Thursday night I got to go hear one of my favorite authors speak! :-) The event was held at the Jewish Community Center in Annandale. Chris’s latest book is about the Holocaust and all of his tour stops on the current tour are Jewish centers. He is not Jewish, and the book isn’t exactly a Jewish book per se, but it does bring to the forefront the horrible things that happened in Germany during that time.
I knew where the Jewish Community Center was, they erect a large Menorah every year during Chanukah and I’d driven past many times, but I’d never been there. I had no idea what parking would be like or how many people to expect, I figured it would be really crowded since he seems to be a very well known author.
I arrived about an hour before he was scheduled to speak. I was surprised to find that there were not throngs of people there. It seemed like a normal week day evening at the community center. There was plenty of parking and it appeared that most people were there to work out (they have a gym and a pool). I was worried that I’d gotten the night wrong or something.
Turns out they were having a Jewish Book Festival. In the lobby there was a book sale and there had been events every night that week. Chris Bohjailan was the only author I’d ever heard of. I browsed the book sale but didn’t see any other books that jumped out at me as must reads.
I’d wandered the lobby for about 10 mins looking at the books and looking for an indication of where the author event was to be held. There were no signs of where to go, so I asked at the front desk and was directed to the “Adult Lounge” – hmmm…didn’t sound like a very big room, was this going to be a small gathering?
The room was a small meeting room and they had 4 rows of about 8 chairs each set up. It didn’t appear that they were expecting a crowd. There was one chair that had a jacket on it, but the rest were empty. I picked a chair near the front and started to get really excited about having a more intimate conversation with the author!
Soon the lady who owned the jacket came in and for about 20 mins we were the only 2 in the room. We had a nice time chatting – turns out she’s a published author, has written a book of poems about women in the Bible. Then a few others straggled in. We were all chatting about Chris’s books and which ones we’d read, which ones we liked, what we thought of Skeletons at the Feast, etc. I didn’t know anyone’s name, but it was like we were all friends! I might have been the only non-Jew in the room, it seemed that everyone else knew each other, but it didn’t matter.
Promptly at 7:30 Chris was introduced and he started off sharing with us the story of how he spent two weeks on tour wearing another man’s underwear because the hotel laundry lost his! It was quite a tale and he had us all laughing! He then moved into a more serious discussion of the events that lead up to his writing Skeletons at the Feast and the holocaust.
When I read Skeletons I wasn’t sure about it. I mostly didn’t like how at the beginning the main characters seemed oblivious to Hitler’s horrors and were even supporters of him. The book was set in Prussia on the Eastern front of the war right at the end when the Russian attacked and tells the tale of the Prussian refugees as they fled to safety. After hearing Chris tell about the process he went through to write it and hear his deep love of the book come through in his talk I have a much deeper appreciation of the book.
After the talk they had book sales and signing. I took my already signed copy of Water Witches up to the table, because it was such a small group and I was sitting in the front I was 2nd in line! When it was my turn I told him I had a funny story for him and proceeded to tell him the whole story. I’m not sure he thought it was funny, he did ask where I’d purchased the book, I wondered if maybe book stores aren’t supposed to sell books already autographed. He suggested that he’d personalize it for the library and at the time I told him no, it was my book so he personalized it to me. Afterward I thought, “Duh!!!! The library doesn’t have a copy of this book, if you’d let him sign it to the library you could have donated it after you’d read it” I’m sure that’s what he’d meant. What a great guy – you’d think he’d want everyone to buy his book so he can get the royalties! Oh well, there might be a reason the library doesn’t have a copy of it!
While I was standing there I told him about how I’d read Before You Know Kindness and how it wasn’t my favorite and he said “it wasn’t my favorite either.” :-) Then I told him how right after I read it, I’d read Idyll Banter which is his compilation of newspaper columns, and it was obvious to me that he’d written many of those columns while he was writing Before You Know Kindness and hearing the back story, and the pieces of his real life that were embedded in the story helped me appreciate the story more he smiled and told me I was a very astute reader! :-)
I told him how much I enjoyed meeting him and my time with him was done! It was really neat to be in such a small group setting where I could really get to know the man behind the books! He’s such a talented author, both of fiction and non-fiction! I can’t wait to read more of his blog (also on Goodreads) and his novels!