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"When we walk," Thoreau wrote, "we naturally go to the fields and woods."
True enough, but so what? Once you've arrived at the literary meadows and forests of the Wisconsin Book Festival, the great Henry David's aphorism is little help finding a path through its thickets of words - and there must be scores of trails from which to choose. Here's one possibility. Maybe it diverges from yours, but it might also intersect. Either way, it promises to be a mighty pleasant and scenic hike.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, Wisconsin Union Theater
Best known for his acclaimed 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Maguire is the author of six other novels for adults and 19 for kids. He is also a critic, essayist, founding member and co-director of the nonprofit Children's Literature New England, and an eminent scholar with a reputation as a captivating lecturer. Matchless, a reimagination of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl, is scheduled for publication this November.
Michelle Wildgen & Novella Carpenter
5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, A Room of One's Own
A compelling undercurrent of unease runs through Wildgen's second novel, But Not for Long. It's set in Madison amid prolonged power outages and other strange incidents, featuring three roommates in a sustainable-foods co-op. The disquiet is heightened by Wildgen's mastery of subtle character dynamics. (Her debut novel, You're Not You, made People magazine's list of 10 best books in 2006 and was a New York Times Editor's Choice.) Carpenter, a former student of Michael Pollan at UC-Berkeley, is an Oakland-based blogger and the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. (For more on Carpenter, see article on page 31; for Q&A's with Wildgen and other authors, see TheDailyPage.com/books.)
7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, Wisconsin Veterans Museum
In The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War, Thompson - a senior editor and blogger at Wired, and frequent talking head on CNN and NBC - mines both principals' archives to parse the complex relationship between Nitze and Kennan. Their friendship endured despite a ferocious ideological antagonism that shaped the nation's diplomatic and nuclear policies throughout the last half of the 20th century.
Get Up/Stand Up
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, Wisconsin Historical Society/Library Mall
The UW's Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives and its vibrant First Wave Spoken Word and Urban Arts Learning Community celebrate First Wave's receipt of a special Wisconsin governor's arts award for innovation and diversity.
Lorrie Moore & Michael Perry / Wisconsin Book Festival Party
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, Orpheum Theatre
UW professor Moore treats us to her long-awaited new novel, A Gate at the Stairs, about a young woman's misadventures in love and adoption in a college town a lot like Madison. Memoirist Perry reads from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting, then joins his band the Long Beds to jumpstart the Wisconsin Book Festival Party, which goes till 11 p.m. No word on whether Moore will sit in.
5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, Overture's Promenade Hall
Big ideas swarm the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Lehrer is a contributing editor at Wired and Scientific American Mind, favors T-shirts under his sport coat, and so far this year has written thought-provoking articles for various national outlets on topics ranging from babies' brains to airline pilots. His most recent book, How We Decide, ponders the emotional, instinctual and neuroscientific factors behind the choices people make.
Catherine Alexis (Lexi) Gee
6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, Madison Children's Museum
Gee is quite an impressive 12-year-old: an avid reader and soccer player and the current Spanish Bee champion at St. James School. She is all the more remarkable because she weighed only one pound, eight ounces at birth and spent her first 112 days in a hospital. Drawing on interviews with her neonatologist 11 years later, Gee is now the author of Preemies Rock!, a book for siblings and parents of preemies in neonatal intensive care.
Making Waves Showcase
7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, Wisconsin Historical Society
If poetry and narrative are the heart and mind of the Wisconsin Book Festival, spoken word is its galvanizing soul. Tonight's showcase, "From Hawai'i to First Wave Through Chitown," packs perennial slam powerhouse Team Hawai'i, Chicago's Marty McConnell and Madison's own First Wave Hip-Hop Theater Ensemble into 90 minutes that promise to overwhelm the Historical Society's climate controls. Stick around after the showcase for more spoken-word pyrotechnics: "Passing the Mic Spoken Word & Hip-Hop Open Mic" ensues from 9 to 11:45 p.m.
