Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagán is generating buzz with "Forever Is the Worst Long Time"

Camille Pagán

Camille Pagán knows that Forever is a mighty long time.

A few weeks ago, InStyle magazine named Forever Is the Worst Long Time by Ann Arbor-based novelist (and health journalist) Camille Pagán as one of "7 Books You Need to Read in February 2017.”

We’re now in March, of course, but Pagán’s new tale of contemporary friendships and romance gone askew offers a temporary escape hatch appropriate for any time of year.

Forever is Pagán’s third novel; her debut was The Art of Forgetting (2011), followed by Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (2015), which was a bestselling Kindle First selection that got optioned by Jessica Chastain’s production company Freckle Films.

Forever tells the story of James Hernandez, a would-be novelist who ends up writing copy for U-M’s business school. (Pagán is a U-M grad who grew up in Dearborn.) Though James falls for his childhood best friend Rob’s fiancee/wife (Lou) upon meeting her, he buries his feelings, delivers a toast at the wedding, and tries to build his own life. But years later, when Rob and Lou’s marriage falls apart, James is torn between what he wants and loyalty to his friend. In the end, he can’t resist acting on his long-repressed attraction, and the consequences for all three are far-reaching and life-changing.

“I didn’t plan on writing this book,” said Pagán. “I’d planned on writing one about a married couple, and I was just slogging through that when I had the idea for the first chapter [of Forever], and in a day or two, I had the opening chapters done. I just felt like, I know who these people are, whereas with the other project, I didn’t know who I was writing about. … With every book it seems like there’s a fire under me, where I had to get the story out.”


Emptying in, Emptying out: Joseph Scapellato at Literati

Joseph Scapellato

Joseph Scapellato's debut story collection honors the immensity of the Western landscape.

Big Lonesome, Joseph Scapellato's first collection of stories, was published at the end of February. Divided into three parts -- "Old West," "New West," and "Post-West" -- the stories form a triptych, a landscape, a cave-painting; they begin and end and begin again, all-too-familiar and too new, digging into what we think we know about the American West.

The West, a central character in most of the stories, looms out and over, its flowers and cacti and creatures blooming, rustling the pages. This is a collection that follows a cowgirl, "born of a beef cow," of "ours"; follows a mutt-faced cowboy whose scar-smile brings him home to strangers; follows a man whose fiancée's dog sees and hears more than the man ever could. This is a book that deserves to be passed between friends, outsiders, enemies; to be shouted from on high and from on low.

Scapellato, an assistant professor of English at Bucknell College, earned his MFA from New Mexico State University. He will be in conversation with Claire Vaye Watkins on March 10 at Literati Bookstore. We spoke with Scapellato in anticipation of that reading.


Small Towns, Universal Emotions: Nickolas Butler at Literati

Nickolas Butler at Literati

Nickolas Butler proclaimed, "I don’t have a lot of friends" during a reading from his new book, The Hearts of Men, at Literati. Photo by Elizabeth Pearce.

“I couldn’t write about something like the New York City social scene, because I know nothing about it,” said Nickolas Butler frankly at his reading at Literati on Wednesday, March 8. Butler’s third book, The Hearts of Men, has just been released and it shares a rural Wisconsin setting with his previous two books, Shotgun Lovesongs and Beneath the Bonfire.

Butler himself lives outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with his family and is able to brilliantly capture rural Midwestern life in his work, as only someone who truly lives it would be able to do.

“In part, I write about these characters and this setting because that’s what I’m familiar with,” said Butler. “Although I have a very nice house and a very nice property, it’s just a little bit down the road until I’m in what is essentially rural poverty. I go into Cleghorn, which is the nearest town, and there’s literally one intersection and there’s a bar and a taxidermy shop.” He laughed a little. “You can go in [to the bar], and you and four of your buddies could drink as much as you possibly could and there’s no way that you could ever run a tab up in there that’s more than $65.”


The Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon aims to balance the scales

Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

There will be no shouting at the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon (because it's being held in a library, shhhh).

Women comprise about 51% of the country’s population. But according to the Wikimedia Foundation, they make up less than 13% of Wikipedia's contributors.

Fortunately, some folks aim to change that.

On Saturday, March 11, the University of Michigan Library, in conjunction with UMMA and the Ann Arbor District Library, will present the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon from 12-5 pm at the Shapiro Design Lab in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. The event started in 2014 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and has grown to include over 175 satellite locations.

Ann Arbor organizer Meghan Sitar stressed the need for women-focused editing: “After Wikimedia reported that less than 10% of contributors identified as female, Wikipedia set a goal of increasing that number to 25% by 2015. That didn’t seem to happen, so what you have is a gender bias in what is covered."

Men and women really do see the world through disparate points of view, and those divergences show up in Wikipedia entries.


Mystery Summit: Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland at the AADL

Loren Estleman

Loren Estleman is very serious ... about writing good books.

It was a dark and stormy night as the attendees huddled in the library basement to hear three mystery writers talk about their new books. As the first author began to speak, thunder crashed, the lights went out, and a scuffle broke out in the dark. When the lights returned, the entire audience was kidnapped!

OK, I should probably keep my day job and leave the mystery writing to the professionals. Lucky for us, Michigan is the birthplace of some of the best mystery writers in the country and three of them -- Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland -- are appearing at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown branch on Friday, March 3.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #628, Parts 1 & 2

"If you are here today ... you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it through hell and are still standing? We bear a different name: warriors.” ~Lori Goodwin.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #628, Pt.1

Two extraordinary debut novels set during WWII came out on Valentine's Day, and both speak to the capacity of the human spirit to endure in the face of the 20th century’s darkest moment.

