Last night the Jewish Book Council hosted their annual National Jewish Book Awards, and they were kind enough to invite me. I wasn’t a famous author or a famous book-buyer, but they let me in anyway.
At first my (a) shyness and (b) authory anti-social tendencies and (c) not knowing anybody-ness got the best of me. There was a (parenthetically: really fascinating) exhibit about Thomas Mann and German publishing, and the reception was mostly being held in one room (“mostly” meaning that the drinks table was in there, and therefore, so were all the guests) but spilled over into a second room that was ideal retreating space. I gave it an honorable go, checking out people’s name tags to see if I recognized anyone. The first I spied was Alicia Susskin Ostriker, whose book of poetry >The Book of Seventy I’d read last week, but what would I say? I always appreciate when people tell me that, but then there’s the deadening lack of conversation that’s like, where do we go from here?
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin whizzed by. I worked with him last year on a G-dcast episode, but he was moving too fast to interrupt, although I made a mad dash of it. So I retreated to the exhibit, where I made small talk with two gentlemen who spoke about Thomas Mann like they went to grade school with him, that familiar. After spending about five minutes (that’s long, in the context of a conversation, anyway) trying to explain what my book was about, and failing, I threw the question back at him: “So what do you do?” “Oh,” he replied offhandedly, “I’m an acquisitions editor.” He smirked. And my stomach hit the ground.
I’d kind of composed myself by the time dinner began. I saw Rabbi Telushkin again, and actually spoke to him. Randomly, he asked me where I lived. “Crown Heights,” I told him, to which he raised an eyebrow — he’s working on a book about Lubavitch. He started to grill me about my Chabad connections (I’m not, my wife is, her family is about as Lubavitch as the town of Lubavitch), and, the way that these things go, he used to live with my grandparents-in-law and wrote a book in their house.