Summer Guide 2009: Books

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KGB’s Fantastic Fiction
Enjoy the kind of speculation that won’t end with you losing all your money. A mix of veteran and up-and-coming writers of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy and horror) read excerpts and short stories once every month for this free event. This summer, highlights include critically acclaimed writer Brian Francis Slattery on June 17 and, for the July 15 reading, writers from the Clarion West workshop at UC San Diego, the premier institute for promising speculative authors. Third Wednesday of the month, KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th St., betw. 2nd Ave. & Bowery; 212-505-3360, kgbfantasticfiction.org.; 7, FREE

Happy Ending (Music and) Reading Series (read interview below!)
Host ’s happy hour readings with music on the side, a perennially popular and star-studded series, will feature authors Samantha Hunt and Steven Berlin Johnson on June 3, along with tunes from electronic music pioneer Tristan Perich. Most of the themes and writers for the summer are still TBA, but Lush Life author Richard Price, Moby and Vampire Weekend have all shown up before. If the past guest list is any indication, Happy Ending is definitely worth a visit. First Wednesday of the month, Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St., betw. E. 4th St. and Astor Pl., 212-254-1263; 7, $15

Promise, an adult female shepherd mix, loves to curl up with a good book. Photo by Christopher Appoldt

Promise, an adult female shepherd mix, loves to curl up with a good book. Photo by Christopher Appoldt

Word for Word Series
With upward of 55 free events this summer, the Word for Word series in Bryant Park has something for everyone. On June 2, the creative writing program directors from NYU, Long Island University and Drew University will stop by to talk about their teaching. The next day, Christopher Buckley, satirist and son of William F. Buckley, will discuss his memoir during a lunchtime talk. Reading events for children are scheduled throughout the summer, and craft/career advice seminars are open as well, including a roundtable with editors from The Believer and McSweeney’s magazines on how to get your fiction published. Though all events are free, some require registration. Every Wednesday, Bryant Park, enter park at 42nd St. & 5th Ave., 212-768-4242; 12:30, FREE

Madison Square Reads
Throughout the summer, well-known writers will give free outdoor readings in the Park (right next to Shake Shack!). On July 16, Lee Child, writer of the best-selling Jack Reacher thrillers, will give a reading. The series’ other highlight is a John Cheever panel on July 30, featuring Cheever’s daughter, the head of Harvard’s creative writing program and Blake Bailey, whose recently published Cheever: A Life has sparked newfound interest in the anti-Suburbia writer.  Thursday evenings, Madison Square Park’s Farragut Monument, enter park at 23rd St. and Madison Ave., www.madisonsquarepark.org; 6:30, FREE

McNally Jackson Fiction Book Club
Tired of listening to writers babble on about themselves and want to speak for yourself? Drop in on the McNally Jackson book club. For the summer, the free reading group at this Nolita independent bookstore will read novels exclusively from Israeli writers, with Amos Oz’s To Know a Woman on June 1 and A Woman in Jerusalem, by A. B. Yehoshua, for its July 13 discussion. If Israeli women confuse you, these next two meetings should clear things up. Book club texts are 10 percent off at the store for the rest of the summer. One Monday per month, McNally Jackson, 52 Prince St., betw. Lafayette & Mulberry Sts., 212-274-1160; 7, FREE

Housing Works Bookstore Café
For the civic minded, all the proceeds from the store go toward Housing Works, the anti-AIDS/homelessness organization. On June 3, Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer will appear with Neil Gaiman for one of the store’s author/musician events. The best bet for summer is the Literary Magazine Fair on May 31, with all magazines priced at $2. Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, 126 Crosby St., betw. Houston & Prince Sts., 212-334-3324), www.housingworks.org; times vary, $TBA.

David Sedaris at Strand Bookstore
Bestselling author and NPR/New Yorker contributor David Sedaris will stop by the downtown bookstore to read from his most recent book When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which includes stories about confronting disgusting boils, coping with evil babysitters and traveling across the globe to quit smoking. Sedaris will be signing copies of his book at the event, so bring along your copy (if you have one). June 2, 828 Broadway, at 12th St., 212-473-1452; 5, FREE

Bloomsday on Broadway
For the past 27 years, Symphony Space cofounder Isaiah Sheffer has hosted a marathon staging of scenes from James Joyce’s Ulysses, enlisting a lot of big-name celebrities to bring the story to life. Last year’s performance went on for seven hours, so be prepared for a lot of Joyce. Whatever the length, $25 is a good price for what has become a New York institution. June 16, Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway, betw. 95th & 96th Sts., 212-864-5400; 6 $25

Studs Terkel’s Working: A Graphic Adaptation Panel Discussion
Famed radio broadcaster Studs Turkel wrote Working in 1974, and it has since become a Broadway musical, radio broadcast and—the form that will be under discussion—a graphic novel. A packed panel of graphic novel experts like  Spiderman illustrator Danny Fingeroth will talk about famed comic writer Harvey Pekar’s vision of Terkel’s classic. June 20, KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th St., betw. 2nd Ave. & Bowery; 212-505-3360; 7, FREE
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Risky Readings and Sing-Alongs

By Nick Broad

Amanda Stern is curator of The Happy Endings Reading Series, a monthly event held at Joe’s Pub. Writers and musicians come to the stage, but there’s a twist—readers are required to take one public risk and do something they’ve never done before, and musicians have to perform one cover song and try to get the audience to sing along. Stern recently explained how her one-woman production company manages to pull together such big names for an evening of unexpected entertainment. The following transcript has been edited.

You started doing weekly sessions in a Chinatown bar called Happy Endings. Now you’re doing bigger productions in Joe’s Pub. Is this your happy ending, or is it just the beginning? Ideally I’d like this to be the beginning of a much larger cultural program. However, I don’t have a salary, staff, grant money, a sugar daddy or an anonymous benefactor, so I need to figure out a way to get at least one of those things, stat.

Amanda Stern

Amanda Stern

Some of the upcoming readings this summer include Zadie Smith, Nick Laird, Adam Gopnik and Lisa Randall. How do you get such good names? The most important reason is that I am patient. It’s a courtship. I will wait as long as it takes to book someone whose work I believe in. I spent five months talking to James Salter. David Markson and I have been talking for a year and a half. I’ll wait.

You get authors to do on stage something they’ve never done before. What have been some highlights? Ben Greenman reading aloud his pin code numbers, Ian Chillag getting a volunteer to cut his hair onstage, Andrew Sean Greer swapping outfits onstage with a volunteer from the audience, a random audience member singing opera while Lydia Davis played synthesizer and John Lurie playing harmonica for the first time onstage in 25 years and then almost fainting and falling down the stairs.

Has anything ever gone horribly wrong? When I was trying to quit smoking, a doctor put me on Wellbutrin, but gave me too high a dosage so I had a panic attack on stage, which I described to the audience in great detail as it was happening.

Happy Endings reading series, first Wednesday of the month at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St., 212-254-1263, $15. Dates and times vary; visit amandastern.com/happyending for more information.

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