Friday, June 16, 2017

Word For Word Series at Bryant Park

Bryant Park's outdoor Reading Room is one of the coolest places to hear about books in a beautiful setting, behind the main New York Public Library right in the middle of the city. On Wednesdays during the summer they host a Word for Word Series, with authors talking about their works.

Recently, Robin Kall, of the Reading With Robin podcast, moderated a discussion with five terrific authors, beginning with N. West Moss, author of the short story collection The Subway Stops at Bryant Park. This event was the perfect venue for her talk about her book, where all the stories have a Bryant Park connection.

Moss liked to visit the park and people watch, playing "Tourist/Not Tourist" with her mother. She has a real love for the park, especially the Gertrude Stein statue. She read a small piece from one of her stories, about a librarian named Tim who works at the NYPL. In her research for the book, West got a tour of the stacks of books underneath the Bryant Park lawn- lucky lady!

Courntney Maum's new novel Touch, tells the story of a trend forecaster who believes the next "big thing" will be human touch, not tech. She got the idea from watching a change in her friends. About three years ago, they suddenly became unable to make a decision without consulting their phones. From whom they be attracted to (Tinder) to where and what they should eat (Yelp), people seems to be losing their human intuition.

Maum read a dialogue from her novel between the protagonist and her driverless car, Anastasia; it was very funny and Touch intrigues me.

Daniel Riley, the lone male on the panel, presented his debut novel Fly Me, set in 1972 Southern California, about two young sisters, stewardesses who become involved in a cocaine drug-running scheme and become entangled in a skyjacking incident. As a person who came of age in the 1970s, I found this one fascinating.

J. Courtney Sullivan's novel Saints For All Occasions has been called "the year's best book about family" by Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles, and several other reviewers share his enthusiasm.

Sullivan joked that she would "talk fast" because she is "38 weeks pregnant and might not finish the program". Her story is about two sisters who emigrate from Ireland to Boston with a big secret. She got the idea from a family story, telling the audience that at every Irish funeral there is always someone who shows up, an uncle or aunt, whom no one knew existed. In her story, it is a cloistered nun. This one has been on my list for awhile, I can't wait to dig in, especially since I come from an Irish family.

Julia Fierro's The Gypsy Moth Summer has also garnered much critical praise, making many "Best of Summer" book lists. (Including mine- my review is here.)  Set in 1992, on an island much like Long Island, Fierro's novel has summer romance, family issues, corporate pollution, class and race issues all wrapped up in a fantastic story.

A three time veteran of the Word for Word series, Fierro was very comfortable with the audience, joking about, among other things, the fact that since she is half-Italian and half-Irish, there was a lot of holy water in her house.

Kall brought up that each book was set in different eras and asked why. Fierro's book is set in 1992 because she was 16 that year, like her character Maddie, and so could relate. She wanted her story to be pre-Internet, when teens hung out at the mall and beach.

Maum's novel obviously had to be set in the "present day-ish" because the book depends on the current technology being a big part of the story. She did go out of her way not to brand things; you won't find Iphones or Google in Touch.

Moss' story collection starts with the Bryant Park renovation in the 1980's, when the park was known as "Needle Park" because of all the needles that littered the ground when drug users were the only people who hung out there. She mentioned how much more beautiful the park is now, but progress has a double-edge, with a cup of coffee in the park "now costing $9".

Riley's Fly Me is set in 1972, a time of "transition and tumult in the culture and airline industry." Since the setting was 14 years before he was born, Riley depended on playlists, slideshows and his mom and aunt for help with his research.

Sullivan's Saints For All Occasions goes back and forth between 1957 and 2009 because she wanted to look at the characters over time, how they are shaped by the decades and the Catholic Church, particularly women and what they could and couldn't do.

Kall then asked about epigraphs in books, because each author used them in their books. An epigraph is a short saying or sentence, used as a quote in the beginnings of the book to suggest they theme. Fierro originally had six, and laughed that her editor told she had to choose only one. The authors have epigraphs  from Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace in their books.

Kall closed by asking the authors to suggest books to the audience. Maum chose Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash, Riley suggested Newton Thornburg's 1976 California-set Cutter and Bone, Sullivan loves anything by Irish author Anne Enright, particularly The Gathering,  and Fierro went non-fiction with her pick of Deborah Blum's true crime book The Poisoner's Handbook, about the birth of forensic medicine in the Jazz Age of New York City.

Kall did a terrific job, asking great questions and getting such an interesting conversation with five authors in just an hour's time. I'm looking forward to more wonderful bookish talks at Bryant Park.

Information on Bryant Park's events is here.
Reading With Robin's website is here.
N. West Moss' website is here.
Courtney Maum's website is here.
Daniel Riley's website is here.
J. Courtney Sullivan's website is here.
Julia Fierro's website is here.




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