Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Lovely Alice Sebold

Today I and a group of booksellers from around L.A. had lunch with Alice Sebold, best known for her novel The Lovely Bones. Her new book, The Almost Moon, was published last week, and the shy Ms. Sebold agreed to a small "industry only" get-together at Vroman's in our conference room.

If you've never met Alice Sebold, I hope you get the chance to someday. She is delightful, soft spoken and witty. I first met her about a year before The Lovely Bones was published, at a Southern California Independent Booksellers Association dinner; after spending the appetizer course talking with her, I knew I had to read her first novel, which was then still only in manuscript form. I've run into her a couple of times in the intervening years, and I was thrilled that she remembered me today after all this time.

The Almost Moon has received mixed reviews, and Alice said that in general, European critics seem to get it more than American ones do. "They all seem to ask, 'Well, who hasn't wanted to kill their mother?'" she laughed, referring to the central plot point of her novel. When a bookseller from Dutton's Brentwood asked her if she based the book on her own experience of having to care for an elderly parent, she slapped her hand on the table and replied cheerfully, "No. It's fiction, babe."

Her tour is fairly short, just three weeks in the U.S., followed by three weeks in Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Italy. She loves her Italian publisher, which is owned and run by and husband and wife team named Sandro and Sandra. She said every publisher in Italy passed on The Lovely Bones except Sandro and Sandra "so I think they were able to buy it for, like, a sandwich." While she's touring Alice cannot work on other writing projects, and she prefers to read "dead authors" (like Henry James) because "they provide a lot of solace." Someone asked if touring in Europe is very different from the U.S. and she said absolutely. When touring internationally, she explained, authors are asked a lot of questions about America's politics and actions overseas; international readers are very interested to hear individual Americans' takes on our foreign policy.

Our time with Ms. Sebold was brief, as she had to leave to do an interview with Patt Morrison of KPCC -- "In between the fires, we'll do a little matricide" -- but before she left, she had time to recommend her favorite new book: Mercy by Lara Santoro.


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