A globe-trotting seeker, a Midwestern family saga, new insights on the witches of Salem, an old man recalling his colorful youth and an eerie little town called Night Vale. These are the subjects explored by this season’s Talking Volumes guest authors.
Now in its 15th year, the Talking Volumes book club brings celebrated writers to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul for live events that are rebroadcast on Minnesota Public Radio. Returning authors this season are audience favorites Jonathan Franzen (Sept. 15) and Stacy Schiff (Nov. 10). Bestselling novelists John Irving (Nov. 6) and Jane Smiley (Dec. 2), as well as the cult favorite podcast duo of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (Oct. 25), will be first-time Talking Volumes guests.
Franzen, who won the National Book Award for “The Corrections,” opens the season with “Purity,” his much-anticipated fifth novel, billed as his “edgiest” yet.
Its protagonist, a young woman named Pip Tyler, travels from Oakland to South America to intern with the secret-exposing Sunlight Project, encountering various misadventures and memorable characters along the way in this “wild tale of hidden identities, secret wealth, neurotic fidelity, sociopathy and murder.”
“Welcome to Night Vale” is a twice-monthly sci-fi/hipster podcast recorded in the style of community updates including news, weather, culture and “dark hooded figures with unknowable powers.” Think of it as a desert version of Lake Wobegon meets “The X-Files.” Its writers, Fink and Cranor, will talk about their novel of the same name, based on the series.
Irving has been working on his 14th book, “Avenue of Mysteries,” for more than 20 years. Named for a street in Mexico City, it began as a screenplay that Irving kept adapting before deciding to turn it into a novel. The author of “The Cider House Rules” and “The World According to Garp” recounts the life and memories of an old man named Juan Diego, who travels from his native Mexico to the Philippines, where his past meets his future.
Schiff, a much-honored historian who won a Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Nabokov’s wife, Vera, this time takes on the always fascinating Salem Witch Trials in “The Witches,” plumbing new depths of the mysteries behind these persecuted people.
“Golden Age” is the final installment of fellow Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley’s sprawling trilogy “The Last Hundred Years,” covering multiple generations of the Langdons, an Iowa family. It begins in 1987, with the twin sons of a World War II hero emerging as players in government and finance on the East Coast as another family member is sent to Iraq, leaving the family farm to his environmentally conscious sister. The preceding two volumes in the trilogy are “Some Luck” and “Early Warning.”
Talking Volumes is a partnership of the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio, in collaboration with the Loft Literary Center. Kerri Miller, host of “MPR News with Kerri Miller” on MPR, interviews the authors at the live events, which include performances by invited guest musicians.