Last night my father and I read at 192 Books
in New York City. We read the same pieces and this time the chuckles were not repressed at all. The bookstore is incredibly charming, beautifully aesthetic with the books arranged in such a way that you want to buy them all. It is a tiny space but people could cram in comfortably and they did. The store is owned by a wonderful man, Jack MaCrae, and his wife. Jack is a well-known editor with his own imprint at Holt
. It's not surprising thus that the bookstore is wonderful, old school ? the kind that we lost so many of in the 1990s.
It is interesting to read with my father, to have our different styles side by side, our different ways of approaching writing showcased. It seems when writing nonfiction (for him, anyway) it is very methodical. He does his research, compiles his notes, writes a lead, dreams of a structure ? toys with it, like a puzzle fits the pieces together and then sits down to the hard work of pulling it all together, of weaving the narrative. Fiction (for me, anyway) is a much sloppier process. You have a notion, a conceit ? a woman and a man from different cultures love each other madly though they don't realize their love of patria is just as strong. What will happen to their love? That was the question that propelled the writing of L'America. And as I wrote I felt my way emotionally, finding my structure (and my story) as I went. E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving in a thick fog in the dark with your high beams on. Indeed. Sitting by my father in a public forum (which I never do) is illuminating as it casts such a light on our differences as writers. He has always said that writers can't really be competitive with each other as no two writers are alike. He describes writers as snowflakes, each one with their own unique sensibility. Even two sisters with the same story to tell would write completely different books. I don't often think of the differences between my father and me in terms of writing. In fact, I think much more about the immediacy of our friendship ? plans, family troubles, etc ? than our writing lives. For this alone, this microscope under which I see ourselves at these readings, I will always be grateful.
And to Mitch: thanks for being concerned about my student. Of course, I am aware of the plot of Sentimental Education and have been thoroughly enjoying the novel. I had not thought of the present of the book in that regard, however. But my student is darling and if there's a little unconscious gesture in there on his part...well, let's say I'm touched.