Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dani Shapiro Looks for Faith, Perhaps Finds it at the JCC on November 1st

Dani Shapiro is a well-known novelist who has written a previous memoir, Slow Motion, that detailed how her rebellious teen years were curtailed by the death of her father. I'd never read her before, but there I was, browsing Brookline Booksmith, looking for something to read. As you know, I have been mostly reading books written by upcoming guest authors, but the good thing about that is that most publishers generally provide at least one advance copy, partly so I can write lovely posts like this one.

But though we are involved, Shapiro is coming for the JCC Book and Culture Fair, so if I wanted to read it (and you'd think I'd borrow things from my store, but I'm rather tough on books, so I don't), I had to buy it, just like you. And I think it's a good idea to do so periodically--by buying books at other stores, I get a better sense of the investment that my customers put into buying from us. So yes, that's another thank you shout out to our customers.

Devotion is about faith and belonging--reaching out through yoga and Buddhism of course, but eventually coming to terms with her own Judaism, in the context of her Orthodox father and Atheist-but-culturally-Jewish mother, both of whom are, by the time of the book's writing, dead.

The story has a meditative quality about it, with sections numbered, and of modest length. Unlike a book of meditations, it would be hard to read this book at random; the story does follow a narrative, despite my once losing my place and jumping ahead 40 pages and not noticing. So I guess you can jump around. But as you may know, I don't like to jump around.

Folks who've read Slow Motion first would probably be more familiar with some of the details of Shapiro's life, the car accident that claimed her father, the difficult relationship with her mother. Other events, like the life-threatening illness of her infant son, and the decision to leave the at-least-somewhat-culturally-Jewish life of Brooklyn for the not-very-Jewish Litchfield, Connecticut area in the wake of 9/11, also contributed to her crisis of faith. I think that for many people, having children really makes you put your money where your mouth is, faithwise. (It was interesting to hear Greg Graffin's take on childrearing as a naturalist, yesterday. The event went very well, by the way, for Anarchy Evolution. It turns out he signed the entire first printing, so like everybody else, we have signed copies.)

Shapiro is a vivid painter of character. I'm not sure how I would have gotten along with her mother, Irene, but boy did I love her Orthodox Aunt Shirley in Brookline. And she's about the same age as my mother. Maybe they've run into each other at the drug store.

I really enjoyed reading Devotion and am hoping to hear more about Shapiro's journey when she comes to Milwaukee for the Jewish Book and Culture Fair on Monday, November 1st, at 7 PM. It's at 6255 North Santa Monica Boulevard, and you can get more info at (414)-964-4444. Advance ticket purchase is not required, but I'm sure it would make someone very happy!

The Fair literally goes the whole month of November--from Shapiro's event on the 1st to Thanassis Cambanis on the 30th. There's a wonderful cookbook writer of Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life and a kids program for Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher.

This is a program that takes pretty much the whole year to put together. Around the time of Book Expo (that convention every bookstore talks about in their blog come May) the Jewish Book Council runs a program where J's (I guess JCC's were too long--most of them now go by one letter, like the Y), get to hear presentations from all the authors who have offered their services, waiving, in most cases, honorariums. Unlike most bookstores, the J's pay for the travel, which is why the events generally cost money. This year, all the events are $5, a very reasonable prize for the quality of this year's program.

As Dorene Paley recently told the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, the J committee got their first eight picks. In addition, we are hosting two preview events. Tomorrow, on October 11th, we're having Joseph Skibell, author of the new novel, A Curable Romantic, as well as the cult classic, A Blessing on the Moon, now in a new edition. Jody Hirsh, the JCC education director, is introducing, and it's a shopping night, so 10% of designated sales goes back to the JCC.

Then of course on October 27th, we're hosting Nicole Krauss for Great House. Holy cow! That event deserves it's own post. Don't worry, it's coming.

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