Jewish Journal


September 10, 2012

From Salman Rushdie to Susan Straight, a fall harvest


Fall is high season for the publishing industry. Jewish Book Month, which arrives in November, may have a little something to do with it, and so does the stirring of activity that always follows Labor Day. But the most important reason, of course, is the approach of the gift-giving holidays in December and, with that, the hope of authors and publishers that the wrapped packages will include a book or two.

The two biggest “gets” on the upcoming calendar of events belong to a couple of impresarios, Louise Steinman and Andrea Grossman, who devote themselves to producing book-and-author events throughout the year. Steinman, an accomplished author in her own right, is curator of the Library Foundation’s ALOUD program at the Los Angeles Public Library, and Grossman plays the same role for Writers Bloc. Their programs are always lively and compelling, but this fall, each has snagged a literary star for the next outing.

On Sept. 24, Steinman herself will conduct a public conversation with the celebrated novelist Salman Rushdie on the topic of his latest book, “Joseph Anton, A Memoir” (Random House: $30), which addresses frankly the long ordeal Rushdie and his family endured after his novel “The Satanic Verses” inspired the Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa, or death threat, against him. Rushdie has long been an admired and honored literary figure, but the fatwa turned him into an authentic celebrity; after all, how many real-life authors have been featured as a character in an episode of “Seinfeld”? Tickets for the event are already standby only, but the lucky ones will be able to see and hear Rushdie at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the Mark Taper Auditorium of the Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. Information is available at lfla.org.


Grossman’s featured author at the Writers Bloc this fall will be Martin Amis, whose latest book is “Lionel Asbo: State of England” (Knopf: $25.95), offering yet another example of the ironic humor and barbed wit that has allowed Amis to eclipse his famous father, Kingsley Amis. Nowadays, it is the younger Amis whose books are anticipated and praised because, as is pointed out on the Writers Bloc Web site, “they so successfully snap a photo of our current moment, and ratchet that moment up by a notch or two — to deliver some of the most provocative literature around.” Like many of his earlier novels, “Lionel Asbo” is a sharp take on money, culture and class in contemporary England. Amis will engage in conversation with Matthew Weiner, creator of “Mad Men” and a veteran of “The Sopranos,” at 7:30 p.m.  Sept. 21 at the Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. Information and ticket ordering is available at brownpapertickets.com.


Novelist Susan Straight has an eye for the innermost places of human lives and the human heart, and her latest novel, “Between Heaven and Here” (McSweeney’s: $22), is set in a Southern California community that she dubs Rio Seco, “a fictional place like the place I was born in California.” It’s a sequel to “Take One Candle Light a Room,” and Straight once again conjures up a time and place that is faintly familiar but also surprising and often shocking. “Susan Straight finds L.A.’s secret heart in ‘Between Heaven and Here,’ ” enthuses novelist Walter Mosley, “and with a sleight of hand only the masters have, she creates an alley, a neighborhood, a history that is as rich and tragic as any Shakespearean tale.” Straight will read and sign copies of her new book at 5 p.m. Sept. 22 at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.


Poet, novelist and songwriter Leonard Cohen is an iconic figure in American popular culture, and he is just as complex and contradictory as his songbook (“Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire,” “Sisters of Mercy” and “Hallelujah,” etc.) suggests, as we discover in “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen” by music journalist Sylvie Simmons (Ecco/HarperCollins: $27.99). The complexities only begin with the fact that he grew up in a Jewish household in Montreal and ended up an ordained Buddhist monk whose monastic name, Jikan, is an exercise in irony — it means “ordinary silence.”  Simmons reminds us that Cohen has never been either ordinary or silent, and his career has been wholly unconventional, more of a lifelong spiritual quest than a campaign for celebrity. “Cohen emerges from this definitive biography,” Publishers Weekly says, “as a sensitive and intensely serious artist whose reverence for the word and deep love and respect for his audiences continues ‘to dissolve all the boundaries between word and song, between the song and the truth, and the truth and himself, his heart and its aching.’ ” Simmons will discuss and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at jewishjournal.com and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

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