The Purple Swamp Hen by Penelope Lively

In this collection of finely crafted short stories, Lively displays her wit and wisdom and some very nicely honed insights into complicated human relationships. The title story is set back in ancient times on the eve of Mt. Vesuvius’s spectacular eruption. The swamp hen–a very reliable narrator as it turns out–exposes the flawed Pompeius family which could fast-forward to any 21st century upper class suburb and fit right in, I think. Other selections deal with man-woman relationships, usually husbands and wives mired in what Lively calls tepid marriages, or partners who have been together long enough to have moved in with each other. The characters’ inner monologues reveal how little they really know each other, sometimes discovering delightful things about each other (oh, you do want children!), but usually realizing that it was a case of having settled for the person at hand, and, now what? My favorite little gem is the final offering, The Third Wife–a marvelous revenge tale that so nicely expresses that old adage about a woman (or women) scorned.

 


Author Event: Osama Alomar Reads

May 4, 2017

Syrian author Osama Alomar is a poet, musician, former Chicago cabbie, and a celebrated short story writer, and on Saturday, May 6 at 2 pm he visits EPL to share his acclaimed new book The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories. Praised by the NY Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Chicago Review of Books, Alomar’s stories were described by Lydia Davis as “magical imaginative creations… inspired by his deeply felt philosophical, moral, and political convictions.” Make sure to register to guarantee your seat at this special author event, and in the meantime, don’t miss this great New Yorker essay titled “Osama Alomar’s Very Short Tales.” See you Saturday!

This event is part of the Evanston Literary Festival and made possible in part by Poets & Writers.

 

 

 


Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson

This is the best collection of short stories I’ve read in a long time: Evocative, intriguing, darkly funny and smart are words that spring to mind. I became an Adam Johnson fan after reading his Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, and he’s equally adept at short fiction. The six stories in this compilation resonate and stick with you long after you finish the book. In the first story, “Nirvana,” a computer programmer creates a digital avatar of the president to console himself and his sick wife. In another of my favorite stories, “Interesting Facts,” the narrator is a sick wife obsessed with the question of how soon after her death her husband will start dating. Yep, sounds dark all right but all the stories are so well written and intriguing that I found myself wanting to reread and savor them all over again.


Brian Edwards’ Best Reads of 2016

December 29, 2016

Brian Edwards
Photo by Lynn Trautmann

My name is Brian Edwards, and I’m the Crown Professor in Middle East Studies and a professor of English and comparative literature at Northwestern. I am also the founding director of the Program in Middle East and North African Studies (MENA), which partners with EPL in a monthly lecture series on the region.

My wife Kate Baldwin, also a Northwestern professor and author, and I moved here originally because of work. We were both born in New York City, but I grew up mostly in Connecticut, she in California (we met in graduate school at Yale). After more than a decade in Evanston, and raising four children ranging from a high school senior to a pre-kindergartner, we have deep ties in the community and love it here.

I’m constantly reading both for work and pleasure. These five books, which come from my reading this fall, are the ones I’m most excited to share right now. Four of them are relatively new: three of them works of fiction and one a work of social history. I also included an overlooked novel from the 1980s that I finally read last month and now cherish. And please also take a look at my own new book, After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East, which is also available at EPL.

1) The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)

The 2016 Pulitzer Prize in fiction went to a first novel by an American studies professor at USC. Set in Vietnam and Los Angeles during the late 1960s and 1970s, Nguyen’s novel is structured as the confession of an unnamed south Vietnamese narrator who is secretly a mole for the communist north. What makes the novel an instant classic is the narrator’s voice: wry, critical, and ruthless as he dissects himself, the Vietnamese refugee community in SoCal, and the excesses of American anti-Communism and violence in the war. The chapters on the making of a fictional Hollywood film called The Hamlet, which closely resembles Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, are devastating. Beyond the sheer pleasure it generates, The Sympathizer shows what the contemporary novel can do to disrupt and deconstruct America’s sense of global superiority and the follies of military occupation in the name of exporting American principles.

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A Scary Good Author You Need to Read…

October 28, 2016

Horror author Laird Barron (Illustration by Dalton Rose for "Slate.")
Horror author Laird Barron (Illustration by Dalton Rose for Slate.)

With Halloween lurking right around the darkened corner, now is a frighteningly good time to talk about authors who will scare you right out of your reading glasses.  We know you know about horror heavy hitters like Peter Straub, Stephen King, and Ramsey Campbell, but how about Laird Barron?  Already a favorite among horror and dark fantasy aficionados, Barron mixes cosmic horror, supernatural noir, and the occult into terrifying tales that should be topping your Halloween reading list.  Strikingly original and expertly crafted, his novels and story collections have already won three Shirley Jackson Awards, received multiple Bram Stoker and Locus nominations, and been favorably compared to the work of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.  So if you’re in the mood for a good scare, try to be brave and check out one of the following Laird Barron books.  They’re guaranteed to give you the creeps if you give them the chance.  Happy Halloween!

swift-to-chaseSwift to Chase

Barron’s latest story collection was declared an “instant classic” by author John Langan and is sure to make Barron a household name in horror.  Combining “psychological horror, slasher fiction, and earthy weirdness,” these 12 spine-tingling stories are set in far-future dystopias and a hellish Alaskan wilderness where a cyborg war dog, a modern day Jack the Ripper, and a psycho sorority girl all roam wild.  The first book in a planned “Alaska” cycle, this collection is a nightmarish must read.

