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Touring

Proliferating readers! It was a joy and an honor to meet so many of you last week in New York and Boston. Over 100 people turned up at McNally Jackson where I had a long conversation with my first editor, Keith Gessen, during which my oldest childhood friend, the prominent novelist Dara Horn, was so carried away by the emotion of the moment that she threw a small plastic dinosaur at my head.

Wednesday’s reading at Brookline Booksmith was also attended by numerous valued readers of My Life and Thoughts, including my aunt Deniz and her oldest childhood friend, who doesn’t believe in pasteurization, and who had commemorated the occasion by baking a wonderful chocolate cake made with nonpasteurized buttermilk.  We were joined for cake by super-guest-blogger Peli Grietzer, who attended the Manhattan event and the Brookline event, and asked questions on subjects ranging from Shklovsky’s Third Factory to a paragraph from my dissertation which it turned out I had sent him in like 2007, so you just tell me if he deserved some cake.

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On Friday I appeared in a memorable (to me) double-billing with bootlicking fetishism expert Eli S. Evans at Brooklyn’s Bookcourt.  Afterwards there was a somehow very long evening which ended in the n+1 offices with the consumption of an enormous bottle of champagne originally presented, on the occasion of his recent book deal, to Chad Harbach—who, however, being a reasonable person, had already left hours ago. At first I felt really badly about drinking his champagne. Later, though, I felt less badly, which is how you can tell it was good champagne.

Diverse readers!  I don’t know what was more marvelous about the past week—seeing so many very dear friends, or meeting so many new readers, and learning about all the different ways in which people become possessed by Russian literature, or have cousins who were once possessed by Russian literature, or met a Russian person once in Lithuania, or have a great-great-grandfather who read War and Peace in the 1870s while working in the Underground Railroad.

I’m still incredibly touched, and a bit overwhelmed, because I never expected The Possessed to speak to such a large audience.  Neither did my publishers, or my agent, or anyone really, not because they didn’t like me, but because the debut essay collection on Russian literature is typically not one of our society’s higher or more volatile commodities.  Nonetheless, after Liesl Schillinger’s amazing review in the Sunday Times, The Possessed shot back up to the Amazon top 100, with foreign rights already sold in the UK (Granta), Australia (Text), Turkey (Doğan), and the Netherlands (Atlas).

I’m also happy to report that FSG has decided to extend the publicity budget to do a few more events.  So, if you are a bookseller, librarian, educator, dictator, or anyone else capable of organizing author events and mobilizing people to attend them, you can now invite me to read in your community, without necessarily inviting me to sleep on your sofa!  If this sounds like an offer you can’t refuse, please contact either me or, better yet, my publicist.  Just don’t contact my intern, because events coordination isn’t in his contract, and his union would be on my head like a ton of bricks.

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9 Responses to “Touring”

  1. lisa Says:

    Come to Canada! Specifically Toronto. There are many a russophile here.

  2. Jerry Newman Says:

    I came upon a review of your book in the NY Times Book Review and was enchanted by the life you’ve lived, still live, by your ability to give yourself so deeply to what matters to you. I look forward to reading “The Possessed”.

  3. Bill Says:

    The waitlist for your book at the Ann Arbor District Library is layers deep. I read it, and turned back (a rare thing) and read it again, to appreciate the artfulness, and read the first chapter of the dissertation and the started in on the blog, working my way up from the beginning. And The London Review of Books. I am jealous that your read the 1920 Diary and Red Cavalry in one go. I spend a morning on the Diary and felt I was doing my obeisances to Art. The dying remnant of Borders should have you in its hometown, or Nicolas. We have a town with storied connections to Russian literature.

  4. Mike Says:

    Elif, I hope you can note with a wry smile that the Schillinger review produced a 20% premium on your work, bumping The Possessed on Amazon back to $10.80 from $9.00.

    I have just bought it. If I were in the US, I would not buy on Amazon, but I am in Australia, where books are roughly two-thirds more expensive than anywhere else. Late last year the government was going to scrap parallel importation restrictions on the advice of the Productivity Commission, but caved in to an outrageous lobbying campaign from vulturine publishers positioning the end of PIR as the death-knell for local literature.

    I hope rights for The Possessed sold to Text were secured at a better rate than it offers local authors. Given the greed and parsimony of Australian publishers, I fear your publicity tour will not extend to Australia. More’s the pity.

  5. Lekha Says:

    Elif,
    I just read The Possessed and not having any background in Russian lit I still found it scintillating, interesting and I am convinced you will also write a huge novel someday. I bought the Kindle edition and found some of the links to notes a bit finicky but overall a great read.
    I am a fifth year doctoral candidate in natural resource policy and behavior and was fascinated by your stories (some of which I’d read previously in the New Yorker). It was reassuring to read that others have also taken a meandering path through the PhD process.
    I also found an announcement in my email this morning that the University of Michigan (where I study) is offering an introductory course on Uzbek!!

    “This course will introduce students to modern Uzbek, a Turkic language that is prevalent in contemporary Central Asia. Instruction in both speaking and writing will be proficiency-based; the course will include conversation, grammar and syntax, and composition and translation. No prerequisites. “

  6. Barbara Flowers Says:

    Dear Elif, I love your book. I’ve been ‘possessed’ for exactly 48 years and now you’ve written about my kind, so thank you, Barbara

    PS It took me 35 years to finish Lydia Chukovskaya’s ‘Akhmatova Journal’ at just one sentence every now and then. I can’t decide whether to read ‘The Possessed’ very slowly and thus never quite finish it but as I’m already at page 115 I must make up my mind soon.

  7. Christopher Says:

    In the past week I’ve seen three people reading your book on the 2/3 train! It seems to have become quite a New York hit.

    (Also –though you’re probably aware of this due to the fact that he’s writing his biography– I stumbled upon something of a compliment to your Babel piece in Jonathan Brent’s recent “Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia”… Check it out if you haven’t already read it.)

  8. Elif Says:

    many thanks for the super-kind comments!!

  9. Dave Lull Says:

    Q&A
    Reading the Russians
    Elif Batuman’s fresh look at a forbidding body of literature
    By Peter Terzian
    January 3, 2010

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/01/03/reading_the_russians/

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