7 Blog

Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

With a new novel out, Chris Crutcher gets real

Chris Crutcher is one of Spokane's more recognized writers. His latest novel, "Loser's Bracket," which was published today, is featured in Publishers Weekly.

While he talks about a range of issues, mostly involving his novels, Crutcher doesn't shy away from commenting about our current political situation.

"I have been very aware, since Trump’s election, that there’s toxicity in the air, and I can feel an emotional illness if I hear or read too much of what he is saying," Crutcher said. "If he weren’t so rich he could be someone I’ve met in my therapy work. His narcissism is so profound—in almost all cases it wouldn’t be treatable—and it has bled out into the culture. The current administration has taken us to a scary place, and I don’t know how we’ll get out."

Yet he does see hope.

"(D)uring the March 24 marches throughout the country, teens gave me hope and reinvigorated me with their statistics about all the new young voters we’ll have registering in the next few years," he said. "Watch out, Mr. Santorum and Paul Ryan. If you don’t see the train coming, you are going to get run over."

To read the entire interview, click here.

Even nose-bleed seats can’t spoil ‘Hamilton’

So, there I was on Thursday night, up on the Mezzanine level of Seattle's Paramount Theater (section 21, Row L, seat 9), waiting for the road-show production of the musical "Hamilton" to begin.

I was stuck in a seat too small for an adult man (which is a theater tradition I detest), next to a guy who hummed throughout the show, and behind a guy whose bushy hair forced me to shift left and right the whole three hours just to catch a glimpse of the action on stage.

Even worse, the sound that traveled up into near-nosebleed territory was muffled so much so I could catch only about half of the dialogue that was either sung or delivered in Lin-Manuel Miranda's finger-snapping rap rhymes.

The stage was set, so to speak, for me to have a very bad night.

But that's a good gauge of just how good "Hamilton" is. I loved the show, nearly as much as I loved a production of "Rent" that I was lucky to see on Broadway some two decades ago.

Road-show productions can be good, of course. But they don't always live up to the hype generated by the original cast. Yet over the past couple of days, as my wife and I have driven through Southern California and central Arizona, we've listened to the soundtrack of the original show.

And what we heard at the Paramount on Thursday night, even muffled, was every bit as good. Each cast member not only had great stage presence, but each one boasted a pure Broadway voice. And the production was staged in a way that emphasized the quality of Miranda's Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning words and music. 

Now I look forward to reading Ron Chernow's biography, which Miranda credits as having inspired him to write his musical.

When I do so, rest assured that I'll make sure to be sitting in a comfortable chair, nowhere near either an inveterate hummer or a bushy-haired man.

Below: Some "Hamilton" tunes from the original show.

Calendar check: Get Lit! coming April 23-29

It's still a couple of months away, but Get Lit! 2018 — the annual literary festival sponsored by Eastern Washington University — has already released both its dates and its scheduled lineup.

The dates: April 23-29.

The locations: various event centers around Spokane, Cheney and Coeur d'Alene.

The participants: a wide range of writers representing pretty much every literary form imaginable.

Get Lit! has a long history, one that dates back to its one-day marathon reading in 1998 at The Metropolitan Performing Arts Center (now The Bing Crosby Theater). With local support, it will continue for years to come.

Finally, of the several festivals that I covered as a staff writer for The Spokesman-Review, my favorite was the 2004 event, which featured the likes of Sarah Vowell, Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor and … Kurt Vonnegut. (No less than Salman Rushdie would headline in 2005).

I couldn't find a link to the story that I wrote about Vonnegut's appearance. But I did find this blog post by a Seattle writer, who captured much of what I wrote. Enjoy.

‘Red Clocks’ imagines a post-abortion America

Even in today's era of social media, not to mention the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, it's still a mark of quality to get mentioned in the New York Times Book Review section. Especially when the mention is positive.

That's exactly what happened to writer Leni Zumas, whose novel "Red Clocks" was reviewed on Jan. 22 in the Times. Even better for area readers, Zumas will appear in person at a book event at 7 p.m. Thursday at Auntie's Bookstore.

