Last Tuesday night, I had the great pleasure of attending the Junior League of Richmond’s annual Book and Author Dinner in the company of Swapna, Michelle, Emy, and several of my IRL bookish friends. The Book and Author Dinner is the JLR’s biggest fundraiser, and now, in its 65th year, it is the longest running event of its kind nationwide. This was my first time attending, and it was fabulous.
Swapna, Michelle, and I kicked off the evening with a pre-dinner drink at Penny Lane Pub, then we took our gussied-up selves down to the dinner for mixing and mingling. Almost immediately, we bumped into my good friend Emy (you know her as Elizabeth Emerson Hancock, author of Trespassers Will Be Baptized), who is a member of the Junior League and served on the planning committee for the dinner. Here’s a pic of us canoodling.
Yes, my forehead looks shiny, and no, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to prevent that from happening when it’s roasty toasty outside. Too bad I can’t keep Deanna Danger (the awesome stylist of the pantyworthy photo shoot) on hand all the time!
Here I am with Swapna and Michelle. Swapna and I didn’t coordinate our dresses, but it was kind of fun that we coordinated.
After we mingled, we sat down to dinner and proceeded to enjoy short talks (well, they were supposed to be short—limited to 8 minutes—but some of the authors weren’t so great about sticking to their time) from six authors. And it all began with Abraham Verghese, author of the stunning Cutting for Stone, which was one of my favorite books of 2009 and has earned a spot on my list of all-time best reads. Verghese discussed the book that inspired him to become a physician—W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage—and he spoke about the power of story to change our lives.
That idea, that story and narrative bring our imaginations to life, was a running theme of the evening, and it came up in almost all of the authors’ talks.
Next up was Sarah Blake (The Postmistress), who was just as wonderful and inspiring as she was when Swapna and I saw her at Politics & Prose a few months ago. (Swapna’s wrap-up of this event is up today too, and it is much more thorough. Go check out her thoughts about the evening.) And then came Dean King, who discussed his book Unbound, which is about the thirty women who survived the Long March when the Chinese Communist Party came under attack in 1934. King’s talk was remarkable first because the thirty women he researched were the only thirty women among the 86,000 Communists who sought escape. Only 10,000 of them survived, but ALL of the women made it, and King explained that Unbound is about these women and their strength and resilience.
People, I was ready to toss my panties at him before he even finished his talk—you know I love me a fan with a good feminist sensibility—and I cannot wait to read Unbound, which I picked up during the event.
After the heaviness of Dean King’s topic came Phyllis Theroux, whose book The Journal Keeper is essentially a memoir about writing memoirs. Now, I have no idea if the book is funny, but Phyllis (she doesn’t know it yet, but we’re on a first name basis) was a HOOT and had us all practically falling off our chairs in fits of giggles. I’m not sure if I’ll end up reading The Journal Keeper, but it seemed like it would make a great book club selection, and I imagine Phyllis would be a fun author to have visit your club.
The final two authors rambled to the point that I lost focus and leaned over to ask Michelle, “Is this guy still talking???” Swapna covers them in greater depth if you’re interested.
After dinner, we got in line to meet Abraham Verghese, who totally made my day with exclaiming, “Oh, so nice to meet you!” and agreeing to take a photo with us. As this was happening, I was thinking to myself, “I wonder if he knows I want to throw my panties at him….God, I hope he doesn’t think it’s creepy.” (This was the first time I’ve met one of my pantyworthy authors in person. Dr. Verghese, if your Google Alerts have led you here, pantyworthy simply means a book was so good that I’d throw my panties at the author in a show of appreciation. I swear, it’s not as weird as it sounds. Click here for a full explanation of pantyworthy.)
Then I went to meet Dean King and tell him how much the folks at Fountain Bookstore have raved about his book and how I’m stoked to read it, and then we called it a night.
Oh, and at some point I spilled food right on the front of my dress. Because I’m smooth like that.
All in all, a fantastic night in the company of good friends and great authors.