Sunday, November 14, 2010

Great Houses and Other Buildings of High Quality

I love our events series. And okay, yes, I am biased. But if I could just take each of you by the hand and pull you in for an hour, I think you'd be sold.

This past Friday, we had the National Book Award Finalist Nicole Krauss (and about 170 of her devoted fans) come into the store, and it made for a wonderful evening. If you were there, thank you for coming. If you weren't, I'm sorry you missed it.

But I'd still like to give you a little glimpse. So, because it's what I've already got written down, here's my introduction with a little bit about the reading as well:

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming out to support your local independent. My name is Evan Perriello, and I'm the Events Director here at the Booksmith.

Before we get started, we will have sales and signings upstairs, and I hope you will check out our wonderful upcoming events. Tomorrow we're hosting an afternoon tea with local YA author Mitali Perkins. On Monday, Brookline-born Isreali journalist David Hazony will be here for his new book on the Ten Commandments. And on Tuesday, we've got Matt Taibbi for his new expose of the Grifter class.

We're also selling tickets for January events with Kim Edwards and Karen Armstrong, and on Tuesday we’ll start selling tickets for an event with comedian Patton Oswalt.

You can follow our events through our weekly email, facebook, and twitter.

Tonight I am proud, thrilled, and more than a little nervous to be introducing one of the most exciting writers working today, Nicole Krauss. Krauss is the author of two previous novels, including the best- selling, Orange-prize shortlisted History of Love.

She’s here tonight on the last stop of her tour to talk about her newest novel: Great House—a series of narratives linked by a large desk with many drawers that passes between owners and between continents. It is a haunting look at the many ways we face inexplicable loss and longing, the ways we try to reclaim order. And as you’ve probably heard from everyone you know, it’s an astonishing, wonderful read that hits like a beautiful sucker punch—robbing you of air and making you feel more deeply the beat of your heart. Not to mention that, in five days time, it may be the winner of the 2010 National Book Award. We’re cheering you on, by the way.

But for right now, I hope you’ll join me in giving a giant Brookline welcome to Nicole Krauss."

One reason I love these events so much is because you get to see what normal people even the most extraordinary writers are. And while Nicole Krauss was not superhuman, she was kind, thoughtful, and seemed pleasantly surprised by her own success. A bit self-deprecating, a bit of a nerd (she spoke about reading her son, 4 1/2 years old, the Odyssey and how he compared himself to a Greek god after helping out with housework). She took her time with each person in the signing line, and she obviously loved being able to talk with people who have connected with her work. In many of the books she signed, she also wrote "Thank you."

In speaking about her work, she was considered, but also wary of over-explanation--not, I think, because she wanted to withhold her process, but because there's a point at which it becomes inexplicable: the connections that show themselves without conscious crafting. She spoke of creating distinct narratives that interacted through their proximity, rooms that taken together make up the Great House. She starts with voices and follows them where they'll lead.

One person asked her if she read while she wrote, and what she read, and she said she'd sooner give up writing than reading, that she was a reader first and foremost.

The book she chose--we offer our visiting readers a book--was the newly published letters of Saul Bellow. But when I brought it up to her, she said, "Oh, no, it's so big. I'll choose a smaller one," and she motioned to the paperback tables. When I told her it was really okay, she was hesitant, but grateful. "You're really sure?"

And with that, a writer who is in the running for one of the most prestigious awards in the country went back to normal life--to visit with family, to read, to write, to the majority of her days that are spent not in front of full-packed crowds, but in front of her children and in front of a desk (large with many drawers? Who can say?).

Not superhuman, but certainly extraordinary.

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