Zumas' novel is set in an imaginary near future when abortion has been made illegal in all 50 states by federal decree. Zumas focuses on four women living in a small town in Oregon, and it details their struggles to handle this new legal situation.

As Times reviewer Naomi Alderman wrote, "Red Clocks" does a good job of capturing the potential climate in today's America.

"Zumas has a perfectly tuned ear for the way measures to restrict women’s lives and enforce social conformity are couched in the moralizing sentimentalism of children’s imagined needs,” Alderman wrote. And, she adds, Zumas’ book offers “such a clear and well-constructed extrapolation of the current debate that I doubt any reader will need to suspend disbelief for even a moment."

Zumas will appear in conversation with Alexis Smith. This should be a popular event, so those wanting seats should get to the store early.

Join Marshall and friends Saturday at Auntie’s

Its been two years since Spokane poet Tod Marshall was chosen to the Washington State Poet Laureate.

How time flies.

Marshall, a professor of English at Gonzaga University, will celebrate those years at 4:15 p.m. Saturday afternoon with a group of poet friends by holding a group reading at Auntie's Bookstore.

Author of such collections as "Bugle," "The Tangled Line" and "Dare Say," Marshall will be joined by Chris Howell, Nance Van Winckel, Maya Zeller, Laura Read, Devin Devine, Terry Lawhead and Kate Peterson.

Also, those attending the reading will be able to take free copies of "WA129+" an anthology expansion of "WA129," the latter of which will be available for purchase. "WA129" is a collection of poems, chosen and curated by Marshall, written by Washington writers.

The event is free and open to the public.

Auntie’s reading: Peety and Eric, who rescued whom?

Those of us who are interested in what's commonly referred to as self-help books — but particularly those who love dog stories — should have a good time at Auntie's Bookstore on Friday.

At 7 p.m., author Eric O'Grey will show up with his dog Jake to share tales of his book "Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life." The event is a fund-raiser for the Spokane Humane Society.

O'Grey will tell how he was overweight, depressed and diabetic until he partnered up with Peety, a rescue dog who was also overweight. The two of them began sharing time, going on walks, eating healthier and — in the process of becoming fast friends — both changed their lives for the better.

Co-authored by O'Grey and Mark Dagostino, "Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life" has been featured on National Public Radio, on the Today Show and other national media outlets.

True to the title of his book, O'Grey credits Peety for helping him find the road to recovery. As he told NPR, "He looked at me like I was the best person on the planet, and I wanted to become the person he thought I was."

Peety died in 2015. O'Grey, who lives in Boise, runs now with his black lab Jake (pictured above). The video below is a preview of the story O'Grey will share. Make sure you have some tissue handy before watching it.

Auntie’s to host tales of family life tonight

Above: (L to R) Author Cindy Hval, the late Myrt Powers, Walt Powers. Hval featured the couple in her book "War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation."

Family life will be the focus of two authors' work at Auntie's Bookstore tonight. Writers Kay Gillies Dixon and Cindy Hval will present their respective books at a 7 p.m. event.

Dixon will read from her new book "Tales of Family Travel: Bathrooms of the World," which is a chronicle of her family's treks through Italy, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Expect to hear stories that include everything from "toddlers stuck in bathroom stalls to the dangers of peeing in crocodile-infested rivers."

Hval, a columnist for The Spokesman-Review, is the author of "War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation." She will preview her forthcoming book "Tiaras and Testosterone: TNT," a compilation of her newspaper columns.

Get there early. Seats tend to go fast.

Reza Aslan tackles ‘God’ Nov. 13 at The Bing

Though events occur almost daily (or should that be nightly) at Auntie's Bookstore, sometimes it pays to look ahead. Which is what attracted me to an Auntie's-sponsored event that will take place on Monday, Nov. 13.

 A 7 p.m. reading at The Bing Crosby Theater by author Reza Aslan.

