This past Sunday evening, I went to a book club. That's not unusual. What was unusual, however, is this: The club was discussing one of the books I represent, The Yid by Paul Goldberg; and the head of the club had not told the members of the club that I was involved in the publication of the book.
It was fascinating--one of the most interesting hours I've spent in ages. I got to do what I almost never get to do: Hear a true focus group of readers discuss a book I worked on without censoring themselves because of any fear of saying the wrong thing or offending me.
It was great. First, it was nice--most of the people liked the book without reservation. And the ones who had concerns, were mostly discussing elements we knew were either challenging or had caused the book to be rejected by a good number of editors before Picador took it on: It has a lot of characters, all of whom speak in weird combinations of English, Russian, and Yiddish. Some were frustrated that the storyline was a bit hard to follow at times, that it wasn't always linear, that it veered occasionally into magical realism. One reader wished the book had been written in the original alphabets, so there would be long swathes in Cyrillic and Hebrew letters. I could see our editor blanch.
But more often, they praised the writing, the unusual storytelling style, the ambition of the prose, the historical accuracy. I found myself wanting to thank them--or answer the complaints.
At the end of the hour, the leader of the club introduced me, and I talked a bit about the publishing history of the book, and asked a couple of questions of my own (Can a book about a group of Jews who reject Judaism; where the only person who says Kaddish is an African-American communist, and the only True Believer a Christian woman; could that book be considered a Jewish book? The answer, unhesitatingly, was yes, which made the author, when I told him, both pleased and kind of bemused.).
Then, because it WAS a Jewish book club, reading a Jewish book, we went into the dining room and ate dessert.