 

the-beautiful-thing-that-awaits-us-allThe Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us and Other Stories

This cosmic horror gem is the final book of a “loose trilogy” that includes the award-winning story collections The Imago Sequence and Occultation.  Featuring eight interlinking tales and the World Fantasy Award nominated novella Hand of Glory, these chilling stories are so well crafted author Kelly Link insists you’ll forgive Barron for the sleepless nights they cause.

 

 

the-croningThe Croning

Barron’s debut novel tells the story of 80-year-old Donald Miller, a geologist whose sanity is tested as he unearths dark secrets about his wife and their adult twins.  Filled with black magic, weird cults, and unspeakable things looming in the shadows, Barron’s book is a “disturbing imagining of a modern day Rumpelstiltskin” that is by turns touching and terrifying.

 


An Interview with 'The Loss of All Lost Things' author Amina Gautier

June 6, 2016

Amina Gautier
Photo by Jenni Bryant

Amina Gautier writes short stories, and her short story collections win awards.  It’s about that simple.  Back in 2011, for instance, her debut collection At-Risk earned the Flannery O’Connor Award and the First Horizon Award among other honors, and her 2014 follow-up Now We Will Be Happy won the Praire Schooner Book Prize.  This past February Gautier continued the trend with The Loss of All Lost Things – a gripping collection of fifteen stories that explores the unpredictable ways in which characters deal with the loss of their loved ones, careers, reputations, and hometowns.  Not only did her third collection win the Elixir Press Award in Fiction, but Gautier was also included on Newcity’s 2016 Lit 50 list and is set to receive the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award in October.  Back on May 9, Gautier visited EPL to read from The Loss of All Lost Things as part of the 2016 Evanston Literary Festival, but if you missed her that night, have no fear.  You can catch her this Saturday, June 11 at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, and what’s more, we recently spoke with her via email about her love of the short story form, her creative process, and the challenges of writing intimately about loss.

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An Interview with 'Paris, He Said' author Christine Sneed

April 5, 2016

sneedWe last talked with author Christine Sneed back in early 2011 shortly after she published her first short story collection Portraits of A Few of the People I’ve Made Cry.  Already the winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, her stunning debut became a magnet for literary awards and was eventually named a finalist for the LA Times’ Book Prize for First Fiction.  But Sneed was just getting started.  In the years that followed, the NU writing teacher has published two critically-acclaimed novels – Little Known Facts (2013) and Paris, He Said (2015), graced the cover of the NY Times Book Review, and continued to collect writing honors including the Carl Sandburg 21st Century Award and a Booklist nod for a Top Ten Debut Novel.  This Saturday, April 9th, you can hear Sneed read selections from her recent work when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 4 pm along with author and comedienne Julia Sweeney.  In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about the life of a successful novelist, her forthcoming story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, the resurgence of short fiction, and her favorite recent reads.

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National Book Award 2015 Nominees: Fiction

September 17, 2015

The longlist for the 2015 National Book Award nominees was released today and though there were a lot of familiar faces to be found (Clegg, Pearlman, Hanagihara) we were happy to see some surprises as well.  Who could have predicted the appearance of Karen E. Bender’s Refund?  Or the inclusion of Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson?  Haven’t read them?  Well here’s your chance.  Reserve your own copies by clicking on the links and covers below: Continue reading “National Book Award 2015 Nominees: Fiction”


Rosie Roche's Best Reads of 2014

December 31, 2014

rosieMy name is Rosie Roche.  I have lived in Evanston for 8 years and have worked for the city and NU as an educator and teaching artist. I have 2 young boys who love the library and ask to visit at least once a week. I have never seen such an impressive public library and consider it a gem in Evanston’s crown in terms of inviting space, helpfulness of staff and breadth of collection.

1) The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014)

Her mastery is to write short stories that are intriguing and compelling to read and – in a way that is hard to pinpoint – leave the reader unsettled and disturbed. I see images from the stories at the most unexpected times, many months after reading them. She is so cutting in her condemnation that I wince and laugh to read them.

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Christine Sneed's Best Reads of 2014

December 15, 2014

CSauth1My name is Christine Sneed.  I am the author of the novel Little Known Facts, the story collection Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, and the forthcoming novel Paris, He Said (May 2015).  I am the recipient of the Grace Paley Prize in short fiction, the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award, and the Society of Midland Authors Prize for best adult fiction.  I live in Evanston and teach for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and for Northwestern University.

1) Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff (2009)

There are nine stories in this book, if I remember correctly, and several are based on the lives of real people; Groff is such a lyrical writer, often slyly funny, always interesting. Some of the stories were published in The Best American Short Stories anthology, and she’s also contributed to the O. Henry Prize Stories anthology. Her third book, the novel Arcadia, was on many best-of lists of 2012, and her first book (and first novel), The Monsters of Templeton, was also well reviewed and was a bestseller.

Continue reading “Christine Sneed's Best Reads of 2014”