Books To Buzz About | Day of Dialog 2017

The panel (top photo, l.-r.) Tayari Jones, Gabrielle Zevin, Nancy Pearl, Brendan Mathews, Christopher Meades, and moderator Melissa DeWild. Photos by William Neumann

The buzzing was mighty and so was the love for the novelists on “Books To Buzz About,” moderated by Melissa DeWild, Director, BookOps, Brooklyn Public Library & New York Public Library. LJ Reviewer of the Year DeWild reviews fiction for LJ, so she was the perfect choice to ask the five assembled authors about their new books. She asked Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage (Algonquin: Workman, Feb. 2018), about the effect of a wrongful incarceration on a newly married couple, how she makes “big topics” personal. Jones, who was granted a fellowship to study wrongful incarceration, said that at one point she overheard a couple arguing at a mall. The woman said, “I know you wouldn’t wait for me for seven years if I was inside….” Jones knew then that she had found “the struggle, the conflict between responsibilities and desire” that her novel needed.

DeWild asked debut novelist Brendan Mathews, whose sprawling, New York City circa 1939-set saga The World of Tomorrow (Little, Brown, Sept.) centers on three brothers from Ireland, what inspired him to start a novel. He quipped that turning 40 was an impetus, adding that he wanted to somewhat rewrite his Irish immigrant grandfather’s story. His grandfather dreamed of a career as a big band leader but eventually became a carpet salesman.

Vancouver, BC–based novelist Christopher Meades shared how he suffered a “a good Canadian” brain injury while playing hockey; his neurotherapist recommended he write as much as he could every day to hasten his recovery. “I wrote for half an hour a day,” he said. “Any more and I’d throw up.” Meades’s Hanna Who Fell from the Sky (Park Row: Harlequin, Sept.) is about a young girl in a secluded community who’s about to become the fifth wife of a much older man. Her mother urges her to flee because she is special: she fell from the sky!

DeWild asked librarian/book reviewer Nancy Pearl why she’s penning a novel at this time—George and Lizzie (Touchstone: S. & S., Sept.) is her debut. Pearl brought down the house by talking about foot surgery and opioids. After a day on the painkillers, she turned to her husband and proclaimed it “the best day of my life; why can’t all days be like this?” Shortly after that, the title characters “came into” her head, she said.

Gabrielle Zevin likened her novel Young Jane Young (Algonquin: Workman, Aug.), which DeWild dubbed “an immaculate takedown of slut-shaming,” to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Zevin wanted to investigate the disparity between men and women in elected office. Proclaiming herself a fan of “feminist novels,” Zevin said, “I hope I’ve written one.”

When DeWild asked the two previously published novelist-panelists how they write about timely issues, Jones responded that she was urged by her mentor, author Ron Carlson, to write about “people and their problems, not problems and their people.” Zevin said she sees fiction as an important way to make an argument for non-likeminded readers, who are more open to a fiction setting, “unlike watching TV and making judgments—”and the book is fun….?” she added, mock-plaintively.

The newbies discussed “first-novel lessons” they gleaned. Mathews, whose debut is over 500 pages long and has 20-some characters, had three: “the next novel will be 300 pages, in the first person, and set now”; when your secondary characters take over, “let it happen”; and, after telling the attendees about a ghostly visit he experienced while writing in Edith Wharton’s house: “otherworldly help is appreciated.” Meades said he wanted to use a “religious format” to present one person’s journey. “Everybody is battling something inside them,” he added. Pearl joked that she’ll have to schedule another surgery, then added “You have to let your characters have their way with you, not the reverse.”


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Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench

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