June 21, 2007
Markus Zusak and I met in a New York City hotel last month, courtesy of PEN American Center’s World Voices Festival. When he walked into the hotel’s hospitality suite, Zusak — with a slight build, chestnut-brown hair and a boyish smile – certainly looked like the boy-next-door.
He is anything but… An award-winning, Australian author with six books under his belt, and another in the works, Zusak has accomplished all of this at the tender age of thirty-one. His most recent and famous novel, The Book Thief, just hit the #1 spot on the bestsellers’ list in Brazil.
I was in New York City to interview Zusak, by special request…my own. I read The Book Thief last year, and when I saw the line-up of authors at PEN World Voices, I put in my request (read demand) to my colleagues at Wild River Review, saying, “I have to get this one, pleeease…”
I was bowled over by The Book Thief: by the inventiveness of the characters, the poetry, the imagery, and by the originality of Zusak’s voice. The story takes place in Nazi Germany and the narrator is Death – sounds kind of grim so far, doesn’t it?
Well, in Zusak’s powerful, well-crafted, and uplifting story, the elements that stay with the reader are the human ones: the real characters in the family he depicts, their interactions, their ambitions, their warm love for each other, their playfulness, and grand passions – all set in World War II Munich.
To make everyday life shine with warmth and humanity the way Zusak does, in the larger picture of one of the darkest periods in human history, is an enormous feat.
Zusak puts soul into each of the family members in The Book Thief, characters drawn, as he says, from stories of his parents, who grew up in Munich and Vienna at that time.
In the context of the World Voices theme: Home and Away, I asked Zusak what “home” meant to him.
In response he talked about Sydney where he grew up, his family of origin, of his brothers, and now his wife, and almost year-old baby. He said, however, he hasn’t had much time to surf lately, one of his major outdoor loves.
As we sat together in the hotel suite, I was struck by Zusak’s genuineness and his seriousness of purpose. He writes every day for most of the morning and again later in the afternoon. He said about his writing that he strives to have a “gem” on every page – whether it’s an image or an idea – so that if he writes a hundred-page book, there are a hundred good reasons to read it.
I think, however, Zusak’s most endearing quality was his modesty. He described how he is riddled with self-doubt until the book really takes off and he knows it is working. He is afraid at the moment of the new project he’s engaged in, called Bridge of Clay. He describes this feeling as a good thing because it serves to make him stay on task and work harder. “I’m most happy,” he says, “When I’m writing a book that means the world to me.”
When we finished the interview, Zusak and I went down in the elevator together. At the eighth floor, the elevator stopped and Markus hesitated, saying, “I have a date with my editor in fifteen minutes, but I should see you down to the lobby.”
I assured him I could find my way and insisted he get off to go to his room. He did with great reluctance. It was then I realized I had spent an hour of my time with a famous author, youthful boy-next-door, and a true gentleman.
June 5, 2007
Any one of the authors scheduled to speak at Saturday’s 8 am breakfast event at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York would be worth the early morning rally: Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love), Ken Burns (The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns).
But it was the moderator, I – and 1300 other souls attending the annual book industry breakfast event – wanted to hear: Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, and first-time author of: I Am America (and so can you!). This was the one ticket I’d hoped to snag. Don’t tell Stephen, but he’s almost as funny as Sherman Alexie. (Okay, go ahead, tell Stephen. Maybe he’ll challenge Alexie to a ‘funny’ contest.)
The problem was, I’d not signed up in advance. “it’s been sold out for two weeks,” said the first BEA registration clerk. So, I changed lines to ask another and got the same response. I begged my friend Melony (Latitude 33 Book Shop) to sell me her ticket (She had the patience and foresight to search out BEA event schedules in advance.). She wouldn’t budge. When I followed her to the Javits Center Saturday morning in a feeble attempt to ‘crash’ the Colbert party, Melony saw the desperation in my eyes. She handed me a consolation prize, her invitation to a 3 pm panel discussion titled, Social Entrepreneurs: Changing the World.
The audience in room 1C02-04 was staid and focused. Brian Lamb, the founder of C-Span had just taken the podium when I arrived and slid into a front row seat. He introduced a short film clip of Bangladeshi author, Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful work with lending money to people in poverty.
I opened the invitation card to read who else was on the roster. There, seated on the dais from left to right was Teresa Heinz Kerry, philanthropist and co-author with her husband, John, of This Moment on Earth; Wendy Kopp, author and founder of Teach for America; George Soros, philanthropist, author, and chairman of the Open Society Institute; James Wolfensohn, author and former President of the World Bank. This was quite an impressive line-up, people with money, power, and compassion.
Teresa Heinz Kerry
Mr. Yunus, who was unable to attend in person, began by saying that the issue of business profit was, “too narrow; the human being is larger than this.” Lamb then introduced author, journalist and the founder of Public Affairs publishing house, Peter Osnos, who would lead this heady panel in discussion of matters of consequence which affect all economic classes of people in the world. Osnos set the tone of the conversation by stating the opinion of the panel members that when you put people before money, great things can happen.
George Soros talked about how to scale up micro-credit businesses and pointed out that Yunus’s micro-credit projects have now reached macro proportions. And when asked whether protecting the environment is a social or business issue, Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke forcefully, saying “I think it is a health issue and moral imperative. We create the legacy we leave.” She went on to say that today there’s a “new door of opportunity” to turn around the problems of global climate change. “We have a ten year window,” she said, “in which to avoid calamity.”
