Author Event: David Ebershoff and *The 19th Wife*

My 12-year-old daughter and I had a great evening out in Cambridge on Tuesday night; we went in to the Harvard Bookstore for an appearance by David Ebershoff, author of the novel The 19th Wife.

We live just 15 miles west of Harvard Square, a straight shot down Route 2, about 20 minutes without traffic.  But, the event was at 7pm, at the tail end of rush hour, surely there would be traffic!  We left the house around 5:15, in plenty of time to drive and park before the event.  It was smooth sailing into Cambridge; we even found a spot on the street, right near the intersection of Bow and Arrow … funny, huh?

We walked over to the Coop, LW12 tried to convince me that she “needed” a Vera Bradley backpack; then she did the math and realized that she would need to babysit for 40 hours to earn enough money to pay for the backpack.  I guess the Lands’ End pack we bought her will suffice!

“The Coop” is the local name for “The Harvard Co-operative”, the official bookstore of Harvard University.  The bookstore itself is now part of Barnes and Noble (but as the Boston Bibliophile says, not just any Barnes and Noble!).  Both the Coop and the Harvard Bookstore (a completely separate indie bookstore, where the author event was held) will be featured in a future Spotlight on Bookstores.

Back at the Harvard Bookstore, the staff was setting out folding chairs for the event.  Typical for the area, space is tight, and they make the best use of every nook and cranny.  The first time I went to a reading here I thought “where will they put everyone?!”.  Then I realized that the bookcases were on rollers and the booksellers slide them to the side to make a small event area.  How do you like the announcement advertising the night’s event on the chalkboard sign out on the sidewalk?

We still had about 10 minutes before Ebershoff was scheduled to speak, so LW12 and I browsed a bit.  I’d be good on one of those games shows that gives you a limited amount of time to shop for prizes – I gathered four books in that 10 minutes; look for them in my Friday Finds this week.  LW12 picked up a book for herself, too.

Shortly after we slid into our seats a bookseller introduced David Ebershoff.  You may wonder, as I did, if his name is pronounced “Ebers-hoff” or “Eber-shoff” … It’s Eber-shoff!

David opened with a ancedote from the previous weekend.  He had been up in Boston attending the NEBA (New England Bookseller’s Association) trade show.  At dinner he was seated next to the owner of the Harvard Bookstore, who related a story about an attempted robbery of the store a few years back.  It was early evening and their were about four customers in line to check out.  The next in line quietly showed a gun to the bookseller behind the check-out desk and said, “give me all your money or I’ll shoot”.  The bookseller replied, “I don’t believe you.”  The would-be robber repeated his request; the clerk repeated his reply.  This exchange went back-and-forth three or four times; then the man brandishing the gun walked out in disgust.  Lesson:  don’t mess with the booksellers at the Harvard Bookstore (this might go for second-guessing their book recommendations, as well!)

We then got into the main part of the event, which was David’s introduction of The 19th Wife, reading of several excerpts, and a question-and-answer session.  The novel combines two tales:  one is the fictional memoir of Ann Eliza Young (who was, in reality, the nineteenth wife of Mormon Prophet Brigham Young, and denounced him and the Church’s practices after she left the sect around 1875); the second is the present-day story of Jordan Scott, a so-called “lost boy” of the splinter group of “Firsts”, who re-connects with the world that excommunicated him after his mother (another 19th wife!) is accused of murdering her father.  The book goes back and forth between these narratives, never missing a beat.

The sections David chose to read really highlighted his ability to get into his characters’ heads and write faithfully in their voices.  He started in the voice of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who “wrote” the introduction to Ann Eliza’s faux memoir (page 24, if you have the book); then we heard from the original nineteenth wife, Ann Eliza Young, in the “preface” to the memoir (page 5); lastly, David read the prologue to Jordan’s story (pages 7-9) which sets up the present-day murder scenario and gives us our first glimpse into the world Jordan came from.

When David finished reading the third section, he opened up the floor to questions.  I won’t go into them here, as my notes may be used next month (October 20) when I review The 19th Wife for David’s stop at my blog on his TLC Book Tour.  If you can’t wait until then to read more about David Ebershoff and The 19th Wife, check out the tour schedule, starting on October 15: 

I did promise pictures from the evening; LW12 makes a great “assistant”, but she focused on our faces and cut off the book I was holding … picture a copy of The 19th Wife front and center.  (LW12 was very impressed, by the way, with the knowledge David shared about plural marriages and his research into Ann Eliza Young.  She commented that was so much more involved than “just writing about something you already know” … like middle-school hi-jinks in her case, I suppose :)   )

And, he inscribed my copy of the book.  It says:  For Dawn – With so many thanks for your support and your blog – thanks for coming to the Harvard Bookstore tonight! – David Ebershoff    

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