Lit & Lectures » Lit Feature

Our five best bets for fall books

Ray Bradbury, Chris Ware, and Fran Lebowitz round out the page-turning season

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Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury

The recent release of this collection honoring Ray Bradbury couldn't have been timed better: it was in the works several months before the celebrated author died in June, and Bradbury even signed a few copies. In his brief introduction to the book, Bradbury reflects on how the son has become the father: he says he regarded Edgar Allan Poe and other authors as "papas", and now Margaret Atwood, Audrey Niffenegger, Joe Meno, Dave Eggers, Neil Gaiman, and other illustrious writers have penned short stories in tribute to him. The range of literary styles is as vast as you might expect, with a fair amount of fantasy and a smattering of dead people—some of whom stay dead, while others show up for dinner and the opera. Each tale ends with a brief afterword by the author explaining how he or she was influenced by Bradbury, which in most cases turns out to be more interesting than it sounds. Take Neil Gaiman's "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury": the background—that it was inspired by Gaiman forgetting the name of a friend who'd died ten years earlier—is nearly as haunting as the story itself. Julia Thiel Thu 9/27, 7 PM, Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln, 773-293-2665, bookcellarinc.com, free.

Chris Ware

At the University of Chicago's Comics: Philosophy & Practice conference in May, New Yorker art editor Francoise Mouly moderated a panel featuring comics artists Dan Clowes, Robert Crumb, Seth, and Chris Ware. At one point the conversation turned to print versus digital. The panelists were all in agreement: for their medium, screw digital; print is where it's at.

Ware's latest graphic work takes that to a remarkable level. Building Stories comes in a box and consists of 14 separate print items, 260 pages total, in the forms of books, booklets, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers (The Daily Bee, for instance, depicts the travails of Ware's character Branford Bee, who is an actual bee). And all of it is drawn in Ware's meticulous style, inked in his bright, bold colors, and written in his decidedly literary voice. This is a publishing event; I can't believe it's retailing for only 50 bucks. Jerome Ludwig Printers Row Live, Sat 9/29, 3 PM, Riverfront Theater, 650 W. Chicago, tribuneeventsgroup.com, $15; Thu 10/4, 7 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park, 708-386-9800, booktable.net, $10 (redeemable toward book purchase); Sat 10/14, 5 PM, Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910, quimbys.com, free.

Chicago Humanities Festival

The heck with TED Talks. Public discourse doesn't get any better than at the Chicago Humanities Festival, which annually brings together an eclectic assortment of writers, artists, scientists, scholars, and performers to address a single topic through dozens of lectures, readings, discussions, and musical and theatrical performances. For the 23rd edition of the festival, that topic is . . . America. How fitting for a presidential election year.

Preceding the festival proper are two Festival Days, one on the Northwestern campus in Evanston (Sun 10/14), the other on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park (Sun 10/21). You can hear talks by humorist John Hodgman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Evanston; at Hyde Park, take a Leopold and Loeb walking tour or learn about "The Lady Gagas of the 19th Century."

Events continue 11/1-11/11 at various venues around the city. Among the plethora of programs: If you didn't get your fill of American utopia from the Republican and Democratic national conventions, monologuist (and This American Life fabulist) Mike Daisey premieres his latest work, American Utopias (Thu 11/1 and 11/8, Sat 11/3 and 11/10, Sun 11/4, 7:30 PM, Sun 11/11, 3 PM, $28). If you did get your fill (and feel they were full of it), maybe take in a talk about Kafka's Amerika (Sun 11/4, 2:30 PM). Stats guru Nate Silver holds forth on America's two favorite pastimes, baseball and politics (Fri 11/9, 8 PM). And novelist Richard Ford receives the Heartland Prize for fiction for his latest work, titled . . . Canada (Sun 11/11, 6 PM). —Jerome Ludwig 10/14 and 10/21, then 11/1-1/11, chicagohumanities.org, 312-494-9509, $5-$28 per program in advance (a $5 surcharge applies to ticket sales at the door).

Lilli Carré, Heads or Tails, Fantagraphics

November 15, 2012

Lilli Carré's career epitomizes the way that fine art and comic books have blurred together over the last couple of decades. An animator and illustrator who exhibits her work regularly in Chicago, Carré is also one of the most interesting and affecting comics creators of her generation. Eschewing the autobiographical meaning-through-trauma tradition of Maus, the pop art goofiness of Fort Thunder, or the sex and drug spewing of underground artists like R. Crumb, Carré specializes in surreal narratives and exquisite design. Her gently off-kilter narratives read like a cross between Hans Christian Anderson and Borges, and her illustrations look like a meeting of Edvard Munch and Aubrey Beardsley. Her latest book from Fantagraphics, Heads or Tails, collects experimental pieces and short stories from the past few years. Among them is the marvelous "The Thing About Madeline," from The Best American Comics 2008, in which the titular character becomes her own doppelganger, rustling along in the bushes beside the path of her life. In comics, of course, characters take shape through images repeated from panel to panel, and Carré uses the format to highlight the theme of doubling, as Madeline slips across the gutters and out of her self. Reading this, it's easy to forget there was ever a time comics were viewed as separate from art. Noah Berlatsky

Fran Lebowitz

For the past few months Fran Lebowitz has been touring the country with fellow journalist Frank Rich to present "A State of the Union Conversation," but at Harris Theater she'll be appearing without him (Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey will moderate). No matter—if anyone can have a conversation single-handedly, it's probably Lebowitz, who seems to have opinions about everything and is always saying how little she cares about what others think. "I'm not a contrarian, I just know I'm right," she told BlackBook magazine in 2010. Lebowitz is famous for hating everything and everyone, and wrote in her 1981 collection of essays, "I myself find many—even most—things objectionable. Being offended is the natural consequence of leaving one's home. I do not like aftershave lotion, adults who roller-skate, children who speak French, or anyone who is unduly tan." If she's half as cranky in person as she is on paper—and it seems likely—Lebowitz should inspire enough anger and delight for a good evening's entertainment. Julia Thiel Tue 10/2, 7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, harristheaterchicago.org, $40-$55.

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