Category Archives: Authors

Margaret Atwood in Pittsburgh


Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, along with the Carnegie Library, has an awesome series of authors who come to speak. Margaret Atwood is the second speaker my mom and I have seen this year. I have read many of Atwood’s books over the years, although I skipped her recent MaddAddam trilogy. I guess it’s going to be on HBO, though.

Margaret Atwood

Atwood talked a bit about Canadian politics in light of the recent election, before moving on to her new novel, The Heart Goes Last. Set in a time of economic collapse, it is the story of how Stan and Charmaine become inmates in the Positron prison system every other month in return for jobs and a place to live. She spoke about the inspiration behind the story. She had researched prisons and the penal system for an earlier novel and that, along with  the current trend of privatizing prisons, came together. She talked a bit about the history of prisons, from dungeons that basically served to hold people for ransom to debtors prisons (stupid idea) to penal colonies like Australia, where the bar for imprisoning women was lowered to meet a quota for incarcerating females.

The Heart Goes Last started on-line as a serial and Atwood spoke a bit about the history of writing serial fiction, of course mentioning Dickens and how he would sometimes take feedback from readers when drafting his stories. I really enjoyed how she took the past, whether it be prisons or writing, and connected it to the now.

The new book begins with an epigraph that consists of quotes from three texts: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Pygmalion and Galatea,” and “I Had Sex with Furniture.” Atwood says the epigraph is like the piece’s key signature. It set the tone and range of the book. I’m looking forward to reading it. She was an interesting speaker and took several questions from the audience. I really enjoyed the evening.

I’m linking up with Mailbox Monday, because two books found their way home with me. A signed copy of The Heart Goes Last came with the ticket and I picked up a copy of Stone Mattress while I was there – I couldn’t resist.

Margaret Atwood books

Margaret Atwood in PittsburghThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Nan A. Talese on September 29th 2015
Genres: Speculative Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

Margaret Atwood in PittsburghStone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
Published by Anchor on June 23, 2015
Genres: Short Story
Pages: 289
Format: Paperback
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In this extraordinary collection, Margaret Atwood gives us nine unforgettable tales that reveal the grotesque, delightfully wicked facets of humanity. “Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked tales, introduces us to a fantasy writer who is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. In “Lusus Naturae,” a young woman, monstrously transformed by a genetic defect, is mistaken for a vampire. And in the title story, a woman who has killed four husbands discovers an opportunity to exact vengeance on the first man who ever wronged her.

Louise Penny in Pittsburgh


lousie penny pittsburgh

Louise Penny is one of my favorite authors and my mom and I were thrilled to see her speak in Pittsburgh last week. She was there as part of Authors on Tour, a collaborative effort between the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures series and the Carnegie Library.

Penny spoke for about 40 minutes and then did a question and answer session. She was funny and charming and really has a great stage presence. She talked about what made her want to write and about how long it took to put away her fear and just do it. And then the job of actually finishing the book and getting it published. She also mentioned that the “kernel” of each is a poem that she keeps on a sticky at her writing area. I haven’t read The Nature of the Beast, her newest, yet, but the poem that goes along with it is from Yeats: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

louise penny group

Her Gamache mysteries are wonderful, and like she said, they’re not really about murder. She listed a whole batch of things they are about, but I didn’t get out my notebook and I’m not very quick at taking notes on my phone. Some of those I caught were friendship, fear, sorrow, bravery, redemption. She stressed the duality present in her stories; good and evil, people’s true selves and what they show the world, the beauty of nature and the fact that it can kill you.

We got a signed copy of the book with the ticket and for those who waited in the signing line after the talk, she personalized each one. She also spent a minute talking to every single person. Really, really an enjoyable evening.

nature of the beast

Interestingly, some of Ruth Zardo’s poems are actually by Margaret Atwood, most from Morning in the Burned House, which I need to get a copy of. Then, I need to figure out a way to get the evening off to see Atwood, who is coming to Pittsburgh next month.

Erik Larson Lecture


Erik Larson

Last night my mom and I went to a “Literary Evening” at the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh. It was the first of the 2012-13 Literary Evening Monday Night Lecture Series and the speaker was Erik Larson, one of my favorite authors. I absolutely loved his The Devil in the White City and enjoyed Thunderstruck, so I was so happy to get to see him speak. He was intelligent and funny. He talked about how he comes up with book ideas and his research process. He gave a bit of information for writers – read voraciously and promiscuously – and mentioned that two of his books are currently, hopefully, on the way to becoming movies.

This is the first of these Literary Evenings I’ve been to, and I have to admit I was suprised by how packed the hall was. It has a seating capacity of 1,950 and it was probably 95% filled. We were at the back of the second balcony, and all I had was my phone, so forgive the poor quality photo. The format for the evening was good. First he gave his lecture then it was opened to questions from the audience. After that, Larson was available in the foyer to sign books, but we left because the hour drive home on a school night  makes it a late evening. It was interesting to that at the begining of the Q and A portion, Larson asked the audience how many of us read solely on e-readers, solely traditional books, or a combination. I would say a large majority said they only read paperbacks or hardbacks, and very few, if any, said they only use e-readers.

Larson is currently promoting his new book, In the Garden of Beasts. I just started reading it, but here’s the blurb:

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming–yet wholly sinister–Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.

The line-up for the remainder of the lecture series is a great list. If you’re near the Pittsburgh area, check out the schedule at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures website.

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