Chris Abani & Elias Khoury giveaway

Next Monday, February 4, the 92nd Street Y hosts an event featuring Chris Abani and Elias Khoury, both of whose latest books focus on the horrors of war as experienced by children.

I’m giving away five pairs of tickets to the event. To enter, email me at maudnewton [at] gmail [dot] com by noon (Eastern Time) on February 1, with “Abani-Khoury giveaway” in the subject line. All entries will be assigned numbers based on the order received, and a randomizer will choose the winners.

Earlier this month, Laila Lalami reviewed Khoury’s Yalo for the LA Times. The novel, she says, “is composed of confessions — whether forced or voluntary, true or laced with self-aggrandizement, redemptive for the confessor or entirely useless.” It “establishes Khoury as the sort of novelist whose name is inseparable from a city. Los Angeles has Joan Didion and Raymond Chandler, and Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk. The beautiful, resilient city of Beirut belongs to Khoury.”

Abani’s Song for Night has garnered widespread praise. “Not since Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird or Agota Kristof’s Notebook Trilogy has there been such a harrowing novel about what it’s like to be a young person in a war,” Rebecca Brown has said. And in the New York Times Book Review, Maud Casey admires the lyric joy of Song for Night, and says the “density and swiftness of the [novella] form suit Abani’s story.”

R.I.P. Marianne Kjos

Marianne Kjos, my beloved high school creative writing teacher, died last Friday after a protracted bout with ovarian cancer. My friend Carrie, another former student, passed on the sad news Tuesday afternoon.

I could rave about Mrs. Kjos as an inspirational figure, about all the things she did that good writing teachers do. She introduced us to Joan Didion. She got us arguing about books. She praised my fiction when I worked on it and criticized it when I slapped something together, and she refrained from calling the police when I wrote a rousing piece about burning down the school.

But more than that, she somehow sensed that things were bad for me — as they say — at home. Mrs. Kjos never pried, never pressed, but, unlike my friends and my boyfriend and my other teachers, she saw through my reserve. She conveyed to me in the least intrusive way possible that she would listen if I wanted to talk. I didn’t want to talk, though, and she accepted that.

[The rest of this post has been redacted.]

Scott Korb, Catholic atheist, on his faith

As a devout agnostic who’s as turned off by the proselytizing atheism of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, et al. as by my mother’s blaming and weirdly self-congratulatory brand of Evangelical Christianity (think Jesus Camp), I was interested in much of what Peter Bebergal and Scott Korb had to say last summer at Jewcy in “What the Angry Atheists Get Wrong.”

Below Korb, a self-proclaimed Catholic atheist, talks about his Christian-inflected faith in the things of this world. He and Bebergal are touring in support of their new book, The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God. You can catch them tomorrow night at Madison’s University Pres House at 7:30, and on Thursday night at Chicago’s Fixx Coffee Bar, also at 7:30 p.m.

Near the end of my new book, The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God, coauthored with Peter Bebergal, I do what I thought was only fair (and Peter agreed): I acknowledge that I’m an atheist. (For the record, I’m also the Catholic.) As of this writing, my search has ended there. The book, which for my part details a kind of OCD-ish belief in God, from a longing for the lonely aspects of the priesthood to the sense that my facial tic was God’s way of keeping me on the straight-and-narrow, is the best account I could give of what faith has come to mean to me over the past seven years, more or less the time I’ve known Peter.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that my faith has changed over this time, but those changes — what I call in the book an “ongoing religious conversion”– do not owe everything to Peter and his influence on me (or mine on him). My current atheism, in fact, owes most of its debt to the early death of my stepfather, Paul, — and, to a lesser extent, to the earlier death of my father, Frank — and my sense of what Jesus was teaching with the most famous of his parables, the one about the prodigal son.

That parable is usually taught for what it has to say about compassion and forgiveness, for its message that it’s never too late to repent and its promise of homecoming (typically, all with the Christian emphasis on Heaven). I find that another more telling message — one that underscores my atheism and comforted me when my stepfather died — is often overlooked or underemphasized. When the older brother complains to the father after the prodigal returns, the father reminds him of the value and always-thereness of his real inheritance: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

In some of his last really clear moments, Paul said something similar to me. I write in the book:

“When I’m gone, you have to take care of your mother,” Paul said.

“We know. We will.”

“You have to take care of your mother when I’m gone. She’s already been through this once.”

“Yes, we know. Don’t worry.”

That was the charge of faith, of humility and of selfless compassion. He spoke to all of his children as the faithful adults we were. Seemingly not concerned with his own salvation, nor fearful of death, not presuming a thing about God in the afterlife, Paul knew only his obligation to my mother, to his faith in the things of this world. He acted out that faith in awarding us our inheritance.


