Next Saturday, the Beachwood Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library will welcome author Chris Bohjalian. What brings the critically acclaimed best-selling author to Beachwood? The paperback tour of his latest novel, Secrets of Eden, the power of Oprah and the Internet.
In the mid-'90s talk show host Oprah Winfrey made book clubs cool. Since then, a book that gets the Oprah Book Club nod, as Bohjalian’s Midwives got in 1998, assures the author extra attention. Simultaneously, the Internet took off and changed the way the world communicated. Publishers saw a way to engage readers by setting up websites with reviews, reading group guides, interviews and — much to my delight as a new book discussion leader looking for fresh approaches — e-mail addresses for the authors themselves.
Suddenly, authors were real people. We didn’t have to wonder anymore what Thomas Mann was thinking when he made Tadzio a blond in Death in Venice, or why Marcel Proust chose madaelines over another pastry in Rembrances of Things Past. Now we could ask, and the authors could tell us everything.
Publishers also started offering free advance reader copies of books to readers, not just to reviewers and bookstores. When I received a copy of Bohjalian’s Before You Know Kindness, I became a fan.
Fast-forward a few more years, and I was getting ready for a book discussion on Bohjalian's The Double Bind. His website said that he would be glad to schedule a 20-minute conference by speakerphone with book clubs reading one of his books. This was even better than e-mail!
I scheduled a call with him in October of 2007 for the Beachwood Community Center Book Discussion group, and, that morning, we had only 20 minutes to decide what to ask him. I admit I expected a standardized spiel on the book. To our delight, he was warm and friendly and let our questions lead the conversation. I was able to channel my inner NPR interviewer, and the group was thrilled with the interaction. Plus, he endeared himself to us all by wishing the Cleveland Indians good luck in the playoffs.
I scheduled another “live from Vermont” conversation with him on his book Skeletons at the Feast, the featured title for the library’s History Book Club last March. Between calls, we had become “friends” on Facebook (yes, many authors are embracing the power of social media to share information and interact with fans) and had met him in person when he was in town for the Mandel JCC Book and Author Fair. So it was only logical that when he mentioned he loved Cleveland and would be on a book tour in early 2011 that I invited him back to Beachwood. I had my “people” call his “people” — a phrase I actually said to him without irony — and the rest is history.
Join us at the library next Saturday at 2 p.m. to meet Bohjalian, and as a preview, listen to an interview with him this Monday, Feb. 7 on WPCN’s Around Noon. For more information on the author visit his website. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, the event is free and open to the public. Books will be available for sale and signing courtesy of Mac’s Backs in Cleveland Heights.
Please RSVP by calling the so we can accommodate the crowd.