Book Club at the Red Table



Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 1.58.11 PMI belong to my daughter’s Book Club. She supplies the good company, calls in the bagel order to Murray’s in Chelsea and sets the table. I sit back, relax and take it all in, curious as to what each member thinks of the particular book chosen that month. It’s a good group—smart, insightful, funny, all different professions sharing the dual passion of friendship and books. It is great for a writer to be in their company. It’s like having your very own focus group—you listen to what they like in a book; what gave them pause; what made them want to continue; and what, if anything, disturbed them.

Last month, for the first time, an author joined the group—Julia Dahl who has recently published a terrific first novel, INVISIBLE CITY. I wasn’t the one who invited her; she came courtesy of another member, Jeff, who works for Julia’s husband. But I am pleased to say I was the one who chose the novel as our monthly read.

From the very start, Julia, cute, charming, gracious, stiletto sense of humor, fit right in with the group. Except for me, they are all around the same age—early 30s. I sat back, sipped my coffee and watched Julia handle their pinpoint questions with ease and confidence. The novel deals with a murder in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community and one determined young reporter’s quest to get to the truth. It is beautifully written, fast-paced, New York City rich dialogue and what is most impressive to me, especially with a first novel, is how quickly a reader is engaged in the story. In less than 20 pages, Dahl has you in her world—the tabloids on one end; the cloistered life of the Ultra-Orthodox on the other; and, in the middle, a young woman grappling to come to terms with a mother who long ago abandoned her.

The atmosphere around the Red Table was relaxed and casual, the questions born of curiosity, the answers delivered in a confident manner. The Red Table Book Club is as interested in the process of how a book is written as much as they are in how well the final version is executed. They asked Julia about her research, about whether she felt threatened by those in the community, about how much her newspaper background helped her in writing the novel. It was a pleasure for me to be a small part of that special Sunday morning.

We hear so much about the death of the written word, about how no one reads anymore and no cares about books. And there is, sadly, proof of that all around us—stores closing by the week, sales decreasing, lists cut back. It is sad enough to walk down certain streets and no longer see the book store I used to haunt, a young man spending money he didn’t have on books he needed to have.

And then I look around the table, at the bright and eager faces of The Red Table Book Club and see them chatting with a young author who has nothing but a brilliant future in front of her and it makes me realize that maybe all that negative talk about the demise of the book can be defeated. That there are many people out there who still love a good story well told and will reach for it in any fashion they can.

There was one other thing about that morning that stayed with me. One of the members of the Red Table Club, Matt, had told me earlier that he had signed with a literary agency. They had agreed to take on the novel he wrote in his free time, when he wasn’t teaching or helping his wife, Phoebe, take care of just about 2-year-old Nate. He was too shy to mention that to Julia so I did.

Her reaction was one of sheer joy. “That’s fantastic,” Julia said. “That is huge. That’s the biggest obstacle. That means they think they can sell it and they will.”

And that’s one of the many things I love about the writing life. How welcoming it is to new members of the fraternity. How eager they are to reach out and help the younger ones following in their path or in the case of Julia and Matt, quick to embrace the newest author in the group.

I saw that and thought back to when I was a teenager and wrote a long letter to Pete Hamill, then a columnist for the New York Post. I remembered how kind he was to me and, later, when he went to the News and I started there as a copy boy how generous he was of his time and his talent. He got as much of a kick helping me as I did absorbing his valuable lessons.

That was my take-away from that morning. A young author, flush with the success of her new book and deep into writing her second, happily sharing a bagel, some coffee, conversation and experience with a group of readers who had, by the end of the meeting, become her friends.

And that is truly what any reader is to an author—a friend.

A very good friend.




The Master

Author Elmore Leonard Portrait Session And Book Signing At Book SoupElmore Leonard died at the age of 87, the result of a stroke. The day the stroke hit, Leonard was doing what he had been doing since 1951—the year he sold his first short story, a western, to Argosy Magazine—writing. He was working on his 46th novel, “Blue Dreams.”

Leonard, known as “Dutch” to his friends—a nickname he lifted from a Washington Senators baseball pitcher who shared the same last name—came out of the world of advertising, writing copy during the day and getting up before the sun rose to write two pages of a novel every morning. He would finish one page before he allowed himself a taste of that first cup of coffee. Continue reading “The Master”

Notes from Tuscany

View in San Gimignano
(Photo by Daniel Korzeniewski)

I wrote this while I was working on my novel Midnight Angels, which is set in Florence. 

THE MEN AND WOMEN of Tuscany live as if they were fast frozen in the middle of a Renaissance painting. A place of beauty and serenity locked in a timeless frame, their modern-world activities are enveloped in a setting put in place centuries before they were born.

The Renaissance has never left Tuscany. It can be found on any street corner, inside any church, down the halls of many an ancient but preserved palazzo. Continue reading “Notes from Tuscany”

The Ten Must-Read Crime Novels

I write about crime—whether it’s a murder committed by a member of my own family or one that comes out of a world of my own. I also read about crime and have since I was old enough to get a library card. Now, what I consider a crime novel, you might not—for example, I would put THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (my favorite all-time book) in the crime category. But the ones I’ve chosen below, these 10 amazing books, are the ones I’ve gone to school on, learned from and read again and again. They are, for my money, the best the crime arena has to offer:

  1. THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins. A classic. It is practically a how-to on writing and pacing a crime novel. And the dialogue is as on the money as it is possible to be. Higgins is one of the underrated greats of the crime fiction world.
  2. INNOCENT BLOOD by P.D. James. The only murder happens even before the story begins but this is one of the most chilling reads you will ever encounter. The writing is crisp, clean and elegant and the characters so real you feel as if they’re in the room with you.
  3. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN by Patricia Highsmith. We all know the story since it has been copied about two dozen times by movie and TV writers down the years. But this is the one that brought it home and Highsmith writes with a cold detachment that helps ground the story in reality, making it all the more frightening.
  4. COP KILLER by Ed McBain. The first of the 87th series and still one of the best. This series set the standard for police procedurals and inspired a number of TV shows—including HILL STREE BLUES and LAW & ORDER.
  5. THE NOVEMBER MAN by Bill Granger. This is also the first in a series that disappeared way too early. Fast-paced, exciting and filled with enough twists and turns to make you take hard notice.
  6. THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo. This one is the Olympic medal winner in the crime world. It will never be matched. Ever.
  7. THE CONTINETNAL OP by Dashiell Hammett. This collection of stories that brings the OP into the PI arena is Hammett at his best and Hammett at his best beats everyone else in town.
  8. CITY PRIMEVAL: HIGH NOON IN DETROIT by Elmore Leonard. I could pick from as many as 35 Leonard books for this list but this earlier work still rocks and rolls with great dialogue, tons of action and heroes who could easily be villains and bad guys you end up liking more than you probably should.
  9. THE BLOODING by Joseph Wambaugh. Any of his novels could have made my list, but this non-fiction book ranks among his best. It’s factual and that makes its gruesome story all that more amazing—well-written and a stunner of an ending.
  10. IN COLD BLOOD By Truman Capote. It broke EVERY rule of non-fiction and set a new template for how to tell a true crime story. Beautifully written yet never once allows the reader to forget the brutal crime behind the tale.

What are your favorites?