“Freedom,” “The Dovekeepers,” and “Fifty Shades of Grey”
Last month I was at R. Julia Booksellers, an independent bookstore in Madison, Connecticut to attend an author forum. A two-story building that looks like a town landmark, R. Julia Booksellers was opened twenty-two years ago by Roxanne Coady who has put and kept this small bookstore on the literary map despite the growth of the big chains and the mammoth bookseller of all: Amazon whose very existence threatens all independent booksellers (full disclosure: I buy books from Amazon).
R. Julia Booksellers is “The Strand” of Connecticut with both first-time and established authors making appearances to promote their most recent publications. The company’s website boasts that more than 300 authors a year give readings and talks at the store or at locations sponsored by R. Julia Booksellers. For a small, independent bookstore, this feat is impressive and Coady needs to be commended for keeping literature front and center in Connecticut.
On the night I attended and before introducing Alice Hoffman who wrote “The Dovekeepers,” Roxanne Coady stood in front of the audience and after introducing herself, began to speak about her friend, Alice Hoffman who has authored 30 novels. Coady also praised Hoffman for her numerous appearances at R. Julia Booksellers. Before continuing on, Coady mentioned that the store book club had also read “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen the year before and decided that “Freedom” would not stand the test of time but that “The Dovekeepers” would (I have to disagree on this conclusion). Coady then told the audience that Franzen wouldn’t come to R. Julia Booksellers – and this obviously irritated her but to the audience, or at least to me, this was sour grapes. This was not the forum to air grievances over perceived slights. Praising an author is admirable but praising an author while disparaging another writer for not making a bookstore appearance doesn’t play out well.
“The Dovekeepers” is a fictional tale based on historical research and a book that I enjoyed but not as much as “Freedom.” Freedom is a contemporary novel whose author relied heavily on character development. As such, the book’s strength is in the depth of the human condition which is arguably more difficult to convey than historical accounts of life 2,000 years ago on a cliff overlooking The Dead Sea because historical events can fill pages whereas the day-to-day thinking and behavior of characters is the constant theme in a character driven novel. Franzen’s subject is people living in today’s world dealing with today’s problems and issues. There is no history or moral lesson but instead characters that most of us can identify with or understand.
Before leaving the stage and handing the podium over to Alice Hoffman, Coady said she had a special announcement – a secret she wanted to share with her audience. That there were about 100 book lovers in the room ensured the information she was about to announce would not remain a secret for long. E.L. James, author of “Fifty Shades of Grey” was coming to Connecticut to give her one and only book promotion appearance at the Omni Hotel in Stamford and afterwards, give Coady an exclusive interview. This obviously pleased Coady immensely and kudos to Coady for securing the interview.
Many critics would classify “Fifty Shades of Grey” as a romance novel and in reality, it probably is. “The Dovekeepers” is a work of fiction based heavily on historical research while “Freedom” is contemporary fiction. Of the three novels, “Freedom” is the only book that I read twice and that I still think about because the characters were complicated and the reasons behind their behavior were not spoon fed to me. People’s opinions differ though and that’s the point. It’s ok to disagree about how good a book is or isn’t because we all know that the quality of a book or the writing is not about how many books are sold but the subjective opinion of readers. What we don’t want to do is disparage authors or their work because they don’t make book store appearances while praising the work of those that do make appearances, at the expense of the former.
Picture of R. Julia Booksellers by Slack12.