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November 1, 2019

Reader Linda Johnson Reports on Hachette’s Eighth Annual Book Club Brunch


On a beautiful, sunny fall day, hundreds of bookish people chose to stay indoors to attend Hachette’s eighth annual Book Club Brunch. For the second year, the event was held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, but for the first time, we convened in the theater.

Shortly after 10am, Karen Torres, the Vice President of Field Sales and Account Marketing for Hachette, greeted the eager audience and introduced the first panel of the day.

The Narrative Nonfiction Panel was moderated by Bill Goldstein, a noted reviewer and author (THE WORLD BROKE IN TWO: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year that Changed Literature).

The panel included Ryan Leigh Dostie, whose book, FORMATION: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line, recounts her time in the U.S. Army as a linguist in Military Intelligence who was deployed to Iraq. During her time in service to the U.S., she was raped by a fellow soldier. Her reporting of the incident was met with skepticism and red tape.

MAKE IT SCREAM, MAKE IT BURN by Leslie Jamison is a book of essays investigating relationships through a variety of subjects, including 52 Blue, deemed "the loneliest whale in the world." Some of Jamison's essays are autobiographical.

The final member of this panel was Mychal Denzel Smith, whose memoir, INVISIBLE MAN, GOT THE WHOLE WORLD WATCHING, explains his awareness of other black men reaching heights, such as Barack Obama being elected President of the United States, while other black men, such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, were being shot down. He tries to figure out how he fits into “man” and society.

After a short break, we reconvened with Emma Straub, an author and bookstore owner who moderated a discussion with Susannah Cahalan. Cahalan’s first book, BRAIN ON FIRE  ,   told of her experience with a rare autoimmune brain affliction that was misdiagnosed at first. Her latest effort, THE GREAT PRETENDER, examines the history of mental illness and the medical profession relying on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). She ties this book into her misdiagnoses and that of many, many others.

All of the nonfiction writers gathered at tables that were set up by the entrance of the college to sign their books. The books were available thanks to R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT. What could have been a nightmare was handled very efficiently with Hachette employees directing book buyers to one of two lines --- one line for cash purchases and the other for credit/debit card purchases. Once I reached the R.J. Julia employee, I told her the books that I wanted and she brought them to me. (This was a very pleasant improvement over some previous times that I attended.)

After a box lunch, we met again in the theater for the Fiction panel, which was moderated by Karen Kosztolnyik, who is the Vice President and Editor-in-Chief for the Grand Central Publishing division of Hachette.

The panel included Kira Jane Buxton, author of HOLLOW KINGDOM. Buxton explained her affinity and love for animals, including her attempt to rescue a crow lying on the ground near her home with a bent wing. It did not live, but she has noticed that the rest of the crows in her neighborhood now communicate with her as if they understood what she tried to do for one of their own. HOLLOW KINGDOM has a crow, S.T., as its protagonist, and falls into the categories of dystopian, fantasy, humor and science fiction.

The other two authors concurred that their books also didn’t fit easily into one genre.

Leni Zumas’ novel, RED CLOCKS, is dystopian, science fiction and feminist. Zumas revealed that the seeds of this book were in her personal life, revolving around her decision to have a child and how best to do that.

The final book featured in this panel was THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY. Author Alix E. Harrow talked as if she took a little bit from every fantasy book she read as a child (THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and A WRINKLE IN TIME, for example), resulting in a work of fantasy, historical fiction and magical realism.

All segments of the day ended early enough for audience members to approach one of two microphones and ask questions of the authors. Except for the last author.

Sally Field.

The long tables with “skirts” and folding chairs were replaced by two much more comfortable-looking white chairs. Each attendee had been mailed a copy of Field's book, IN PIECES, about two months earlier, so many had already read it. Her segment was moderated by her editor, Millicent Bennett. During the 45 minutes allotted, Bennett asked Field a total of three questions, to which she gave long and very interesting answers.

Noted by both, IN PIECES is not a typical memoir. It started as Field’s attempt to come to terms with her mother’s relationship with her and her mother’s death in 2011 on Field’s 65th birthday. She was forthright, funny and fully engaged with us. She was horrified at the end to realize that her answers only allowed three questions, but there were no complaints from the audience.

The fiction panel and Field signed copies of their books, while Hachette employees exchanged name tags from each person who came for a tote bag of books.

I’ve attended enough times now to recognize some faces from Hachette. Friends.

I’m one of the few who does not come from the tri-state area --- I drive from Ohio --- but I wouldn’t miss it. I already know where I’ll be at least one Saturday late next October.