James McBride, DEACON KING KONG and the Art of Cool

Great news! On March 25, James McBride makes a triumphant return to Houston to read from his latest novel, DEACON KING KONG. As a bookseller but mostly as a fan, I feel it is my duty to inform everyone exactly how amazing this is. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing McBride read before, this is not an event you want to miss. Already the author of modern classics like THE COLOR OF WATER and THE GOOD LORD BIRD, he’s a consummate storyteller and undoubtedly one of America’s greatest living writers. And DEACON KING KONG has all the makings of one of the best novels of the 2020. So, consider this a public service announcement.

To put it plainly, James McBride is a multi-talented, porkpie hat wearing national treasure. Take for instance the first time I got to meet him back in 2013. It was the year of his National Book Award-winning novel, THE GOOD LORD BIRD--the comic satire recounting John Brown’s ill-fated crusade to end slavery as seen through the eyes of a fugitive slave boy passing for a girl the entire time. After a highly successful appearance at Houston’s Inprint, McBride returned to Brazos for another event. This time with his band in tow. And that’s how I came to introduce The Good Lord Bird Band for a reading punctuated by McBride wailing on tenor sax and directing the other players with James Brown-esque cues. In short, it was one damn cool show. And one of the highlights of my bookselling career. But that’s James McBride. Just cool. He’s an actual Renaissance man. An author who works in several genres, a songwriter, a musician, an educator. But despite that immense talent, he remains a humble and gracious presence who responds to praise for his latest work--DEACON KING KONG--with an offhand, “Well, y’know. Another day, another dollar.” See what I mean? Just cool.

Now while I cannot guarantee he brings the band back this time, I can assure you that DEACON KING KONG is anything but simply another novel. Here’s the elevator pitch: Taking place in a Brooklyn housing project during the 1960s, a drunken elderly fool shoots the most dangerous drug dealer in the neighborhood, sparking a quixotic misadventure involving the mob, the church, undercover cops, and a secret recipe for extra strong moonshine. In other words, it’s quintessential McBride. DEACON KING KONG has all the hallmarks that make his writing great--an unassuming comic sensibility, a brilliant ear for dialogue, a profound skill for characterization, all in the service of a story that cuts to the quick of the complex American experience. When I read it, I found myself laughing out loud at something on practically every page. But I also bore witness to the machinations of poverty, racism, crime, and corruption that have afflicted the lives of good people throughout the history of our country. It’s this merger of the comedic and the historic, bathed in the pathos of a damn good story that makes any work by James McBride something to celebrate.

So, to that end, I would like to cordially invite all y’all to our event for DEACON KING KONG on March 25 with the one and only James McBride. To meet demand, the event will be held off site at Christ Church Cathedral. Tickets are limited and come with a copy of the book. So I wouldn’t wait too long if I were you. It’s going to be a very cool night, and we hope that you’ll join us. Because it’d be a lot cooler if you did.         

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