Heather McCalden / The Observable Universe

The Booksmith

1727 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

From $0.00

Mon, May 6th, 2024 @ 7:00PM PDT

Booksmith is thrilled to host Heather McCalden for her debut, The Observable Universe: An Investigation. More information to be announced soon, but please save the date and join us!

About the book

Is anyone ever truly lost in the internet age? A moving, original memoir of a young woman reckoning with her parents’ absence, the virus that took them, and what it means to search for meaning in a hyperconnected world. 

“Brilliantly innovative . . . syncing a narrative of profoundly personal emotion with the invention and evolution of today’s cyberspace.” – William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and The Peripheral 

In the early 1990s, Heather McCalden lost both her parents to AIDS. She was seven when her father died, ten when she lost her mother. Raised by her grandmother, Nivia, she grew up in Los Angeles, also known as ground zero for the virus and its destruction. 

Years later, she begins researching online the history of HIV as a way to deal with her loss, which leads her to the unexpected realization that the AIDS crisis and the internet developed on parallel timelines. By accumulating whatever fragments she could about both phenomena—images, anecdotes, and scientific entries—alongside her own personal history, McCalden forms a synaptic journey of what happened to her family, one that leads to an equally unexpected discovery about who her parents might have been. 

Entwining this personal search with a wider cultural narrative of what the virus and virality mean in our times—interrogating what it means to “go viral” in an era of explosive biochemical and virtual contagion—The Observable Universe is at once a history of our viral culture and a prismatic account of grief in the internet age.

Advance praise for The Observable Universe

“A dazzling, kaleidoscopic work of art that pulls scientific inquiry, memoir, and uncanny metaphor into a weave powerful enough to transform grief—Heather McCalden’s and your own . . . a book that is very much a survival guide for this era . . . takes your breath away.” – Brit Marling, award-winning actress, co-creator of Netflix’s The OA and FX’s A Murder at the End of the World

The Observable Universe exquisitely undoes our concepts of illness, attachment, and entanglement. Strands of obsession, contagion, and radical inquiry braid together into lyrical meaning without ever settling into moralistic conclusions or assessments. This book is explosive and profound, unusual and timeless.” – Cyrus Dunham, author of A Year Without a Name

“A masterful debut—a work of confident craft, razor wire wit, and unflinching courage . . . The Observable Universe is a mixtape, a photo album, an archive of what’s lost and what’s left, and the fragmented work of sifting through it all for a story we can live with.” – Jordan Kisner

“How is it possible to fit the whole universe in a book? Heather McCalden has miraculously combined far-flung ideas and stories to show the interconnectedness of all things. Bodies and technologies, selves and societies, histories and futures, memories and speculations—McCalden reaches far and wide, and brings it all home.” – Elvia Wilk, author of Death by Landscape

About the author

Heather McCalden is a multidisciplinary artist working with text, image, and movement. She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and has been awarded residencies by the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and Mahler & LeWitt Studios. The Observable Universe, winner of the Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize, is her first book. She lives in New York City. Author photo by Mira Loew.

Please note:

  • Masks will not be required for this event, but we are limiting capacity somewhat. For that reason, we can't guarantee we'll have space for walk-ins. The best way to ensure you’ll get a seat is to order the Book + Seat ticket; you can also RSVP for a free seat right here while they last.
  • We are happy to offer *signed copies* of The Observable Universe: order a Book + Seat ticket bundle if you'd like to pick up a signed copy at the event, or order here if you just want a signed copy and no admission.
  • Safety protocols are subject to change. If we feel it is not safe to gather, as the event gets closer, we will pivot to a virtual event and your registration will remain valid.
  • Questions? Write [email protected].


Refund Policy:

No refunds or returns.

Cancellation Policy:

In the event of cancellation, you will be refunded the price of your ticket within 4 business days.

The Booksmith
1727 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117