At this year’s Book Expo America, the annual booksellers convention that is now wrapping up at New York’s Javits Center, the focus seemed to be on publishing’s strongest demographic: women. There was this year’s “Buzz Panel” on potential breakout fiction, during which five of the six presenters and four of the six novelists were women. And yesterday there was the author breakfast, which featured The Office’s Mindy Kaling, Diane Keaton, Charlaine Harris (author of the vampire love stories True Blood was based on), and lone male Jeffrey Eugenides — though it should be noted that his new novel, The Marriage Plot, will be about a woman.
Kaling, talking up her book of essays, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (which she described as equal parts Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler, and will come out November 1), gave essentially a funny roast at the audience’s expense, cutting to the heart of the feminine publishing mystique. “I work in television … with a lot of upper-middle-class, overeducated white men,” she said. “So it’s interesting to see where all the women went … There’s more tote bags here than in Terry Gross’s attic. There’s more sensible flats here than at the American Federation of Teachers.” She also noted, “It actually looks like a high-school reunion where all the jocks died in a plane crash on the way to regionals, and the plane crash killed all the minorities too.”
Turning serious (very briefly), Kaling recalled her endearingly bookish model-minority upbringing: forced to spend her summers reading at the Cambridge Public Library so she could give her relatives book reports on V.S. Naipaul. In contrast to this nod to her intellectual youth, when Diane Keaton hawked her upcoming memoir, Then Again (due out November 15), she happily admitted that she had been a C+ student with a mediocre I.Q. — save a curious aptitude for “abstract reasoning.” Feeling the need to excuse herself for adding another celebrity memoir to the world, she said she did it “because I miss my mother.” (Curiously, a day earlier, John Lithgow had cited the passing of his father as the reason he wrote his memoir. Are there secret spa retreats where celebrities decide these things en masse?) Keaton started off jokey and silly, flopping around and chuckling at herself in the manner that’s served her so well from Annie Hall through Something’s Gotta Give. Then, describing her mother’s fifteen-year battle with Alzheimer’s, she succumbed to a full-on crying fit — but not before breaking into her favorite Barbra Streisand line: “Never, never will I marry! Born to wander till I die!” Oh, Diane.
Eugenides had tough acts to follow, but he knew where his bread was buttered, and led with a strong presentation of his novel that left us craving galleys (which sadly were not yet available, though the book is out October 11). He was pretty funny, too, noting astutely that prenups have done more damage to the old-fashioned romance novel than any other modern technology.
It was left to Southern-fried Charlaine Harris and her central-casting updo to remind one and all of the thin line between those who get to speak at a BEA breakfast panel — TV or movie celebrities and those whose books become TV shows or movies — and those who don’t. She explained why she wasn’t going to talk about anything she wrote before starting the series revolving around the lovelorn, telepathic Sookie Stackhouse (the
seventh eleventh entry of which, Dead Reckoning, came out earlier this month). “You’re probably thinking, Wait a minute, she’s skipping all those years she spent writing conventional mysteries. Yes, I am. A lot of readers skipped over them, too.” And then: “When Alan Ball comes knocking at your door, you answer it.”