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The best and toughest audience

So the other night I had a major, major book event.

I spoke at my mother’s Hadassah Chapter: Park Slope, Brooklyn.

There was cake, there was coffee, there was hummus & salad & quinoa. And there were thirty-odd Jewish women in their 40s and 50s and 60s, each of them (well, almost) holding a copy of Sima.

It hadn’t occurred to me until I was walking over to the meeting: they had the potential to be my best or worst audience.

After all: my novel is about Brooklyn Jewish women. Yes, they don’t have to be Jewish. But: they are, unapologetically so. I recently read Nathan Englander rail against the “Jewish Fiction” label. I see his point, but reject it entirely. Sima is Jewish Fiction.

And yet: this was my first  exclusively –and assertively –Jewish audience.

Would they recognize themselves and the landscape they know in Sima? Or would they tell me I’d gotten it all wrong? Or would they make nice small-talk for my mother’s sake, while clearly hating every last word I’d written?

Well: they seemed to like it. I got lots of kisses and hugs and significant hand-holds. More than that, I got to sit back and listen as they took the talk from me and carried it forward: women raising their hands, women interrupting, women leaning forward impatiently to respond to someone’s point about my book.

Is there a greater thrill for an author than hearing her work intelligently engaged with? Than listening, and in listening knowing: this story matters to someone?

And then too: how I’ve missed interruptions! Honest, at a midwifery intensive that preceded this trip I kept chastising myself for interrupting. I’m terrible sometimes, and I do try to be better. But to listen to these women talk, and to recognize the flow of the conversations I’d been raised on –well, it was validating.  I’ve learned to say ‘please’and ‘thank you’ (I swear I wasn’t taught as a child) and to keep quiet sometimes and wait my turn others, but it doesn’t always come easy to me, and sitting there and listening I understood why, and loved it.

One of the funniest moments came when I told them how so many Canadian readers had responded to me: understandably intrigued by the “exotic” setting and full of questions about it. (“What’s with the wigs?”)

The laughed out loud to think of Boro Park as exotic. “Really? They think that?!”

On the flip-side, I’m used to Americans giving me a blank look when I say I’m from Victoria. But these women all seemed to have been there, on some cruise or another. “The Butchart Gardens,” one after another told me, “I couldn’t believe how gorgeous!”

All in all, a fabulous evening. They even gave me a framed certificate for speaking at their group. “Oh yeah,” my father said, when he saw it, “Hadassah loves giving out certificates.”

Luckily, I love taking them.  Thank you, Hadassah of Park Slope, Brooklyn!!!!

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