Friday, March 18, 2011

When a Riverhead Author Wants to Speak About Everyday Life in Palestine, I Don't Question How He Wound Up on Our Doorstep

I'm always excited to host an event that is a little outside of the normal realm of author appearances. Publishers know that a certain kind of fiction responds best to bookstore events, generating word of mouth, and sales at independent bookstores.

Less money is spent on touring authors of biography, politics, economics, history (to say nothing of theological history) and then, those events are usually limited to the top markets on the east and west coast. Reviews are usually the drivers of sales in these genres, though it's clear that a tour (like Rebecca Skloot's for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, now out in paperback) for an uneasily classified title (in that case, a mix of science journalism and sociology) can have an extraordinary effect. That said, more often than not, talks are more likely to be (financially) sponsored by a local organization or university, as opposed to being part of a promotional tour.

That said, we're always enthusiastic about any sort of local connection, any detour from Chicago or Madison (where the author might be making another appearance) or pretty much any reason for a noted author of nonfiction with a recently published book to stop by. I have no idea what brought Scott Korb to Milwaukee--I know it's not part of a traditional tour by looking at Penguin's tour page. I guess I'll find out on Sunday.

I found the book's premise intriguing and wound up (despite piles and piles of other books demanding to be read with a menacing glare) finishing it in just two determined reading sessions. Korb is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and the Union Theological Seminary; he previously co-authored The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God. His next book is a narrative account of life at the first four-year Muslim accredited college in the United States. Note that in his co-authored book, Korb is the Catholic. I don't know why that makes a difference, but I mention it anyway.

Life in Year One is divided into chapters that try to recreate home life, diet, cleanliness, waste disposal, religion, sex, war, death, and other areas. Though your first thought is that this is about the life of Jesus and his followers, it would be agreed, whatever your beliefs, that Jesus did not live like most people. No, most people lived closely with family, worked hard, and made do with little. And they probably used animal dung to seal the cracks in their shelter. Who wouldn't?

They probably didn't think about their lack of wealth too much, until the Roman Empire started demanding taxes. The period pretty much ended in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

Korb adds a bit of humor to the narrative. While his notations are many and bibliography large, you can tell he is an admirer of John Dominic Crossan, the DePaul professor emeritus and historical Jesus scholar well-known for books such as Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography and his collaborations with Marcus Borg, including The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem.

Who would enjoy this book? In addition to Crossan and Borg fans (we used to sell quite a bit of both authors at Schwartz) I think fans of Bruce Feiler (Walking the Bible, Abraham). And Jonathan Kirsch (The Harlot by the Side of the Road) offers this praise in

"Life in Year One will endear itself even to those readers who are afraid of footnotes. The author is chatty, witty and well-informed, and his book is a kind of revelation about real life in the time and place that we read about in the Bible. Indeed, the biblical text itself will never seem quite the same once we know the facts of Life in the Year One."

Here is a recent piece about our upcoming event in the Journal Sentinel. And I'm hoping all you folks who have been asking for more daytime events will come out this Sunday, at 2 pm. It should be a great talk (and signing--don't forget the signing.)

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