Instead of attending a reading of my choice this week I took a beginner’s class
on wine appreciation at Cook’s Warehouse in Decatur.
As a kind of warm up for the event,a
friend loaned me his copy of Jay McInerney’s
Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar (2000). I’m not usually a
big McInerney fan (well known for his 1984 novel Bright Lights, Big City), but if you skip around the book there are
some good pieces — most notably ones about the wine-points guy Robert Parker
and a brief history of the Mondavi family.
Despite a cold, cold night last Thursday, listeners filled
the warm (very warm) Decatur Library Auditorium to hear Jack Riggs, the
writer-in-residence at Georgia Perimeter College, read several excerpts from
his new novel, The Fireman’s Wife. Riggs
prefaced his half-hour reading with an explanation of the origins of his book
about a disintegrating marriage.
While the excerpts were fine, what really intrigued me was
Riggs off-handed mention of the five-year period between his first, award-winning
novel, When the Finch Rises, and his
latest. From my understanding, Riggs did write a different follow up to Finch but it was rejected by his
publisher Ballantine. Obviously, he has rebounded from that crushing experience.
His comments reminded me of an essay I just finished reading
by Michael Chabon in his collection, Maps
and Legends. (I got my cleverly designed hardback copy at last year’s
Decatur Book Festival at the Believers
booth). Chabon described the pressure to write a second novel, especially if
the first had some success as “bathyspheric.” With a first novel there is no
contract, no reputation – just the internal pressure of learning to be a
writer. The second attempt is not only fraught with your expectations but those
of a publisher as well as the reading public. Chabon described the experience of
a writing the rejected novel as a Lewis and Clark expedition, “a long, often
dismal tramp through a vast terrain in pursuit of a grand but fundamentally
I’m thinking that the evening served two purposes: giving Riggs' readers an introduction to his new book, and giving himself the
satisfaction of completing the long expedition from the first to the second novel.
I’ve been working steadily on the edits for my upcoming book, The Book Shopper: A Life in Review to be
published by Paul Dry Books of Philadelphia later this spring. Good thing, since
the publisher already posted a description of the book, including the cover.
I think the artist has captured my natural disheveled appearance.
The other day I mailed my goddaughter a book for Christmas.
Fortunately, she belongs to one of those families that recognizes the entire
holiday season from Christmas to Epiphany, so I felt I was within the confines
of good manners to send it at such a late date. I sent it media mail (cheaper),
which I was surprised to learn is kind of an iffy proposition: the postal worker
asked me whether it was a book and warned me that media packages are subject to
I looked at her with disbelief and asked, “Did you say it will be searched or it may be searched?” She said slowly and in
a grave tone, “It may be searched,”
and then she proceeded to rubber stamp the hell out of it using blood red ink.
She didn’t pound it once or twice. It seemed like four or five times at least.
I left the post office wondering if the multiple stabbing of
the same package is some post office code to tell co-workers to search the
package for violations later on down the line. But I was in the clear. Inside
the package there was only a book, but if the government gets sticky with
regulations they could re-classify it as a gift (since it was wrapped in
holiday paper) and send it back to me with a heavy fine.
At least my goddaughter likes a good story -- and either way, she’ll
Before completely saying goodbye to 2008, it’s time to
recognize the “Best Local Reading of the Year” or more specifically the “Best Local
Reading of the Year That I Attended,” which does narrow the field. My rating
criteria are rather simple and subjective:
I learn something that otherwise I would not have learned even if I read
the author and audience engage each other?
Did I come away with a “little buzz” from