Aslan, an Iranian-born American citizen, is the author of four books, including the best-selling "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." For this tour, he will be reading from his latest book, "God: A Human History." Aslan’s degrees include a B.A. in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. in the Sociology of Religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Here are some reviews of "God: A Human History":

Publishers Weekly: "The book showcases Aslan’s signature style—verging on academic but always accessible—and his methodological agnosticism as he sets aside claims of truth about 'God' in order to explore theories on how humans have come to believe in gods, humanize them, deify humanity, and conceive of gods across the ages."

Kirkus Review: "Aslan provides an intriguing glimpse into the history of primitive human belief systems, as evidenced by such archaeological remains as cave paintings, burial sites, and primitive temples. He goes further to explore psychological and physiological reasons for the birth of belief."

Those interested in attending can get a free ticket by purchasing a hardback (or audiobook) copy of "God: A Human History" from Auntie's. Otherwise, tickets are $10.

Averett to read from mystery ‘Scablands’ Friday at Auntie’s

Ed Averett is a longtime Spokane resident, now living in Ecuador, who had a long career as a therapist. In his spare time, though, besides working and helping his wife Mary to raise their family, he wrote.

And he became pretty good at it. You'll be able to see just how good at 7 p.m. Friday at Auntie's Bookstore when Averett shows up to read from his new book, the mystery "Scablands."

Described by Kirkus as a tale of "forensic psychologist in the mid-1990s (who) consults on an investigation of the murder of her former intern," the novel is getting good reviews.

The Kirkus reviewer went on to write, "Readers may find some of the material that Carmen digs into, such as pornography, to be relatively tame, but they give the protagonist opportunities to view the case from a more clinical perspective, which adds credibility to the story. Her narration is rife with questions, effectively indicating the amateur sleuth’s tendency to constantly examine what she’s learned."

Pornography tame? That's a new one. Have to check out that book to see for myself.

Witt’s memoir to get an Auntie’s launch

As president, Bill Clinton faced a number of controversial issues. One of the more contentious of them came to be known by the somewhat simple slogan "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

That, of course, was the supposed solution to the supposed problem posed by gay men and lesbians serving in the military. It was no solution at all, actually, and in many ways made life even worse for the very personnel its aim was to protect.

The whole issue is explained in the memoir "Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights," which was written by Major Margaret Witt (with Tim Connor). It was Witt's lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force that ended up causing the government to abandon "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, Auntie's Bookstore will present a special 7 p.m. "launch" of Witt's book, which will include a signing. Witt is currently a rehabilitation supervisor for the Portland VA Health Care System in Portland, Oregon.

For a detailed look at Witt's specific legal case, including an interview, click here.

Warning: This could be a particularly popular event, and space is limited. So get there early.

Reading: Race on the field and elsewhere

Above: Professor David Leonard is also author of  “Screens Fade to Black: Contemporary African American Cinema." (Photo by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services)

Of the many issues facing the country today, one of the most prominent is race relations. And that's across the board, from immigration policy to community policing to questioning the need for certain kinds of public monuments.

And let's not forget sports.

David Leonard, a professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, is the author of a book titled "Playing While White: Privilege and Power On and Off the Field" (University of Washington Press). In it he argues "how and why whiteness matters within sports and what that tells us about race in the twenty-first century."

The questions concerning race in America are not new topics for Leonard. Among his other books are "Screens Fade to Black: Contemporary African American Cinema" (Praeger, 2006) and "After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness" (SUNY Press, 2012).

Leonard will read from his book at 7 p.m. Saturday at Auntie's Bookstore.

It should be an enlightening evening.

This Penny is worth a small fortune

Tonight is the Louise Penny reading at the Bing Crosby Theater. The event begins at 7.

I wrote about Penny last month, so I don't need to repeat anything here. But I would say that since then, I have read two more Penny books. I'd already listened to the audiobook version of "The Nature of the Beast." But I bought copies of "A Great Reckoning," which until the publication of "Glass Houses" was her latest entry in the "Three Pines" series," and "Still Life," the first in the series.

