Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 15, 2007

An afternoon of authors

On Saturday I went to a reading and panel of three fiction writers. Books Out Loud was part of events sponsored by ten museums and ten independent bookstores in the Pioneer Valley of western Mass. I was thrilled to hear Andrea Barrett, her gorgeous silver hair pinned back, read from her newest novel, like the others, colored by her knowledge and love of science. The Air We Breathe is set in a sanatorium for tubercular patients in the Adirondack. She called her novel a sort of talking back to Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I loved this concept of having a conversation with another writer over the decades.

And there was more. Valerie Martin, whose short story collection, The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories, all dealing with art, read from her latest hardhitting, Trespass. And just last weekend I’d been playing name-the book-whose-title-I-forget with my friend Pat who said, “It’s set in Maine, it was an Oprah book, I think, made into a movie, and the guy’s name started with R.)

Empire Falls! I said, and now here was Richard Russo reading from Bridge of Sighs. The main character has lived in one place for his sixty years and believes what some see as geographic limitation has made his life rich; he’s, however, just about to embark on a trip to Italy with his wife of forty years, and will they see one of their old friends who’s lived overseas, and been out of contact with them for decades. In the ten or so minutes of Russo’s reading, we got a quick glimpse of a warm but quirky – ie, ordinary – marriage as the wife snuggled in bed with travel guides and scolded her husband for not doing so, but just figuring they’d be together.

It was lovely sitting there among contented strangers and the familiar faces of the independent booksellers and hearing small sections of three different novels, all really about ordinary people, ordinary enough situations, and yet absolutely beautiful. We laughed, we nodded, and most of us got teary, not over the opening pages that were read, but when Emily Russo, who works at the Odyssey Bookshop, introduced the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who to her is “just my dad,” who played wiffle ball with her as a kid, and ran into the woods for far flung balls, who was there when she came home from junior high, and listened to her tales of heartbreak, and, “at least so far, hasn’t put them in books.” When Richard Russo went to the podium, his face red, he said, “Well there was my moment for this book tour.”

After reading, the writers spoke, and I believed them when all three said that they’d be writing whether they were published or not. In the Q and A, Andrea Barrett mentioned the low sales of her first books, but, back before so much Internet, she could live far from New York City and not really know the sales were low, not really know that people were supposed to get reviews, and just be happy she had books out. Valerie Martin wrote three books during the eight year gap between the time when her first two books were published – so when a new editor got interested, she was ready with her books. Russo spoke of keeping faith in the process. Okay. One more cup of coffee, then let the day’s writing begin.



  1. Andrea Barrett
    Andrea Barrett is one of my favorite authors. Her short stories have always inspired me and I am looking forward to reading THE AIR WE BREATHE; thanks for letting me know it was out!

  2. Re: Andrea Barrett
    I’m so happy you love her work, and not surprised given your love for both science and language. I hope you get a chance to hear her read sometime — she lives in upstate New York, I believe, and every now and then comes to western Mass. She is just so gracious and humble and enthuastitic about so many parts of life, well, just inspiring! I’m most taken with her polar and mountain adventures, but I’ll follow her anywhere, even to tuberculosis clinics, sure she’ll have something well worth hearing.
    Hope you are still floating. Your NYT review was great. I liked the quote about it being mix of science and detective novel.

  3. Sounds like a great event. I love Andrea too! We met at the Brattleboro Lit Festival a couple years ago. I’m anxious to read her new book! See you soon.
    PS – Enjoy lunch with my bud, Debbi!

  4. Oh, yes, I can imagine you, too, as an Andrea Barrett fan. I’m really looking forward to lunch with Debbi! Will raise a cup of tea (lots of lemon and honey, afraid I’m still coughing). Love your history blog and will get back to you soon!!

  5. Yes – hoping to interview soon!! Be well!

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