Sunday, March 22, 2009

Southwest Florida Reading Festival - 10 years!

Wow! Where to begin? At the risk of being negative I have to say that I had an uncomfortable feeling at the Friday "Evening with the Authors" event. Unlike previous years, the party seemed extremely formal and I didn't sense that the authors were blending very well. The noise level in the room was unusally low, some magical chemistry appeared to be missing and I worried that perhaps we had orchestrated the fun out of the event. The $45 a head ticket eliminated many of the staff members and general public who used to show up, autograph books in hand, eager to mingle and chit chat with their favorite writers.

I was glad to hear on Saturday that, in fact, later Friday night while relaxing around the rooftop pool at the new Hotel Indigo, 10 or 12 writers gathered around a table for four commiserating about the publishing industry in general, agents and publicists specifically. Whew!

By the way, huge recommendation for breakfast at the Indigo. Maryellen and I walked all around downtown Ft. Myers looking for a place to get some protein before the big day and that was almost a mission impossible until we came upon the bar at the Hotel Indigo. Fortified with great coffee, bacon and egg quesadillas and peaceful ambiance we felt ready to face the crowds. We had no idea!

I haven't heard official results yet but have to guess, with 10 years' experience under my belt, that attendance blew away all records. I'm blaming the economy. Where else could a family spend an entire day playing and learning on the banks of the river on a gloriously sunny day for the price of a hot dog or an ice cream cone? I've never seen so many parents and kids together in one place, except maybe Disney. My heart was overflowing with pleasure at seeing these "tweens" in rapt attention as even the adult authors, Bob Macomber in particular, ( passed around precious artifacts from his trips through Vietnam and Cambodia. Sure, the kids may have been there to get a good seat for the next presentation but they actually listened and learned. It was amazing!

I want to give a special shout out to our "local" authors who more than held their own against the big names, gave great presentations and garnered much praise and surely some new readers. Ad Hudler and Annie Vanderbilt made a great team. Ms. Vanderbilt may have been the least known to readers but her personal story is an amazing one of resilience and perseverence. I may be a reviewer but I'm still guilty of judging a book by its cover and hers is a must have. How can you not want to read a book titled The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti? Check out her great web site at

Ad Hudler, infamous "househusband" and library supporter extraordinaire, was his usual laid back, low key self. He is so unassuming about his growing reputation as an author, so easy to talk to and so agreeable to anything the library staff asks him to do. Speak to the Friends group? Great. Squire a bunch of authors stuck at the Hilton without cars around Sanibel/Captiva? Why not? Hudler has a talent for being laugh-out-loud funny while, at the same time, hitting on basic truths about life and relationships with a sensitivity seldom found in male writers. Ouch, even as I write that I realize that it sounds sexist, yet it's true that his insights about women endear him to readers. Learn more about Ad Hudler at

So much more to say about the reading festival but I know there's a rule to blogging and going on and on is a no-no! If you missed it because you were working I'm so sorry. If you missed it for no good reason? Your bad. There'll be pictures all over Facebook in the next few days as my colleagues all begin posting to their pages. I hate to say it but I may have to succumb.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

About the Hedgehog

As I was finishing up this lovely, thought provoking book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I decided to think about it the way I would if it had been a book club choice. One of the first things that struck me was the enthralling and curious title. What is it about a hedgehog that fits with this book about two women who ostensibly share nothing in common and the man who saw them as no one else did and brought them together?

Madame Michel, middle-aged widow, concierge for the well-heeled denizens at 7 Rue de Grenelle, prefers to keep a low profile, trusts few but her cat Leo (named after Tolstoy) and her best friend Manuela, a housekeeper in the same building. Paloma, 12 years old, younger daughter to a couple of social climbers who despair of their strange little bookworm of a jeune fille as much as she despairs of them, also prefers to hide out with her journal and her thoughts. Two delightfully prickly characters, much like the maligned hedgehog, allow the reader access to their inner-most thoughts through alternating chapters delineated by typeface. In this way we discover the depth of Rene's and Paloma's ruminations on everything from music to literature and film, from politics to social ills, from religion to agnosticism and even to death. Yes, little Paloma has convinced herself that suicide is the only sensible alternative to life with her family.