And my faith in Penny hasn't faded a bit. Armand Gamache is a great detective, but Penny has surrounded him with an intriguing cast of characters — not all of whom are completely honest, as you will discover as the series progresses.

If you buy one of Penny's novels — and I suggest that you do — you'll get free entry to the reading (save your receipt). If not, entry will cost you $5. Either way, the price is a bargain.

Why did Joan Kroc give away millions?

Most of us know the story of Ray Kroc. Salesman from the Midwest who took (some would say stole) a good idea about how to prepare and serve fast food (particularly burgers, fries and soft drinks) and made it into a thriving international business called McDonald's.

Some of us even know of Joan Kroc, Kroc's third wife and the woman who — after Kroc died in 1984 — earned headlines for her philanthropy. Of course, Joan Kroc had been a generous giver before her husband's death. But until she died in 2003 at the age of 75, Kroc herself continued to support what she considered to be worthy causes.

You can go online and see what some of those causes were: everything from nuclear disarmament to homelessness. You can also see estimates of the billion or so dollars that she gave away.

Or you can go and listen to a talk by Lisa Napoli, author of the book "Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away." Napoli will present her book at 7 tonight at CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Place, in the Spokane Valley.

Click here to read an interview that Napoli gave to National Public Radio.

Napoli's appearance tonight will be presented by the Spokane County Library and is sponsored by the Friends of the Spokane County Library District and the Pacific Northwest Library Association. Auntie's Bookstore will provide copies of Napoli's books for purchase.

You'll have to provide your own hamburgers.

Check out Louise Penny, Aug. 30 at Auntie’s

I've been reviewing audiobooks for the past 15 years, helping choose those that deserve annual awards. And every time I receive a collection of nominees, I discover something — or someone — new.

As the saying goes, so many (audio)books, so little time.

That's my only excuse for never having heard of Louise Penny before I listened to "The Nature of the Beast," Penny's 2016 addition to her Inspector Gamache series. It was the first audiobook narrated by Robert Bathurst, who took over for her longtime narrator Ralph Cosham (Cosham had died in 2014).

I liked the book so much that I vowed to check out the previous novels in the series, all 11 of them. And it excites me to think that Penny will be appearing at Auntie's Bookstore on Aug. 30. The 7 p.m. reading will be in support of her new Inspector Gamache novel, the 13th, "Glass Houses" (Minotaur Books, 400 pages).

Here's what Kirkus Reviews has to say about the book: "A meticulously built mystery that follows a careful ascent toward a breaking point that will leave you breathless. It’s Three Pines as you have never seen it before."

Here's what Publishers Weekly has to say: "The familiar, sometimes eccentric, denizens of Three Pines and Gamache’s loyal investigative team help propel the plot to an exciting, high-stakes climax."

Sounds good. Can't wait.

Alexie cancels Aug. 5 Bing appearance

It's now official: Sherman Alexie has cancelled his Aug. 5 reading at The Bing.

Alexie has been on a nationwide tour promoting his new book, a memoir titled "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (464 pages, Little, Brown & Co.). But, as he wrote on his website, the tour has introduced him to a number of "ghosts."

"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time," he wrote on his website. He's seen them in various forms — in handmade quilts, in sudden rays of sunlight and, in one instance, in the card being held at an airport that carried the name of his late mother, Lillian.

The result? Moments of grief so hard that they left him sobbing, both alone in hotel rooms and, on occasion, even onstage.

"I don't believe in the afterlife as a reality," he wrote, "but I believe in the afterlife as metaphor. And my mother, from the afterlife, is metaphorically kicking my ass."

So he has decided to cancel all his August tour dates, including the Aug. 5 event that was being sponsored by Auntie's Bookstore, and "many, but not all, of my events for the rest of the year."

No word yet on when, or if, Alexie will reschedule. But in the meantime, buy a copy of his book. It'll give you some idea of what he's been going through.