I knew Jennifer Egan was speaking at Greenlight Bookstore on Fulton Street last night, but that’s not why I went. Sure, it was good to see what a Pulitzer Prize winning author looks like, but that’s not why I went.
I went to get a book I’d been waiting on for a year. It had come out in paperback a while ago, but last night was the night I needed it definitively in my hands.
There was a crowd packed right up to the door, which I had to both ignore and sift through to find my book, not on the alphabet shelves but stacked upon the table of valuable reads. I wonder if Jennifer thought me rude as I grabbed a book not hers from the big center table and mazed back to the cashier. Nah. Jennifer is cool.
Plus, book desperation is a legitimate cause of the uncouth.
The book in my hands is signed by its author, the reclusive Arundhati Roy, whose “God of Small Things” landed in my lap in Kerala, the place where its story is set. Circumstantially, Roy became my favorite. The more so because there was just the one, the Man Booker Prize-winning one.
Now, the book in my hands makes two. “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” is not new. But of course it lasted a while in its three-pound-hardcover-version, prohibitive to the laptop-baby-water-bottle-carrying-mom-backs of the book-buying-world.
The book in my hands is signed by the hands of its author. It is no longer on the big wooden table in front of Jennifer Egan’s microphone. It is on the candlelit counter where I sit, alone, to begin to read.
Sometimes a story is so good it doesn’t matter how it’s told. The facts against a flat surface remain dense, flamboyant, no matter how simply they are thrown. Which is not to say that Paul French’s “Midnight in Peking” is a poorly told, simple read. Quite the contrary.
The Edgar Award-winning true-crime tale is the kind of book one stays up past midnight to finish. Indeed, creepy, quiet late night is the correct frame for French’s reconstruction of a young British girl’s vicious murder in 1937 Peking, a time when Beijing was barely still Peking. Barely because the Japanese had invaded the mainland and were fast approaching the as yet colonial city, barely because the Kuomintang was clumsily hunting the Red Army in caves, barely because the world was about to seize with war.
French solves the still-open murder mystery by being a better story-teller than the police were investigators. Hermaphrodites, brothels, opium, Russian oligarch refugees all play a part, tracked down by the author in relevant detail so fun one is tempted to forget the story’s sad end.
Fortunately , French doesn’t let us stray too far into Peking’s underworld. He leads the way out, back to the murdered girl’s home, where her father, in many ways the hero of the tale, is at his desk, stringing all the dim pieces for someone someday to tie.
I can think of few things I enjoy more than buying a new book at an airport. The thought of being trapped in the air inside a metal tube for hours with nothing to do but read or watch bad movies is thrilling. The more so with a brand new glossy book upon my lap.
On my flight today I carry the story above. Garcia Marquez’s first formal forray into the novelesque: a literary rendition of a true-life shipwreck tale. The “actual” story took place here, in Colombia, where I often work and play. Marquez’s version was first published in installments in one of the main national newspapers.
Which brings forth the question: why doesn’t installment writing happen anymore? Perhaps this blog will do something about that.
But, for now, there is nothing but paper and plane.
For those who are wondering where their book is, I wanted to offer assurance that, no, I am not running a poetry racket. Finishing Line Press is simply (way) behind on its publication schedule. They expect mid-life to ship out sometime in September.
In the meantime, I am planning a book launch party in Miami for the Fall. More info to follow.
Tomorrow is May 20th. A day I’ve been dreading because it is the last day to pre-order my book mid-life. Since pre-sales determine how many books will be published, tomorrow matters.
If any of you out there had any intention whatsoever of purchasing my book of poems, I would truly appreciate it if you did so before end of day tomorrow. Although the publishing house keeps all the sales proceeds, having a good pre-sale run is important for a writer. And I kind of hope to be that — a writer.
“The Sun Coast,” a poem from my forthcoming book of poems entitled mid-life, now available for purchase via Finishing Line Press. The pre-sale period ends in just three days, so grab your copy soon, such as right this minute!