Book Festival Goes Big, Virtual
Book FestivalCommunity

Book Festival Goes Big, Virtual

Online this year, the Book Fest in Your Living Room has half the number of authors, but larger audience expected.

The Book Festival of the MJCCA, believed the largest Jewish book festival in the country, may be even bigger this year. To be clear, while there may be half as many authors participating, the audience is expected to increase by at least thousands of viewers with the new virtual platform, the result of the national health crisis, said festival director Pam Morton.

The two-week virtual festival, including about 24 authors, runs from Nov. 7 to Nov. 22 with tickets either $6 or $11 except for programs that require a book purchase to access the event. Some programs are free. Headliners include Rachel Bloom, Michael J. Fox, John Grisham, Joan Lunden, Natan Sharansky and Lawrence Wright.

As other communal organizations are finding, online programming offers a mixed bag.

“I joke with a lot of patrons: you can park as close as you want to your front door. You can sit in the front row, and you can watch the entire event in your pajamas,” she said.

On the other hand, the human contact is missing, Morton admits. That includes going out to dinner before the event and standing in line for a book signing. “It’s hard to replicate that, unfortunately.” But the Q&A format should help, and authors have agreed to provide book plates or signed books, she said.

The book festival is part of the larger fall programming that began Sept. 1 and continues into 2021, or until it’s safe to begin in-person programming, Morton said. “We have 40 events in the next 2 ½ months.”

Morton cited viewers from Germany and Sweden among those she’s heard are tuning into the book festival’s new In Your Living Room LIVE Zoom programming, an outgrowth of the pandemic. The book festival also will showcase the new relationship the MJCCA has built with members of the JCC Association of North America called The National JCC Literary Consortium. What began as a handful of Jewish community centers asking to partner with the MJCCA to share its book festivals with their members, has grown to 85 JCCs (including five in Canada) sharing programming, Morton said.

“Some JCCs are still closed; some are just getting reopened. Sadly, like us, many were forced to lay off or furlough staff.” The joint programming allows JCCs to provide compelling content to their communities and share in the revenue raised from the events.

Instead of an author selection meeting with 100 people in July and a smaller group going to the Jewish Book Council Network conference in New York to choose books, Morton pulled together about 20 lay leaders, including this year’s cochairs Deena Profis and Artie Gumer, past book festival chairs and those who signed up to go to New York, and presented about 50 to 60 authors over a two-night program via Zoom. “They chose the most compelling and most interesting to the community.”

Probably one of the most timely books in the lineup is “The End of October,” presented a little later than that time period, Nov. 14. It’s the first novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright about a global pandemic set in Atlanta.

All in the Family
Among the other authors who made the list are those with big family connections. They include Esther Safran Foer, the mother of author Jonathan Safran Foer, who is also in the fall book program lineup. Esther introduces her book, “I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post Holocaust Memoir” at an event Nov. 9 that highlights the MJCCA’s Kristallnacht program.

Another family connection is Dale Berra, who writes in “My Dad, Yogi” about his famous father, a baseball legend. He appears at the festival Nov. 10. Then there’s Cameron Douglas, the son of actor Michael Douglas and grandson of Kirk Douglas, appearing Nov 11. The junior Douglas writes in “Long Way Home” about his struggle against drug abuse and his nearly eight years in prison.

Comedian Michael Ian Black writes to his teenager before he leaves for college, “A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to my Son” about being a mensch. Black appears Nov. 18.

Local Authors
As part of the Prologue to the Book Festival, Arthur Blank, co-founder of The Home Depot, presents “Good Company” Oct. 26 and Mike Leven, former CEO and chairman of the Georgia Aquarium, “Can’t Do it Yourself” Oct. 29.

On Nov. 17, the festival features Atlanta authors Harry Stern, former director of the MJCCA, “My Brother’s Keeper,” and Sandra Berman, former archivist of the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, “Whitewashed.”

The events are 60 minutes with 15 minutes for audience Q&A, and all use the In Conversation format in which a journalist or other well-known moderator leads the discussion with the author, Morton said.

She explained, “It’s difficult to maintain the attention span of one person [with a lecture format]. It’s more entertaining with dialogue.”

