Reading is a solitary venture, a quiet moment spent with a book, and between reader and author. But sometimes even the most introverted readers among us want to be sociable, right? And this year Memphis Reads — the Christian Brothers University-led, city-wide reading initiative — has selected Dave Eggers' What Is the What.
What Is the What is the story of Valentino Achak Deng, who, along with thousands of other children known as the Lost Boys, was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of 7 and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, while crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges.
On Wednesday, November 4th, Deng will lead a discussion at Rhodes in Hardie Auditorium at 6 p.m. The following day will bring Eggers, a literary entrepreneur and the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
"By having both Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng here together, readers can have the unique opportunity to meet both the writer of What Is the What and the man upon whom the story is based," says Karen Golightly, associate professor of English for CBU and director of Memphis Reads. "They can hear, firsthand, Deng's life story as a Sudanese Lost Boy, but also Egger's experience in writing that story."
Valentino Achak Deng appears at Hardie Auditorium/Rhodes College on Wednesday, November 4th, 6 p.m.; and Dave Eggers at the Creative Arts Building (2375 Tiger Lane South), Thursday, November 5th, 7 p.m.
And then sometimes a book isn't so quiet. Sometimes it is a rollicking good time. Sometimes reading can rattle the cage and stomp the floor, and no one rattled the cages more than Sam Phillips, the man who gave us "Rocket 88" and Elvis Presley and rock-and-roll itself.
On November 10th, the much-anticipated Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll will be released. Written by honorary Memphian (he hails from Boston), Peter Guralnick, who has penned such laudatory and auditory tomes as Last Train to Memphis, Searching for Robert Johnson, and Sweet Soul Music, among many others, the book looks at the life of the founder of Sun Records. On Wednesday, November 11th, Guralnick will be at the Brooks for a discussion moderated by Memphis author and music historian Robert Gordon.
As he prepares for his umpteenth trip to Memphis, whose music royalty have been the subjects of so many of his books, Guralnick told me by phone that everything he's ever done "has stemmed from personal passion, everything I've ever written about has been written out of belief and out of a desire to tell people." It is a passion that springs forth from the pages of his books.
He first met Sam Phillips in 1979 and says he was "mesmerized, I'd never met a more charismatic figure." Phillips at that time hadn't been interviewed much outside of local newspapers and trade publications, and really had no interest in looking back. "He didn't need to tell about history because history was going to take care of itself," Guralnick says. Knox Phillips, Sam's son, wrote Guralnick a letter, and the two became fast friends, with Knox becoming an advocate for his father to tell his own story to select writers, one of whom was Guralnick.
"This is an epic story, but it's a story which, as Sam said, 'isn't worth anything if it isn't big fun.' He said that about every session he ever had," Guralnick says. "And I wanted to write something on a grand scale that could be epic, tragic, comic, discursive, that could suggest some of the breadth of Sam's ambitions, his aspirations, and the depth of his thinking, too. Because more than anything, I think Sam considered himself a teacher, and it's what he dedicated himself to."
Peter Guralnick discusses Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll
Wednesday, November 11th, 7 p.m. at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.