2011 was a really great year for books and an even better one for KQED's book-lovin' podcast, The Writers' Block. Although, as the program's Producer, every episode is a home run in my book, here's a rundown of a few encounters with authors that truly blew me away.
One of the only Greek role models I had growing up was John Stamos. I don't mean to knock the relevancy of Uncle Jesse, but it's good to add another name to that list. Jeffrey Eugenides isn't exactly prolific, releasing three novels in the span of 18 years, yet his literary might is major. If you don't believe me, just check out this huge billboard. When was the last time you saw promotion for a book on such a grand scale? Yeah, never. It's no surprise that Jeffrey's reading was one of the best I've heard in a long while. His delivery is exact and the writing, as always, is so rich you sometimes wish you had a machete to hack through it. And, just in case you're wondering, yes, I did ask him for a photo and may or may not have said it was for my mom.
Salman Rushdie is a literary great who needs no introduction. In the weeks leading up to meeting him, the fact that I would be in a studio with him seemed supremely unfeasible. So, when he stood in front of me on our recording day, I thought, Oh, snap, this is actually happening. I could say that we discussed the appalling state of literacy in this country or metaphysics, but, truth be told, we talked about Harry Potter (he brought it up!). I'm also happy to say that, despite stressing over the pronunciation of his name à la Bridget Jones, I didn't embarrass myself at all.
San Francisco is a place for the black sheep in every family and Michelle Tea is our fairy godmother. Like most doe-eyed weirdos moving to the city by the Bay, I read all about Michelle's exploits and adventures in Valencia during my first month or two in town. I would have never guessed that, a few years later, I would meet this very woman. Michelle comes across as bigger than life in her writing, but, in person, she's quite small, covered in gorgeous tattoos and sporting the warmest of auras. I told Michelle she could read whatever she wanted and she was kind enough to share an exclusive excerpt from her forthcoming book. And the thrills didn't stop there; Michelle ended up inviting me to her house! That acute jealousy you're experiencing right now will become more manageable with time.
Justin Torres lives the dream of every wannabe writer. He went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, received the Rolón United States Artist Fellowship in Literature, was selected as a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and has been published by The New Yorker, Granta, and Tin House, among others. With that much luck, one almost wants to hate him, but that's just impossible upon meeting him. He's beyond amiable and clever and charming. And with We the Animals, his blistering debut about three brothers tearing their way through childhood, he has created a raw, gut-punch of a novel. Read it right now! Or actually, listen to the episode first, read his Q+A, and then read it!
You would think that being on every prestigious list of the most promising young writers would go to someone's head, but there isn't the slightest hint of ego about Karen Russell. At 30, she's already set tongues lolling with her short story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and Swamplandia!, her debut novel about a family of alligator wrestlers that the New York Times selected as one of their 10 Best Books of 2011. When I first met Karen, she was running a bit late, but for good reason: she was giving an interview to one of her hometown's papers and wanted to make sure they got what they wanted. This urge to please extended to the studio where she delivered a riveting peek into her beautifully rendered version of the Everglades. After the business side of things was taken care of, Karen and I gabbed like old high school friends. It's a little bit disconcerting that someone so down-to-earth could be such a literary powerhouse. Check out my Q+A with her to get just a taste of how wonderfully adorable she is.
For all of my other favorite readings, click here.