06/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Shelf Talker: Butterscotch, and Prairie Home Companion

Welcome to the Shelf Talker, a regular rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on tour. Send alerts, utterances and passed notes to Or glance at 140 characters on Twitter (@book_tour).

On the road: (New format this week. Don't panic).

Author: Philip Lopate, essayist, poet, professional smart person and therefore object of TST's unbridled envy.

Whereabouts:: Mr. Lopate will be doing a respectable sweep of hamlets (NYC, Chicago, DC, Boston, LA) and college towns (Princeton, Bennington, VT) through May and June, landing primarily at bookstores of some renown (Politics and Prose, Book Soup) and libraries. His appearance at the ALOUD series in Los Angeles is butterscotch atop this pile of literary catnip.

Why Go: How does literary catnip sound to you? TST is still dizzy from chasing its tail across the kitchen.

  • Book: The Servant's Quarters, a novel concerning a 20-year love affair between the daughter of a fallen South African aristocrat and the nephew of a disfigured WWII pilot, who has taken up with the daughter's mother. Blurbs from Amy Tan and Anne Lamott.
  • Author: Lynn Freed. Six novels in and still incapable of producing work that isn't elegant, wise, and ridiculously sexy. Ms. Freed once called TST "darling" at an event. We fainted a moment later.

    Whereabouts: Sticking mostly to California this tour, Ms. Freed's got an errant date in St. Paul, MN at Common Good Books on June 4th, which we hope doubles as an effort to naughty up Prairie Home Companion.

    Insert dethawing joke here.

    Why Go: Never mind TST would watch Lynn Freed read the back of a soup can. Give her ten minutes and she'd have that soup can speaking Dutch and flirting with an adjacent soda cracker. Simply one of the classiest acts in contemporary literature. Makes you feel smarter just hanging around.

  • Book: The Great Perhaps, novelistic biography of a very weird Chicago family. Set immediately after the opening shots of the Iraq war.
  • Author: Joe Meno. Chicagoan, Raconteur, Professor. Used to write a bunch for the dearly departed Punk Planet, who published his first novel (Great Perhaps is his fifth), which means he's cooler that we'll ever be. Meaning he doesn't need to know that TST just bought tickets to see Night Ranger this summer.


    Whereabouts: Meno's doing one of those quick-hit-at-ultra-awesome bookstore jaunts in LA, Portland, Seattle and NYC next month. We missed this tour's debut at Quimby's in Chicago, the bookstore we curl up with when falling asleep. Seeing Meno there is probably akin to welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem. If Jesus wore a T-shirt of a band you've never heard of, a band we're naming To Walk on Water with Anger.

    Why go: TST's never read Meno but feels like he's one of the rare authors who'd be interesting to know before reading him instead of smiling at through pinched lips after. Unlike Saul Bellow. Whom we never met but remain convinced was, at one a genius, a dreadful bore, and worse dresser than Joe Meno.

    Never mind Meno and Bellow rhyme. We know who we want to trade vinyl with.


    This edition brought to you by the literary treatlets of the city of Los Angeles, where TST just spent a lovely weekend with friends and family.

    • EsoTouric: "intelligent, unpredictable rides into the secret heart of the city we love" the gang behind this bus tour guide company described themselves. That includes mouth watering literary excursions like John Fante's Dreams from Bunker Hill, a pair of outings about Raymond Chandler and (stop it right now), a one-in-a-while-tour called "James Ellroy Digs L.A" with the author himself aboard the bus. Fainting again.
    • Inside the Story: a new series "founded by culture fanatics who were unhappy with the ever dwindling number of exciting and thought provoking cultural programs in the Los Angeles area." So they've set out to offer what they hope will be an "an amazing array of classes and events in literature, music, film history and the visual arts with top scholars in their fields." And they may only last one season because we've just married all three of them.
    • Zocalo Public Square: The rock and rollier Inside the Story. Public conversations and debate on culture and important civic and political issues. All videod and podcasted to high heaven which means we can worship from afar. A lecture junkie's smack. And we just found a free vain.
    • Overlooked:

      TST needs another book about how great reading is and how little time we have to do it like we need a case of athlete's foot. Under our eyelids.

      Which is why we were so pleased to make the acquaintance of Tanya Egan Gibson and her second novel, the wicked, sassy How to Buy a Love of Reading. To our understanding, it's a send up of the cultural gravitas and humorless puffery we attach to books, seen through the story of a teenage girl whose wealthy parents commission a novel about her in order to land grant her bibliophilia. Hilarity no doubt ensues.

      If it isn't obvious already, TST believes that if you truly love books, you allow them the dignity of being taken less seriously. Then regard them less as cod liver oil and more as sites of hedonism, playfulness, and joy. We don't know if this was Ms. Gibson's intention but we're eager to visit her (May and June in New York and Northern California), then read and find out.