Sophisticated Reads | Day of Dialog 2018

With a title aptly echoing Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” as noted by moderator and LJ Prepub Alert Editor Barbara Hoffert, the “Sophisticated Reads” panel led off with Gary Shteyngart declaring “Librarians, I love you” before launching into a discussion of his multi-faceted Lake Success (Random, Sept.), a road-trip novel about an ultrarich but clueless hedge-fund manager abandoning his wife and autistic son to hop a Greyhound in search of his college girlfriend and the real America. Shteyngart said that while all his books are “comic at heart, I try to write about something that matters in life,” and what matters here is finding connection with those whom we might seem to have little in common.

Next, debut novelist Crystal Hana Kim touched on resonant emotional truths in If You Leave Me (Morrow, Aug.), a sprawling, multigenerational family saga set during the Korean War and its aftermath. The author cited chilling stories passed down by her war survivor grandmother, as well as being a lifelong reader, as her primary research sources for portraying how women in particular have navigated tough choices during wartime.

An eerie, metaphysical thriller whose protagonist encounters her recently deceased husband while attending a horror film festival in Havana, Cuba, Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel (Farrar, Aug.) aims to convey an “extreme rupture to the character’s sense of self,” said the author. Horror can do that; as the narrative declares, “Horror is the dislocation of reality, a dislocation designed to reveal the reality that’s been there all along.” Van den Berg further clarified that art in general serves as “a kind of jolt, a disturbance in the air and to the smooth surface of the self”—exactly what she hopes readers will get from her novel.

(Pictured l. to r.) Laura van den Berg, Walter Mosley, Gary Shteyngart,
Crystal Hana Kim, James Frey

Described by Hoffert as “a story hot enough to burn through your eyes,” New York Times best-selling author James Frey’s sensuous, stylistically experimental Katerina (Scout: Gallery, Sept.) is about relationships, yes, but especially about the act of creation. Moving mostly between contemporary America and 1920s Paris, it sees an emotionally broken writer return to his raucous, raunchy young days in the City of Light and his affair with the heart-sucking titular heroine. Citing his own early days as a writer, Frey said he was inspired to create “divisive works that change people’s lives and burn the fucking world down,” the latter phrase featuring prominently throughout. For Frey, that’s “learning to write, chasing your dreams…loss…a book about books.”

Though Walter Mosley is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, his intellectually exciting new stand-alone, John Woman (Atlantic Monthly, Sept.), is decidedly not a mystery despite opening with a violent crime. Reinventing himself after terrible loss, the titular character, now a deconstructionist historian professor, challenges his students to question what they think they know, which in turn challenges readers as John deconstructs the twists and turns of history. “As time goes by, things change,” said Mosley, perhaps echoing his own constant reinvention as a writer, his taking back the creative license he says capitalism strips away by pigeonholing authors. As the mic was passed among the authors, each pushing the envelope in a different way, Frey concluded, “I’d rather fail than having done nothing at all.”

Photos ©2018 William Neumann


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