On a tepid Monday evening at the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan, a glut of Jewish authors sat alphabetically in a subterranean, windowless ballroom, clutching prepared remarks or copies of their recently published and forthcoming books and networking with fellow Jewish writers. Over the course of several days, 196 of them took two minutes each to sell themselves and their work to the Jewish Book Network — an association of Jewish community centers, synagogues and cultural organizations — which will summon their favorites to the country’s far corners, giving lucky authors an unparalleled platform to push their books.
Jewish Book Council director Carolyn Hessel, whose seven-year-old baby this is, said the night I attended — May 24 — was, by chance, the humor night: Many hopefuls got big laughs.
I witnessed more than two hours of this business, and, trust me, two minutes is plenty. The most impressive authors were able to masterfully charm in just that much time.
Take Matthew Aaron Goodman, author of the 2009 novel “Hold Love Strong” (Touchstone), who lost his place in his speech, yet recovered swiftly and earned crowd sympathy when he mentioned that his wife might give birth at any minute. Saïd Sayrafiezadeh wooed the audience with moments from his communism-inflected Iranian-Jewish childhood, recounted in the 2009 memoir “When Skateboards Will Be Free” (The Dial Press). Another author from a blended background was the ebullient Louisa Shafia, whose 2009 eco-cookbook, “Lucid Food” (Ten Speed Press), recaps her family history (Jewish mom + Muslim dad + kitchen = happy). Peter Lovenheim showed that a middle-aged man’s quest to get to know his neighbors one sleepover at a time is touching, not creepy, with “In the Neighborhood” (Perigee Trade). Sam Hoffman joshed about the concept of the book he co-authored, a remake of, and named after, a popular website, “Old Jews Telling Jokes” (Random House).
The take-home? A whole lot of good Jews are writing delicious-sounding books, and thanks to this event, many will likely come to a Jewish cultural hub near you.