Lynda Barry, Paul Buhle, James Danky & Harvey Pekar
Noon Saturday, Oct. 10, Overture's Promenade Hall
Surrender your morning and early afternoon, all who savor words augmented by pictures. At 10 a.m. Buhle, the historian and editor, and Pekar, author of the intensely personal American Splendor, discuss their collaboration on Studs Terkel's Working. It's a graphic adaptation of the Pulitzer laureate's 1974 fanfare for the common wage slave. Buhle returns at noon to Promenade Hall, joined by Danky, a UW journalism professor and co-author of Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix; and Barry, the inestimable cartoonist / novelist / playwright / natural phenomenon, for "A Serious Look at Comics."
Robert Whitaker & Adam Schrager
Noon Saturday, Oct. 10, Overture's Wisconsin Studio
Whitaker's On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation recounts the frenzied killing by both white mobs and federal troops of some 200 African Americans in Arkansas, as well as the massacre's aftermath. Schrager, a Denver broadcast journalist, is the author of The Principled Politician, a biography of former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr. Carr's opposition to Japanese American internment during World War II brought threats of impeachment and may have cost him a presidential bid.
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, Wisconsin Veterans Museum
A professor of international relations and history at Boston U, Bacevich has back-to-back appearances at this year's festival. The author of 2005's The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War and last year's The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, he is a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran and self-described conservative Catholic whose son was killed while serving in Iraq. Here, he first discusses "Sacred Trinity: U.S. National Security Policy During the American Century." Then, at 5:30 p.m. at the Overture Center's Promenade Hall, he addresses "The Enduring Relevance of the Wisconsin School: What William Appleman Williams Got Right and Where He Went Wrong."
Jane Hamilton & David Rhodes
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, Overture's Promenade Hall
"Just because Laura Rider had no children didn't mean her husband was a homosexual," begins Laura Rider's Masterpiece. Quite the opposite, in fact. Hamilton's satirical new novel of marital dysfunction hinges on the relentless heterosexual drive of Rider's husband. Set in small-town Wisconsin, her tale of a love triangle puts the lust back into lustrous prose. Rhodes, author of The Last Fair Deal Going Down and Rock Island Line, returns to the shelves with Driftless, his first new novel since a 1976 motorcycle crash left him paralyzed from the waist down. Set in the unglaciated terrain of southwest Wisconsin, it also marks the return of a principal character from Rock Island Line, and its tone and pace are suggested by its own exquisite opening: "The morning ripened slowly. Ten o'clock felt like noon."
Agate Nesaule, Dwight Allen & Debra Spark
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, A Room of One's Own
A literary feast with a local focus. Spark, a novelist, essayist and Colby College professor, sets her new novel, Good for the Jews, in Madison circa the second Bush administration. Published by the University of Wisconsin Press, Nesaule's recent novel, In Love with Jerzy Kosinski, revisits many of the themes (war, exile, abuse, trauma) addressed in her award-winning memoir, A Woman in Amber. Allen's most recent novel, The Typewriter Satyr, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press, is set in a liberal Wisconsin enclave populated by distinctive characters. "Allen writes about...ordinary life with such pleasing, perceptive assurance," according to The New Yorker, "that it becomes revelatory."
The Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, Overture's Wisconsin Studio
A panel discussion opens this exhibit at the James Watrous Gallery. It features Nancy Ekholm Burkert, a Caldecott medalist for her illustrated edition of Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs; Laura Dronzek and Kevin Henkes, the multiple-award-winning husband-and-wife collaborators on Oh! and this year's Birds; Caldecott honoree Lois Ehlert (Color Zoo, Waiting for Wings); Renee Graef, illustrator of more than 70 children's books, including several in the American Girl series; and David McLimans, yet another Caldecott honoree. Caution: You may leave this program feeling years - nay, decades - younger.
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, Overture Hall
Free, but tickets are required. Advance distribution ended, but a limited number may be available starting at 3 p.m. A bona fide literary lion, Berry puts a big, bold exclamation point on this year's Wisconsin Book Festival by delivering its keynote. Poet, essayist, novelist, Kentucky farmer, environmental advocate and cultural critic, he is himself the subject of several book-length appraisals. His new book, Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food, gathers many of his trademark themes: sustainability, tradition, the inherent value of hard work, the significance of community and the fundamental pleasures of food. Expect to have your thoughts provoked.