Morton credits the Book Festival’s supporters for helping to make the event possible. “Once again, our loyal patrons, pacesetters and many sponsors offered their support with donations equaling or even greater than that of last year’s festival. We wouldn’t have this opportunity to showcase the best and the brightest of the year’s authors were it not for them.”

Learn more here about some of the headliners:

Natan Sharanksy and Gil Troy, “Never Alone.”
Sun., Nov. 8, 1 p.m.

In 1977, Natan Sharansky was arrested. He was a leading activist for the democratic dissident movement in the Soviet Union and the movement for free Jewish emigration. Sharansky was a political prisoner for nine years, convicted of treason against the state. In “Never Alone,” he and historian Gil Troy show how Sharansky’s prison time prepared him for his public life, his work as an Israeli politician and the head of The Jewish Agency.

“Never Alone” includes reflections from his seat at the table as history unfolded in Israel and the Middle East, and his passionate efforts to unite the Jewish people.

Joan Lunden, “Why Did I Come into This Room? A Candid Conversation About Aging”
Sun., Nov. 8, 8 p.m.

Acclaimed journalist and Baby Boomer Joan Lunden openly shares her anxieties and breakthroughs and how she’s coping with the realities of aging: wrinkles and age spots, expanding waistlines, diminished energy (my get-up-and-go got up and went), weak pelvic floors (yes, we’re talking about leaking), hot flashes, disrupted sleep, changes in sex drive (oh yeah, she goes there), ageism (it exists and it pisses us off), and yes, the real reasons we find ourselves always searching for those car keys! “Why Did I Come into This Room?” explores the science of aging and how it impacts the body and brain.

John Grisham, “A Time for Mercy”
Wed., Nov. 11, 3 p.m.

The hero of the widely popular “A Time to Kill” returns in a courtroom drama that showcases New York Times best-selling author John Grisham at the height of his storytelling powers.

Jake Brigance finds himself embroiled in a deeply divisive trial when the court appoints him attorney for Drew Gamble, a timid 16-year-old boy accused of murdering a local deputy. Many in Clanton, Miss., want a swift trial and the death penalty, but Brigance discovers that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Jake’s fierce commitment to saving Drew from the gas chamber puts his career, his financial security and the safety of his family at risk.

Lawrence Wright, “The End of October.”
Sat., Nov. 14, 8 p.m.

In this riveting medical thriller, Dr. Henry Parsons races to find the origins and cure of a mysterious new killer virus. He travels for the World Health Organization to Indonesia, where 47 people are pronounced dead with acute hemorrhagic fever. Parsons, a microbiologist and epidemiologist, learns that an infected man is preparing to join millions of worshippers in the annual hajj to Mecca.
Parsons and a Saudi prince and doctor try to quarantine the pilgrims in the holy city. Meanwhile a Russian émigré, deputy director of U.S. Homeland Security, responds to what may be biowarfare.

In Atlanta, Parson’s wife and children face diminishing odds of survival. The novel is packed with suspense and includes a fascinating history of viral diseases.

Michael J. Fox, “No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality”
Thurs., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.

Michael J. Fox is known for his humorous acting roles, including “Back to the Future” and “Family Ties,” but he’s equally engaged in advocacy for Parkinson’s disease, having been diagnosed at 29. His two previous best-selling memoirs dealt with coming to terms with the illness while exhibiting his iconic optimism. His new memoir reassesses this outlook as events in the past decade presented additional challenges.

Fox shares personal stories and observations about illness and health, aging, the strength of family and friends, and how our perceptions about time affect the way we approach mortality. The book provides a vehicle for reflection about our lives, our loves and our losses.

Rachel Bloom, “I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are”
Sat. Nov. 21, 8 p.m.

From the charming and wickedly funny co-creator and star of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a collection of hilarious personal essays, poems and even amusement park maps on the subjects of insecurity, fame, anxiety and more.
In this exploration of what Rachel Bloom thinks makes her “different,” she’s come to realize that a lot of people also feel this way, even those she otherwise thought were “normal.” In a collection of laugh-out-loud funny essays, all told in the unique, sometimes singing voice that made her a star, Bloom writes about her love of Disney, OCD and depression, weirdness, Spanx and how she didn’t poop in the toilet until she was 4.

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