My faith is entirely about the things of this world. I don’t believe in God, at least not in any sense I would have recognized as a child, or in a sense that most people can identify as even Christian anymore. And I certainly don’t believe in Heaven. So, again, it seems only fair to call myself an atheist. But still, I go to church every week, I celebrate holidays as a Catholic, and most important, I use Christian mythology to shape my ethics. Continue reading…

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled and posted by Lauren Cerand, that usually appears Mondays at 12:30pm and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please send details to Ms. Cerand at lauren [at] by the Thursday prior to publication. Due to the volume of submissions, events cannot be considered unless the date appears in the subject line of your message.

MON Jan 28: “Jeffrey Marsh continues to blur gender-identity lines using dignity and patience with the help of his musical partner Rick Sorkin. Their two man show, described as ‘Late night talk show meets Sonny & Cher meets Kurt Weill,’ blends traditional 20th century French and German cabaret, musical theater selections, pop music deconstruction, comedy, and audience interaction.” Tonight’s show features special guest Clay McLeod Chapman, the most mysteriously underrated writer-performer in New York. At La Mama Experimental Theatre Club. 8PM, $15. Also, Brooklyn Writers Space Reading Series presents Paula Bernstein, Elyse Schein, Edmund Lee and Dominic Preziosi, downstairs at Union Hall. 7PM, FREE. Noted, with fascination: Bernstein and Schein recently co-wrote Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

TUE Jan 29: Romania is enjoying a much-deserved cultural moment. Riding the crest of Times’ critic A.O. Scott’s magazine-length feature, “New Wave on the Black Sea,” is Christian Mingiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, playing this week at IFC Center.

WED Jan 30: Debut author Toby Barlow reads from Sharp Teeth, which charts the necessarily chaotic events that unfold when “an ancient race of lycanthropes has survived to the present day,” at 192 Books. 7PM, FREE.

THU Jan 31:Les Figues Press and editors Christine Wertheim & Matias Viegener, to celebrate The noulipian Analects, an alphabetical survey of constrained writing by some of today’s most innovative writers. Hosted by: Robert Fitterman With readings by contributors: Christian Bök, Vanessa Place, Brian Kim Stefans, Rodrigo Toscano, Matias Viegener, and Christine Wertheim.” Says the press, “We do not see ourselves as gatekeeper, but gate, providing a portal for literature that is difficult, demanding or otherwise unacceptable to an increasingly risk-averse publishing industry—literature whose existence is vital for a thriving culture.” Smash your preconceptions at the The Merc. 7PM, FREE.

FRI Feb 1: At Bluestockings, “Join contributors to WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, as they share selections from the new issue, Activisms, exploring ‘how women (and men) struggle individually and collectively for social justice and gender equity, particularly in the global south. This issue includes photo-essays about U.S. and South African performance art, an interview with renowned human rights activist Charlotte Bunch, and a discussion forum on eighteenth-century British feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft. Articles, fiction, and poetry examine how art, humor, protests, detective novels, and trans­national networks promote progressive agendas.’ This event is also a celebration of the dynamic, vital and innovative publishing of the Feminist Press.” Highly recommended. 7PM, FREE. And, Paragraph hosts an evening with short story writers Matthew Klam and Nam Le, followed by a reception. 8:30PM, FREE.

SAT Feb 2: The sexy-now-that-it’s-sold-out Association of Writers & Writing Program (AWP) Conference will be open to the public on Saturday. Don’t miss your chance to make out with a poet. (Thanks to Richard for the tip!).

SUN Feb 3: Yesterday I stumbled into Bowne & Co. Stationers, a part of the South Street Seaport Museum but also a fully functioning shop, and it’s a bibliophile’s dream. The printer showed me a limited edition letterpress reproduction made for a Dublin artist of a poster advertising the sale of the contents of Oscar Wilde’s home; I also found the perfect Walt Whitman cards, and some others with all manner of literary quotes (Zelda Fitzgerald on love!), Melville poetry, and an exquisite hand-printed book of Emily Dickinson poems that took my breath away.

Kate Christensen’s cure for the common cold

Day two home from work with a killer cold, and my only consolation is novelist Kate Christensen’s hot toddy. Since she passed it along last fall, the drink has eclipsed spicy tomato soup as the Maud household’s preferred remedy. It proves — as we always knew deep in our hearts — that Bourbon cures everything.

Add boiling water to (in the biggest cup in the house; this is no time to fuck around with anything dainty) the juice of 1 lemon, a big wad of honey, a slug of good whiskey [Ed. Note: I've been using Maker's Mark], and as much cayenne pepper as you can tolerate. If it’s morning, add a tea bag.

For variety, Kate’s second option: Nuke a cup of College Inn chicken broth till it’s good and hot. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over it and add a dash of cayenne. Sip. Toss back a shot of good whiskey (or Bourbon) on the side.

It should be noted that my dearest Lizzie Skurnick heartily disapproves of any cold remedy involving alcohol and mandates a lemon and onion brew instead. Stay well, everyone, and have a good weekend.