I attend at least one bookish event a week. I love listening to authors read and talk about their books. I was especially excited for the event hosted by the New York Public Library on Tuesday “Karen Russel in conversation with Wells Tower”. If we’ve talked books in the past year, then you’re probably aware of my fondness for Wells but Karen was a more recent discovery. I read her last book a short story collection called St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. She was also one of the most recent writers in the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 series and has been featured in the Best American Short Stories collection. I enjoyed her stories very much and saw her on a panel of the 20 under 40 at the 92 Street Y in November, where I was pleased to find that she was a genuinely nice person. She exuded that kindergarten teacher warmth, enthusiasm and silliness. I was crossing my fingers that her second book a full novel called Swamplandia would be received well. Luckily it has been, most recently receiving glowing reviews from the New York Times, NPR and even The Economist! I planned to buy the book at the event, since she would be on hand to sign my copy.
The event was held in a lovely ballroom at the basement. It had an ornate ceiling that made you feel like you could look out and see stars twinkling. For those book nerds who have fantasies of getting married at the library, the NYPL has you covered. Going to events like this always have me silently squealing with glee at spotting authors I greatly admire. Wells and Karen are friends, it was pretty obvious by the awkward fawning over each others work. They both attended the Columbia MFA program and were on the 20 under 40 list. The conversation was good, Wells asked very detailed questions about the characters and the setting of the book. I have no reference for the Florida everglades (where Swamplandia is set), so it was interesting to hear about a place where going on a bike ride you are likely to run into alligators lying in your path. I wanted to start reading the book right then and there. Then Wells asked Karen to read an excerpt of the book, what he thought held the real power of the book. I listened intently as Karen Russell ruined the book for me!! I have never gone to a book event where the author basically gives away the ending. I felt like she had just popped the balloon of my enthusiasm. I still want to read the book, Karen is a great writer and based on the reviews and discussion I heard this book is fantastic but it has moved far down on the reading list for me. Damn it! Even without reading it I would still recommend it based on the premise alone. Set in the Florida everglades, Ava Big-Tree a 12 year old girl that comes from a family of alligator wrestlers sets out on a journey through the swamps to find her lost sister. When you read it, tell me how you feel about the turning point in the book. I ‘ll try to live vicariously through your surprise.