Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What's a Bonobo Handshake?

A new book I'm really excited about is coming out this week--and its author is coming to The Regulator Thursday night for her inaugural event. The book is Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo, written by a young Aussie/citizen of the world/current resident of Durham named Vanessa Woods.

Bonobo Handshake? I thought you'd never ask... Bonobos are an endangered primate, similar in many ways to chimpanzees. But where as chimpanzees can often be aggressive and even war-like, bonobos are founding members of the "make love, not war" approach to life. Bonobos are into cooperation and the uninhibited enjoyment of the physical pleasures of life. A bonobo handshake turns out to be a common bonobo greeting. When two bonobos meet they... Well we won't get into the details of this here, let's just say that a bonobo handshake is wonderfully x-rated and if I described it fully it wouldn't make it past some of your spam filters.

The story is that a few years back Vanessa Woods fell in love with and married a primate scientist named Brian Hare. In short order she found herself living in the only bonobo sanctuary in the world--in the jungle, just outside of Kinshasa, in the Congo. It was the best of places (because of the amazing people running the sanctuary, and because of the amazing bonobos themselves) and the worst of places (because it was in the Congo, for God sakes).

Bonobo Handshake is Eat Pray Love meets The Poisonwood Bible. Add some incredible bonobos. Stir with a voice that is fresh, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking. I read an advance copy and I loved it. I think this book has the potential to be a Really Big Deal. See more at www.bonobohandshake.com And come meet Vanessa Woods and hear her talk about her book next Thursday night at 7:00. With an author and a book like these, this is sure to be quite an evening! Refreshments will be served.
--Tom Campbell

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The best novel I've read in years

I had to fly to the west coast back in January, and as I left for the airport I faced a crucial decision. What book should I take to read on the flight?

I had just started an advance copy of a novel that seemed highly promising, but it was big (597 pages) and heavy to carry. (Two copies of this would weigh almost as much as an i-Pad, but I digress...). I finally decided to go with it, though, and opened the book back up once I settled into my seat on the plane.

More than six hours later, I found myself annoyed that my flights that day had run on time. I hadn't had such a long block of time just to read since I don't remember when, but I still wasn't quite finished with the incredible novel I'd been reading. The book had everything you look for in fiction-great stories, deep, finely drawn characters, romance and love, families, history, struggle, suspense, exotic settings. And writing that draws you into the depths of the world it is creating without ever getting in the way.

The novel, just published, is called The Invisible Bridge. Its author is a young Brooklyn-based writer named Julie Orringer. The main protagonist of The Invisible Bridge is a Hungarian-Jewish student named Andras Levi, who, as the book opens in 1937, travels from Budapest to Paris to study architecture. I found The Invisible Bridge to be completely engrossing and captivating; transforming in the way that only the very best fiction can be.

And, most unusually, I fully agree with the blurbs the publisher has reprinted on the back of the book:

"The sheer joy of storytelling fills each moment of Orringer's novel...It transports us completely into its world-that of young Andras, his friends, family, and loves-and a landscape of war and redemption. Thrilling, tender, and terrifying; a glorious reminder of how books can change lives. It is the novel of the year."
Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Story of a Marriage

"To bring an entire lost world-its sights, its smells, its heartaches, raptures, and terrors-to vivid life between the covers of a novel is an accomplishment; to invest that world, and everyone who inhabits it, with a soul, as Julie Orringer does in The Invisible Bridge, takes something more like genius."
Michael Chabon, author of Manhood for Amateurs
--Tom Campbell

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One More Theory About Happiness

Paul Guest is a prize-winning poet who lives in Atlanta. He grew up as a gifted, smart, but “normal” kid—until his 6th grade graduation party. That day, a ride on a bicycle with failing brakes left him with a broken neck, a bruised spinal cord, and paralysis from his neck down.

In One More Theory About Happiness, Paul Guest tells his story, from the day of his accident to the present. I started reading this book two days ago, and couldn’t put it down. I was even reading it here at the store yesterday, and I never read while I’m at work. This is not a feel good book, but it’s certainly not a feel bad book either. In spare and beautiful prose Paul Guest just tells his tale straight on, leaving us with a deeper understanding of what it means to be alive.

Paul Guest will read from his book here at The Regulator Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. Come to hear a remarkable story, told by a remarkable story-teller.

Bret Lott on “One More Theory About Happiness”

“I read this book in one sitting, staying up well past midnight to see how Paul Guest learned—and continues to learn—to navigate the life he has been given to live. Ostensibly a memoir of one man’s growing up inside the inescapable solitude wrought by a devastating accident, this exquisitely crafted story turns out to be a tale of love, of life, and of language’s ability to eclipse the crushing presence of the physical world. Heartbreakingly funny, pitilessly honest, One More Theory About Happiness is above all a quiet and bold and loving work of art that renders beautifully what it means to live. You must read this book!”

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dave Isay and StoryCorps

A really fine evening at the bookshop Friday night with StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. StoryCorps does such an amazing job of getting people to talk about the things that are truly important in their lives--which turn out to be the things that are truly important in all of our lives.

The new StoryCorps book, their second, is Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps. I can't imagine a more meaningful Mother's Day present for anyone.

Go to www.storycorps.org to learn more and to listen to folks tell their stories. Hearing some of the stories in the book in the original voices can be especially powerful.