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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

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.

Alexie Aug. 5 reading now in question

Note: Soon after I posted the news below, Alexie announced on his website that he was canceling all his August readings. Nothing has changed on the Auntie's Bookstore site, but I'll update when official word does become available. Meanwhile, read his letter of explanation. It's powerful.

Some of us remember Sherman Alexie before he became the celebrity author Sherman Alexie.

We remember the days when he would show up for poetry readings at the previous Auntie's Bookstore location, the one that bridged its genesis in the Flour Mill and its current site in the Liberty Building, in character as Thomas Builds-the-Fire.

These days, Alexie — the kid from Wellpinit, who transferred to Reardan High School — is a nationally known author. He won a National Book Award in 2007 for his novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian."

And befitting his growing role as a literary elder, he no longer — in fact, hasn't in quite some time — makes public appearances in small venues. At least not in Spokane.

Which is why Alexie's Auntie's Bookstore-sponsored appearance on Aug. 5, scheduled for 7 p.m., will NOT be at the store but at the Bing Crosby Theater. Alexie will be appearing in support of his new memoir, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."

Even if you don't need prodding, let me offer the following critical comments regarding Alexie's new book:

Beth Kephart, Chicago Tribune: " 'You Don't Have to Say You Love Me' is a marvel of emotional transparency, a story told with the fewest possible filters by a writer grieving the loss of a complicated mother."

Laura Miller, Slate.com: "For Alexie’s fans, the essence of his appeal is his scouring honesty. He’s not merely willing to tell people what they don’t want to hear; he leaps at the chance. Piety in every guise draws his fire."

Publishers Weekly: "Alexie treats this sometimes bleak material with a graceful touch, never shying away from deep emotions but also sharing wry humor and a warm regard for Native culture and spirituality."

If you buy a copy of the book at Auntie's, you can get into Auntie's Alexie event free. If you don't, admissions is $5 (all ages).

Either way, tell them Thomas Builds-the-Fire sent you.

Poet Howell to read about love at Auntie’s

You may not be familiar with the name Christopher Howell. But then you may not have studied writing at Eastern Washington University, where Howell is a professor.

Or you may not have paid any attention to the awards listing that come from such places as the National Endowment Fellowships, Pushcart Prizes or Washington State Book Awards, all of which Howell has won.

But you have an opportunity to educate yourself by attending a poetry reading that Howell will put on at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. Howell will read from his latest poetry collection, "Love's Last Number: Poems" (Milkweed Editions, $16).

To get a feel for Howell's work, here is a link.

It's always a good idea to arrive early for Auntie's events. And bring some money. Our resident independent bookstore can always use your support.

Mount St. Helens: Hear the untold stories

I remember May 18, 1980, as if it were … well, maybe not yesterday, but certainly last year. It was a Sunday afternoon, and my wife and I, and then-baby daughter, were visiting some friends in North Spokane. We were on a rural property, with a lot of open space, and I remember looking up from a croquet match at the dark cloud coming quickly from the west.

“That is one serious storm,” I thought.

Just then, someone yelled out that the TV was reporting that Mount St. Helens had erupted. And what we were seeing was the ash cloud. So we quickly packed up the baby and headed home. I remember driving home through a snowstorm of volcanic ash and worrying that the stuff was going to ruin my car’s engine.

That began our ordeal. The next morning we awoke to a gray world, one that was as eerie as it proved enduring. Weeks to months later we could still find patches of gray along the highways.

Mount St. Helens comes to mind because of Steve Olson, the author who will be reading at 7 tonight at Auntie’s Bookstore. Olson is the author of “Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens" (W.W. Norton, $27.95).

Here are some critical comments:

Mark Damsker, USA Today: “As Steve Olson reminds us in his vividly reported new history … what happened on May 18, 1980, in the primordial thickets of the Pacific Northwest, was an enormous, multi-faceted event. … This engaging book maneuvers deftly along the way toward impact.”

Michael O’Donnell, Wall Street Journal: “In Mr. Olson’s telling, [the survivors’] stories read like urgent fiction. … These vignettes lend a human face to an event that has become associated largely with geology.”

Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor: “In his evocative and convincing new book, author Steve Olson reveals that the eruption – the most powerful natural disaster to ever strike the US – is much more than a horror show. … He has a bigger picture in mind, one of the eruption’s role as a touchstone for an evolving society and natural world.”

The story that Olson tells is an indelible part of Pacific Northwest history. It’s well worth revisiting.