We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the true story of the Kurc family of Radom, Poland. In 1939, prosperous and educated, Jewish merchants Sol and Nechuma were trying their best to live normal lives with their family as war was looming, observing religious holidays and doting on their new grandchild. When Germany invaded Poland, Sol and Nechuma decided to stay with daughters Halina and Mila, while their sons Genek and Jakob joined the Polish army.

Middle son Addy, an engineer and budding composer was stuck in France and was eventually conscripted. Over the course of the war, the three generations of Kurcs were flung to distant points on the globe, from the jazz clubs of Paris to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro to Kraków’s most brutal prison and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag, they were driven by an extraordinary will to survive and to reunite.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts: #624, #625, #626 & #627

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #627
“There are only two worlds - your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy... these worlds provide an alternative." ~ Neil Gaiman

Set in an alternate modern-day England, Gilded Cage * by (Dr.) Vic(toria) James is first in the Dark Gifts dystopian trilogy. It is one of the LibraryReads February picks, "where enticing drama and social unrest mix with aristocratic scandal and glamorous magic." (Kirkus Reviews)

Thanks to clever Abi(gail), the Hadleys believe they have a better deal than most, as they have arranged to serve their decade of servitude (being commoners without the magical power of the aristocratic rulers) together. They will work as slaves at Kyneston, the country estate of the Jardines, one of the most powerful families in the country.

At the last minute, 16-year-old Luke Hadley is separated from the family and sent to Millmoor, Manchester’s infamous slave town to toil in its horrific factories where he finds friendship among those with a dangerous agenda. Meanwhile, Abi, yearning for love and knowledge, stumbles into the middle of Jardine family intrigues and political scheming that could alter their world forever.


No More Cakes in the Rain: Colson Whitehead at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre

Colson Whitehead

"[T]ake any Stephen King title and put ‘the black’ in front of it, that’s what I wanted to do." --Colson Whitehead

Bestselling author Colson Whitehead spoke in Ann Arbor on January 12 as part of U-M’s bicentennial celebration theme semester, but it wasn’t his first visit to Treetown. Apparently, in 2001, Whitehead gave a reading at Borders to “about five people,” on a night when the Red Wings were playing for the Stanley Cup.

“It seemed like a good excuse,” said Whitehead with a shrug –- this time, to a near-capacity crowd packed into Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

Whitehead now has many more published books and years of experience under his belt, of course. But his mainstream profile spiked most dramatically in the last few months, when the publication date of his newest novel, The Underground Railroad, got bumped up a month (from September to August) due to it being named an Oprah’s Book Club selection -- and nothing makes an author’s career explode quite like receiving Oprah’s imprimatur.

That’s far from Railroad’s only distinction, though. The novel also won the National Book Award for fiction and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Newsday, and more.


Word Up: U-M's Zell Visiting Writers Series Winter 2017 Lineup

Zell Visiting Writers Series

Writing becomes reading at U-M's Zell series.

Bestselling author Colm Toibin’s November 2016 reading/talk in Ann Arbor -- part of the U-M’s fantastic Zell Visiting Writers Series -- drew a big enough crowd to not only fill all the 185 seats in UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium, but also the wall end of both side aisles and the back wall.

Toibin, best known for his novel Brooklyn, the basis for an Oscar-nominated film, was one part of ZVWS’s star-studded lineup for fall 2016, which also included Everything I Never Told You author (and U-M MFA program grad) Celeste Ng and Tony Award-winning playwright/actress and Michigan native Lisa Kron (Fun Home).

“That was a large turnout for one of our readings, but not unprecedented,” said Douglas Trevor, director of U-M’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program, in reference to Toibin's event.

With big and/or rising literary stars on the roster, and increasing community awareness of the series, Trevor and HZWP assistant director Maya West (who oversees the reading series) should probably expect more full houses in future.

“Our list to date is pretty incredible,” said Trevor. “We really hope and strive to provide more opportunities for literary engagement in Southeast Michigan.”

“And we’ve cast a wider net with our marketing, especially in the last year or two,” said West, who noted that Literati has partnered with the series to be the bookseller on-site while also including the readings on the indie bookstore’s event calendar.

The new semester’s lineup includes:


Ann Arbor District Library 2016 Staff Picks: Books, Movies, Music & More

Ann Arbor District Library 2016 Staff Picks

We don't just lend media; we indulge in it, too!

The Gregorian calendar rules most of the world, but time is a continuum. That's why our 2016 Ann Arbor District Library staff picks for books, music, film, and more include items that go back as far as 1865. Our list is comprised of media (and a few other things) that made an impact on us in 2016, no matter when the material came out.

Libraries have always acted as curation stations, helping sort through the vast amount of media released every year. On our website, we have more than 50 staff-curated lists of recommendations, but we don't just advocate for things digitally. We share our "picks" in person every time you step into the library. Books with prominent positions in our spaces, whether facing forward or on shelf tops, are chosen by staff members because they want you to pick up those pages.

Consider the massive post below featuring 55 books, 25 films and TV shows, and 20 albums -- plus a few odds and ends -- as a continuation of those curated lists, those forward-facing books, and the Ann Arbor District Library’s ongoing mission to bring high-quality art, entertainment, and information into your lives.

So, ready your library cards: Most of the recommendations below are in our collection; just click on the {AADL} link at the end of each pick to be taken to the item's page on our website.