Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-winning Amsterdam is a tale of a friendship based on an unusual pact. When two old friends meet at the funeral of a mutual lover who spent the end of her life as an invalid, they each agree to help the other die should either reach a similar fate. The two men generate as much anger as sympathy, and this entertaining paradox is just one of the novel's many bright spots. Full of McEwan's bitter wit, Amsterdam is a quick but by no means easy read; in fact, strange plot turns will leave you feeling uneasy long after the last chapter. McEwan will read from his newest novel at 7 p.m. at Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet, (713)523-0701. Free. (Jennifer Mathieu)
Mardi Gras is upon us, and you haven't booked a room in New Orleans. Luckily, you're less than an hour away from another Gulf town that's celebrated theweeks before Lent with grand Bacchanalian flair since the mid-19th century. And you're still in time to get $10 tickets to the gated Strand Entertainment District from Ticketmaster (they're $15 if you wait till tomorrow or until you get on the Island). In keeping with this year's "Vegas on the Gulf" theme, Mardi Gras! Galveston kicks off tonight with a special 8:45 p.m. appearance by the Flying Elvi. The Elvi won't actually jump out of a plane until tomorrow at noon, before a 5:15 p.m. performance by R&B great Blood, Sweat and Tears. The second weekend of Mardi Gras (February 12 and 13) will feature performances by .38 Special, Cheap Trick and Las Vegas-style impersonators. The Strand Entertainment District is between 25th and 21st streets on Strand and Mechanic. Parades and processions take place throughout both weekends here and on Seawall Blvd. Call (888)GAL-ISLE or go to www.galvestontourism.com for more information.
What's made poetry sexy again for the first time since the '60s? Slams. This is not the kind of poetry printed in books or read by bongo-drumming bohemians in coffee houses. This is punk-rock poetry -- frenetic, noisy, raw, in-your-face poetry. Emmy award-winning director Paul Devlin's documentary, SlamNation, follows the best performers to the biggest contest in the country: the four-day-long National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon. The Houston premiere of SlamNation screens at the Museum of Fine Arts' Brown Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Also, Friday, February 5, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, February 7, at 7 p.m. 1001 Bissonnet. For more information, call (713)639-7531. $5; $4, students and seniors.
Any group that would drag an 800-pound, five-foot-wide drum (carved from a single tree, mind you) all the way from their village on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan is worth your 12 bucks to see. The majestic o-daiko drum is played by two men with baseball bat-type sticks -- one playing a fixed rhythm and the other improvising. When the two reach unison, they are said to be "wrapped within the embrace of the o-daiko." The Kodo Drummers also dance, mime and play other traditional instruments such as the bamboo xylophone, the gong and the shamisen in their shows. 5 p.m. Also, Saturday, February 6, at 8 p.m. Presented by the Society for the Performing Arts at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. Call (713)227-ARTS for tickets, $12-$45.
In the vein of toddler television shows-turned-touring productions such as "Sesame Street Live!" and "Barney -- Live!" comes "The Big Comfy Couch -- Live in Concert!" Loopy Loonette, "a young clown learning about the world," will hang out with her mute, miming doll-friend Molly, Granny Garbanzo, Major Bedhead and a couple of "dustbunnies" at the Aerial Theater when her 12-foot-long overstuffed sofa rolls into town. 6:30 p.m. Also, Tuesday, February 9, 6:30 p.m. 520 Texas Avenue. Call Ticketmaster at (713)629-3700 or the Aerial Theater box office at (713)230-1600 for tickets, $20 and $26.
The Museum of Fine Arts has been lending cameras, film, darkroom time and a little professional expertise to students of inner-city schools, residents of public housing, senior adults and people with HIV/AIDS. The Glassell School of Art's "Positive/Negative: Photographs by ArtAccess Students" features some 60 black-and-whites by students from Austin, Bellaire, Furr, Jones, Lamar and Milby high schools as well as Positive Art Workshop participants, who focused their cameras on the daily aspects of living with disease. The "Positive/Negative" opening reception is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the show continues through February 21. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose. Call (713)639-7500 for more information. Free.