Nothing says failure like this Swedish museum

Life is full of success stories. And we tend to applaud all those innovators, from the inventor of the wheel to Steve Jobs, who changed the arc of history.

But what about those among us who fail? Well, it turns out that Sweden has a museum that is dedicated to that very proposition. From fat-free Pringles to Google Glass, the Museum of Failure documents all the would-be steps forward that ended up being miserable failures.

“We know that 80 to 90 percent of innovation projects, they fail and you never read about them, you don’t see them, people don’t talk about them,” says museum founder Samuel West. “And if there’s anything we can do from these failures, is learn from them.”

One of my favorite failures: The 2004 board game called “I’m Back And You’re Fired” in which players use game pieces branded with a "T" and money adorned with the image of Donald Trump.

“It’s a boring version of Monopoly," West said. "It’s simplified so stupid people can play it, but it’s also horribly boring,”


Brunelleschi’s Duomo tells a tale of Florence

Above: No matter where you walk in Florence's city center, you're usually only a few steps from a sight of Filippo Brunelleschi's famous Duomo, which sits atop the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore.

Nothing beats rising early on a Saturday morning in Florence, Italy, and getting your first glimpse of the famous Duomo. It's nice to see the masterpiece of architecture anytime during the day, but its especially nice when the streets have yet to fill with tourists, who come in the thousands.

The Duomo, of course, sits atop one of the world's most famous buildings — the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore — which has been standing in the center of Florence since the early 14th century. The city's leaders wanted the cathedral to be a sign of Florence's magnificence, and they hoped the cathedral's Duomo (or dome) would be the world's largest.

Only problem was, no one at the time knew exactly how to build something so big. Thus the cathedral sat for decades open to the elements.

Then came the announcement: A competition would be held to see who could come up with a workable plan. One prize was 200 florins, which was a lot of money considering, from one source, staff at the Medici bank made between 14 and 50 florin per year. The other prize was enduring fame.

Both prizes went, ultimately, to "a short, homely, and hot-tempered goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi." Though not without controversy, mainly because Brunelleschi was a somewhat unknown quantity and because he refused to share specifics of his plans. Even so, the leaders eventually decided to award Brunelleschi the job.

This being Italy, intrigue occurred from the start, involving personal and professional jealousies. But the project, and Brunelleschi, endured, and the Duomo was completed on March 25, 1436. Brunelleschi died a decade later.

But his crowning achievement lives on — to the delight of everyone who has the pleasure of seeing it.

Come and color with Christopher Paolini

At age 15, Christopher Paolini began what would eventually become a publishing sensation.

Paolini, who will appear in person at 6:30 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore, is the author of what is known as the Inheritance Cycle, which comprises the four novels "Eragon," "Eldest," "Brisingr" and "Inheritance." The four books have, to date, sold some 35 million copies. "Inheritance" alone has been published in 53 countries.

In many ways, Paolini's own story is just as interesting as his books. Home-schooled, he graduated from high school just at the time he began writing his first novel. That novel was self-published, and Paolini traveled dressed in costume to publicize it. Eventually it was picked up by a major publisher, movie deals were made — and the rest is history.

Paolini's appearance at Auntie's will be in support of an ancillary project: "The Official Eragon Coloring Book" (see embed below). 

Crime writer Zafiro to read tonight at Auntie’s

It's probably a good thing to separate artists from their art. Sometimes it's disappointing to meet someone whose work you admire and to discover that they're nothing like what you expect.

Other times, though, artists are exactly what you hope they will be when you meet them. In my career, I've enjoyed interviews with such celebrities as Bob Newhart, Dick Cavett, Salman Rushdie and even Kurt Vonnegut and was amazed at how humble and gracious they were — even when I asked the stupidest questions.

Thing is, we can't help but want to know more about people whose work we're familiar with. Which is why I'm posting this link to an interview with author Frank Zafiro.

Zafiro is a former Spokane police officer who has written a number of genre novels, mainly detective, mystery or noir. He will be reading from his latest novel (with Lawrence Kelter), "The Last Collar," at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

The interview mentioned above is from 2010. Following are a few snippets from it:

"Stephen King has been an inspiration for a long time.  Not just his personal story (and his book, 'On Writing'), but the masterful way that he writes." 

"Dialogue is my strongest suit and I think of ways to work description into those threads, but finding the balance between painting a picture for the reader without losing her in the exposition is always a challenge."

As for advice, Zafiro offered this in a single word: "It comes from Joe Konrath, who told us that there is a word for a writer who never gives up." 

And that word: "Published."