds of high-minded literary geeks and which won the 2007 National Book Award for fiction. Its imposing, 720-page presence has been mocking me from my nightstand for more than a year — another reminder of just how much my reading time has been compromised in recent years. I suppose I now have no choice but to dive into it.

George Packer, one of the planet’s best writers of non-fiction, presents the library’s sixth annual Harriet Beecher Stow Lecture on June 11. Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is the author of The Assassins' Gate, an incisive, emotionally absorbing book on the Iraq War and its impact on both U.S. policy and everyday Iraqis. (He’s also been talking shit, via his blog, about conservative hack William Kristol — Packer recently urged The New York Times to can Kristol, who writes a column for the Times every Monday, when his contract lapses at the end of the year.)


Other 2009 speakers include novelist Chris Bohjalian (Sept. 17) and food writers David Kamp (who has also written hilarious guides on film and music snobbery) and Mimi Sheraton, both of whom appear as part of the Winter Author Series in March.