Even Wayward Jews Can Perform Mitzvahs
Why I'm holding one of my memoir events in a children's bookstore.
Toward the end of September I’m going to visit my dad and stepmother in Walnut Creek, Ca. They moved there from the northeast during the year before the pandemic, to be nearer to her kids and grandkids, and originally they had the idea that they’d come east a couple of times a year to see me in Kingston, and I’d go west now and then.
But then air travel became dangerous, and we haven’t taken any trips toward the each other. We FaceTime a couple of times a week, which is helpful, but not the same as actually visiting. I’ve considered getting on a plane each time there’s been a lull between surges in Covid case numbers, but it’s never panned out.
Finally, more than two-and-a-half years in, despite the latest highly contagious variants, I’ve booked flights and they’ve booked a nearby place to stay for Brian and me, and away we’ll go.
I’m nervous about it. I don’t want to get sick. But it makes much more sense for me to take the risks associated with air travel than it does for my 87-year-old dad, who has an assortment of aging-related health conditions. For that reason, he’s been unable to attend any of the events since my memoir-in-essays, And You May Find Yourself, came out in June. That’s part of the why I’ve started scheduling some virtual events. (More on those below.)
Since my pub date, he’s asked me to schedule an in-person event in his area so that he can attend it. It feels especially important to make this happen given all the difficulty my dad and I have had in the past with regard to my writing about my family (and him, specifically) and the incredible surprise revelation that he loves the book. I promised that I would try.
So, in the past few weeks, I got busy attempting to grant his wish. I reached out to friend/colleague Susan Ito, who lives in the Bay Area, and she offered to do an in-conversation event with me. I emailed three of the bookstores she suggested, but none of them were able to accommodate me.
Then I as a last resort, I took my request to Twitter, as one does when things get dire.
Sari Botton (rhymes with Larry Cotton) @saribottonGoing to visit my 87-year-old dad in the Bay Area 9/21-24. He's asked me to do a book event there since he hasn't been able to come east to attend any events I've had here. Would like to be in conversation with @thesusanito. Any Bay Area bookstores up for performing this mitzvah?
People in the literary and media Twitter spheres were so helpful. They retweeted me, and suggested stores, tagging them. Finally, one came through: Flashlight Books, right in Walnut Creek, not far from my dad’s “independent living” facility. I emailed with them excitedly, setting up an event for Friday, 9/23/22. I told my dad, and he was thrilled. I felt really good, having delivered on my promise.
That is, until he did a little research and discovered Flashlight is a children’s bookstore, something I’d completely missed when they responded to my tweets. My dad texted and emailed me about it. He seemed disappointed. I started to feel deflated, as if I’d failed.
Then I took a closer look at Flashlight’s Twitter profile and saw that they describe themselves as “An independent children’s bookstore (with a lot of books for grown-ups)…” I realized they wouldn’t have scheduled with me if they didn’t also carry adult titles.
I clarified this for my dad, and he seemed to get excited again. I also decided that there are ways in which having this event in this particular store is kind of appropriate (work with me here, people):
The first third of my book has to do with me as a kid, from the time I’m 4 until I’m in my teens.
This event will take place on the 44th anniversary of my bat mitzvah, which of course took place when I was 13.
My book and Oldster Magazine are very much about dispensing with hard-and-fast notions regarding which milestones you’re supposed to reach when. There’s also a lot about how it’s possible to carry much younger versions of yourself inside of you, even when you’re very old.
Okay, maybe I’m grabbing at straws with that last bullet. In any case, I’m pulling off a major mitzvah. Please clap.
Since arranging this event with Flashlight Books, I’ve also heard back from A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland. Susan and I will do our in-conversation event there, on Thursday, 9/22. I’ll just read on my own at Flashlight on 9/23.
My dad will be at both events—kvelling like nobody’s business, I’m sure.
Some stuff I’m up to…
I started a little collaboration between Oldster Magazine and Gloria, an excellent new site for women entering middle age. First up: they’ve got a brief excerpt of my memoir, And You May Find Yourself…
If you’re in NYC, tomorrow, Monday, August 8th at 7pm, come to the quarterly “Memoir Monday” reading series hosted by Negative Space author Lilly Dancyger at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. I’ll be reading in a stellar lineup that also includes: Tajja Isen, Chloe Cooper Jones, Maud Newton and Edgar Gomez.
On Tuesday, August 16th at 7pm, you’ll find me at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan, representing the 50s in the Generation Women reading series hosted by Georgia Clark. Also reading: Kyla Sylvers, Chloe Caldwell, Vanessa Mártir, Ivy Woolf Turk, and Jackie Margolis.
On August 18th at 7pm EDT I’ll have a virtual conversation with Liz Prato, author of Kids in America: A Gen X Reckoning. We’ll discuss our books and our generation. Free, over Zoom. Only 30 spots left. Sign up!