Osnos added some levity to the discussion by saying that the BEA organizers had done their part for the environment by not using air conditioning at the Javits Center the previous day, when thousands of us melted in the crowded, humid air.
Later, over dinner at Midtown restaurant Molyvos, Melony told me about the breakfast event, how Ken Burns’s new series about World War II brought her to tears, and of Mr. Hosseini’s humorous rebuttal to the fun Colbert has made on his show about The Kite Runner; and how the unshaven Colbert tried to stay in his right-winged character, and sometimes failed.
I was sorry to have missed hearing these remarkable authors in person, but after sharing my comments from the panel discussion I’d just attended, I realized that I’d not missed the hottest event at BEA after all. Besides, I did get to have my photo taken that afternoon with Stephen at the Grand Central Publishing booth – well, at least a facsimile of Stephen.
June 4, 2007
by Joy E. Stocke
For all you Jack Kerouac fans, this fall Viking/Penguin will publish the 50th anniversary edition of On the Road.
No – scrolls of printed tracing paper won’t be piled like so many rolls of paper towels on bookstore tables.
Instead, says Paul Slovak, Vice President-Associate Publisher at Viking, fans of Kerouac will be able to read the unexpurgated On the Road exactly as Kerouac (who took stream of consciousness writing to new heights) wrote it.
On the Road
Slovak also updated us on Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. This fall, Viking will release a paperback collection of her short stories. According to Slovak, Gilbert, who by all accounts is known as a gregarious and generous soul, is planning to get back to her newly purchased New Jersey home – a former Presbyterian church – and sequester herself among the saints in order to write her next book.
The folks at Graywolf press were displaying the hard copy edition of Norwegian author Per Pettersen’s beautiful novel, Out Stealing Horses, published for the first time in the U.S. in April. (My interview with Pettersen appears in PEN World Voices section of this magazine – http://www.wildriverreview.com/worldvoices-perpetterson.php)
At the Henry Holt and Company booth, Tara Kennedy, Assistant Director of Publicity; and Richard Rohrer, Director of Marketing, teasingly introduced us to Danielle Trussoni, author of Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir, (One of the New York Times’s 10 notable books for 2006), saying she was Susan Faludi.
Trussoni’s book, which chronicles her relationship with a father suffering from post tramatic stress disorder after fighting in Vietnam, could be read as a precursor to Faludi, whose lastest book The Terror Dreaam: Fear and Fantasy in post 9/11 America poses the question: Why did our culture respond to an assault against American global dominance with a frenzied summons to restore “traditional” manhood, marriage, and maternity?
Tara Kennedy, Richard Rohrer, Danielle Trussoni
Meanwhile, Angie is off to find Sherman Alexie and it’s time to take off my heels.
June 1, 2007
If anyone thinks that books are becoming obsolete, they haven’t been to the Javits Center in New York City on a sulty June afternoon for BookExpo America, the biggest industry trade show in the United States.
Angie and I have joined an expected 30,000 attendees on three levels in crowded lanes where booksellers have the opportunity to mingle with publishers, authors, press, agents, and magazines like Wild River Review.
At times, the booths are so crowded, we feel as if all 30,000 of us had descended on the show at exactly the same time.
As much as a sales event, BookExpo is also a celebration of the chain of events that must occur to bring an author’s work to the public. BookExpo grew out of the ABA – American Bookseller’s Association – a consortium of independent booksellers.
According to attendee Melony Vance, General Manager of Latitude 33 Bookshop in Laguna Beach, California, “There are 2000 members of ABA, with a hundred new members joining this year. One of the highlights of BookExpo is the celebration of book selling, which is driven on many levels by the independent bookseller who has the knowledge, expertise and opportunity to spread the word about good books through their peers and customers.”
Melony Vance, Lattitude 33 Bookshop, Laguna Beach, CA
On Thursday night, ABA announced its annual Booksense Awards, chosen by the independent booksellers – the Golden Globes of the book industry.
Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, a story of a man who joins the rough and tumble world of a traveling circus in 1930′s America, won the Adult Fiction Award.
“My book would never have taken off,” she said. “If not for word of mouth through independent booksellers.
To emphasize the popularity of the book, she told the audience that she had just finished a marathon book tour of 35 cities, which she called, “The holy Mother of God tour.”
Nora Ephron, riding on the zeitgeist of her latest book, I Hate My Neck (see Age of Reasonable Doubt – Fran Metzman’s recent blog – for a rebuttle of Ephon’s book), took the award for Adult Nonfiction.
Ephon, who unabashedly loves New York City, told a story about her family moving to Los Angeles, California when she was 4 years old. She remembered walking into a beautiful blue sky world, thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?”
She went on to explain how her family had befriended a local inependent bookseller, and how it transformed her life. “The store manager always had the right book for each of my family members,” she said.
When Nora was fourteen, the bookseller suggested that she read a book called Sic, Sic, Sic.
“I was astounded,” said Ephron. “This woman understood who I was and where I needed to be. I eventually moved back to New York and never forgot her, or the power of books.”
Graciously, Ephron thanked booksellers for making I Hate My Neck a bestseller. “It will keep me in turtlenecks for the rest of my life,” she said.
Stay tuned: Does Joy finally succumb to blisters and switch from heels to flats? Does Angie finally meet Sherman Alexie? More to come…
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