Enter Mr. Kakuro Ozu, catalyst, visionary, intellectual, savior. Reading the ideas of these fictional characters feels like sitting in a philosophy class. One is forced to think, question perceptions, argue and agree, without ever feeling put upon. This is not work! Curious about the French author Muriel Barbery, I looked her up online - yup, don't hate me, Wikipedia - and sure enough, Ms. Barbery is a professor of Philosphy. Kudos to translater Alison Anderson for what must be a superb job as the language is transporting. This novel won all kinds of awards in France in '07 but is just now getting some good bounce in the states. Two thumbs up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lest you think I haven't been reading........

I have been reading, honest.'s so hard to work all day, get some semblance of exercise - not that it seems to work anymore - keep up with the news (2 papers on the weekend is too much!) - AND have a life. It's the newspapers that are killing me. So much bad news that it's unbearable. So many lies, inuendo, scams, short-sighted, nasty letters to the editor, that I just want to stay in bed some days and play Scarlett O'Hara.

To fend off the depression that's always so close at hand I've turned to some old favorites. Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict is in my car's cd slot and moves along at a great clip. I never read The Lincoln Lawyer so I hadn't gotten to meet Micky Haller, the pain killer addicted lawyer who lives out of his Continentals - get it? - and has gotten his act together for the love of his daughter. Now, he's sharing top billing with Harry Bosch, a wonderful literary character with whom Mick will end up, I'm sure, finding more in common than not. At this point in the legal thriller, Bosch and Haller have yet to figure out how much they have in common but they're both in pursuit of a killer. Someone has done in attorney Jerry Vincent just a few days before he's about to try the biggest case of his career. Based on a long ago friendship, Vincent has bequeathed his entire law practice and all the pending cases to down -on -his-luck Micky Haller.
And the plot thickens. I just LOVE legal thrillers and Connelly knows all the ins and outs of the procedures. Just the psychology of jury selection is enough to keep a listener running errands up and down Route 41 all night!

Another old standby who never fails me is Minette Walters. I used to recommend her all the time to customers in the mood for a psychological thriller and regret that I've rather put her on the back burner. The one I'm walking to right now is called The Chameleon. Once a reader knows Walters, he or she is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I try to outsmart her but the walking can often be a distraction as I try to avoid the macho pickup truck drivers who get a kick out of coming just a tad too close, too fast. They invariably sport a rebel flag or an NRA sticker and I get depressed all over again.

This particular novel has it all. An Iraq War veteran, horribly disfigured and emotionally scarred, is the hero or anti-hero as the case may be. There is an underlying insinuation that his relationship with his parents, especially his mother, may have had some sinister - sexual? - overtones with the potential for abuse. Is this man in turmoil because of the war or because of what happened before? There is a series of brutal beatings and murders of closeted gay men and there's a heroine - at least I hope she is - who's a dyke and a physician. Fabulous characters abound in this "who dun it" that I'm three quarters of the way through and can't for the life of me figure it out. I know one thing though, Minette Walters will surprise me, so the most outrageous conclusion may, in fact, be the right one.

Thursday I have my last book discussion of the "season." This gets me down as well since, where I work, book discussions are considered a big time waster - NOT - and are not encouraged. Where I used to host 7 ot 8 a season, I and my friend Andrea are now down to three each. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears is the title I chose based on the sheer beauty of that title and the fact that Nancy Pearl's hometown made this their One Book, One Community Reads book. Written by an Ethiopian emigrant, Denaw Mengestu, this book is placed at Logan Circle in the District of Columbia, an area that Maryellen and I traipsed through often on our first sojourn in DC for the Book Expo several years ago. Homeless people fill every bench and sleep under the trees in these gorgeous parks of DC in clear view of the nation's capitol. One must ask, "what's wrong with this picture?"

The novel is written in such a lovely, understated use of the language that my heart breaks at the ability of such a young man - Mengestu - to put his thoughts to paper in this way when English is not even his first language. How inadequate I feel! I hope that my reading group will feel as I do for the language even if they can't relate to the story. They seldom let me down. I'll keep you posted on how it goes. No more for tonight as I'm anxious to get to bed and dig into the book I started last night, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
I'm also totally stressed out from the writing of the review I did today for my latest gift from Library Journal, a first novel by Ali Sethi, a journalist whose work in The Nation, The Guardian, The New York Times and others had me totally enthralled. His novel? Not so much.

Hey, I've never said this before but please, pass along the link to my blog to anyone you think would be interested. Don gave me some lovely business cards for Christmas and we're hoping that I can get the blog out there in the world. Who knows, maybe I can parlay this writing gig into a post-retirement income. The way things look now, that may be a long way into the future!