Notes from a faithful reader

Robert Olen Butler, who won the fiction Pulitzer for A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain in 1993, is here in support of his new short story collection, Intercourse (Chronicle, $22). About 15 years ago, Butler wrote the erotic classic (to me), They Whisper. This time, he gives us story with this unifying theme: what people think about during sex. Lots of odd couples show up to set the house to rockin' -- Bonnie and Clyde, Napoleon and Josephine and Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln.

So many authors, so little time. If you can break away from college football on Saturday, a couple acres of writing talent awaits.

[image-1]HELLO GORGEOUS: Another author at the Festival of Reading this year is John Capouya, a recent transplant to the area. He teaches at the University of Tampa and used to work at the New York Times, Newsday and Newsweek. His new book, Gorgeous George (Harper, $25.95) has been drawing rave reviews.

It's the story of George Wagner, who was a run-of-the-mill wrestler until he decided that people love to hate. He transformed himself into the preening prick that people came to the wrestling ring to jeer. Capouya makes the case that Gorgeous George invented the anti-hero and that Muhammad Ali, James Brown and Bob Dylan all modeled parts of their performing selves on him.

Capouya isn't old enough to have seen George up close and personal, but he'd heard about him all of his life and finally fell into the web of his fascinating story. Maybe you never heard of Gorgeous George, but he did play a large part in the development of American popular culture.

The George book was a change of pace from Capouya's earlier work, Real Men Do Yoga.

THE VERDICT IS IN: The new novel by Tampa's Michael Connelly is a huge hit. The Brass Verdict (Little, Brown, $26.99) also drew a strong review from Janet Maslin of the New York Times. Connelly is doing his cross-country book tour now and will even spend some time promoting the book in Australia until he comes back home. On Nov. 19, he will appear at The Studio @ 620, with St. Pete Times book editor Colette Bancroft. The event, which starts at 7 that evening, costs $30.

Our profile of Connelly was the first Palm Reader column in last week's issue of Creative Loafing.

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist.

FESTIVAL O’ READING: This weekend is the literary equivalent of a weenie roast for book lovers.

The 16th Annual St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading brings 50 authors to town for talks, signings and – we assume – mucho book sales.

The schedule spreads 10 authors at a time through several venues on the Poynter Institute and University of South Florida campuses. This could be frustrating, so plan accordingly. If you want to see Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, and your beloved wants to see Orchid Thief author Susan Orlean, then you might come to blows because they are booked at the same time. When in doubt, we suggest therapy.

It’s a great lineup, and here are some of the people we’re looking forward to seeing:

Rick Bragg is here to talk about his latest book, The Prince of Frogtown (Knopf, $24). After writing about his mother (All Over but the Shoutin’) and the grandfather he never knew (Ava’s Man), Bragg turns his attention to his father, who abandoned his wife and three young sons. It's another heart-wrenching masterpiece and Bragg, a natural storyteller, is almost as much fun to listen to as to read. Arrive early for good seating. Before he won a Pulitzer for the New York Times "for his elegantly written stories of contemporary America," Bragg was a St. Petersburg Times reporter.

Sandra Tsing Loh is like Erma Bombeck on speed. Her book Mother on Fire (Crown, $23) has the subtitle "A True Motherf%#[email protected] Story About Parenting." Writing humor is a serious business, and Loh is hilarious, taking aim at over-protective yuppie moms, the cult of the "gifted" child and the intricacies of the modern marriage. We might want to go to her session just to see the woman behind the wild persona...

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