James McBride

Image: Sarah Leen

Robert Boswell & James McBride
Aug 26 at 7:30
$5
Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby St
inprinthouston.org

Every time I walk into one of the events for Inprint’s Margarett Root Brown Reading Series, I get the feeling that I’ve stumbled onto something kind of startling, and fun, and maybe slightly quirky. That’s in part because this top-list author series has developed its own endearing rituals. First, the tickets are—get ready—five dollars. Then there’s director Rich Levy’s signature ties, and his standard request to set cell phones on “stun.” And no matter how big the audience, the reading usually has a great, relaxed style, as if the author is reading to you in his or her living room. 

Best is the magic of hearing the book in its original, truest voice, which always seems to answer questions I didn’t know to ask, like a paradigm shift after which everything makes more sense. Not to mention the delight at finding myself sitting in a field of people all there because they love good books.

This year’s series features an  international lineup that everyone is reading, among them Jhumpa Lahiri, James McBride, Colum McCann, Elizabeth Strout, Daniel Alarcon, Khaled Hosseini, Mohsin Hamid, and the inimitable Anne Carson. The list of prizes earned is long—Pulitzers, Man Bookers, National Book Awards, and three MacArthur “genius” grants. Hamid, Hosseini and McBride have had books made into movies, McBride’s by Spike Lee. 

Inprint has built the Margarett Root Brown series into a stellar event with a national reputation, so you’d expect a well-dressed, middle-aged crowd, but I look again and find generous, amiable diversity, young and old, Coach purses sitting next to backpacks. Questions from the audience are laced with good humor, followed by a patient line to meet the author and get your book autographed.

Reading this year’s books you will inhabit love split by 9/11 in Lagos, London, and New York, or an in-patient rehab society, or an immigrant family in small-town Maine. You will travel Peru with an itinerant acting troupe, or teeming streets in Lahore, or skim multiple lives connecting the U.S. and Ireland over three centuries. The stories are tender, startling, penetrating, funny—sometimes darkly so, and absurdly real. 

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