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By Michael Braverman | August 9, 2013 | Culture
One of the Authors Night dinners will again be at Michael Braverman’s East Hampton home.
Magazine editor and author John Searles's latest tome, Help for the Haunted, is impossible to put down.
Suzanna Corso, author of Brooklyn Story, will also attend Authors Night.
Author Jessica Soffer will be speaking about her debut novel, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.
As if to reaffirm our traditions in the arts, Authors Night, a benefit for the East Hampton Library, has become one of the most sought-after and well-attended events on the summer calendar. It is often called the premier literary occasion of the Hamptons, but that seems a rather modest description for a gathering of more than 100 authors with 1,500 people attending. Under a festive tent with food and wine, guests buy (or bring) books to be inscribed at the Authors Reception. Following the book signing, a gala evening continues with a series of dinners at private homes featuring guest authors.
“There are so many writers out here: We sit at the library together, pass each other on Main Street, wait in line for coffee behind one another, but that’s it,” says author Jessica Soffer, who will be attending the event with her debut novel, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). “We don’t overstep our boundaries. At Authors Night, however, overstepping is the point. We get to meet one another, become more than just a face. And from then on, we’re in it together. We’re a part of something; we’re less alone, doing what we do.”
As a resident, I have borrowed books from the East Hampton Library for over 40 years, and as a journalist who often writes on local history, I rely on materials at the Long Island Collection, the unique and rare treasure of an archive at the heart of the library. Beyond its content, the beauty of the library building draws me back again and again. The oldest portion was built in 1912 as an idealized version of a structure from a pre-17th-century Kentish village where the original settlers had their roots. In 1997, the centennial year of the library’s founding, the last extension and renovation, under the direction of architect Robert A.M. Stern, both restored the neo-Elizabethan architectural integrity and brought the library into the Internet age.
The East Hampton Library is supported in part by tax revenue but relies on “bequests, gifts and donations,” as it is called in its annual financial statement, to supplement the tax base, and Authors Night is the most prominent fundraising event. And the event is everything you’d expect of a midsummer celebration of life and literature in the Hamptons: elegant parties, scintillating conversation, celebrity names, an outstanding cause, all connected to the creative act of writing and the sublime pleasure of reading.
Partnering with the library, the largest of the dinners is hosted at my home in East Hampton, which was built to accommodate a vast private library. This year, I have the pleasure of hosting authors Padma Lakshmi, Suzanne Corso, Marisha Pessl, John Searles, Leeann Lavin, and Jessica Soffer.
“Authors Night for me is an organic way to tell everyone about my books,” says Corso, whose pitch-perfect coming-of-age novel, Brooklyn Story (Simon & Schuster), follows protagonist Samantha through the geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic milieu of Bensonhurst toward an inevitable but still uncertain future. Selected as one of USA Today’s “New Voices” in late 2010, Corso will publish her second novel, The Suite Life, in September. “I’m honored to be part of this event and the many books that are shared somewhere on a beach chair.”
John Searles is editor-at-large of Cosmopolitan and a book reviewer for the Today show and The Early Show, but it seems that he’s spent the last nine years (since he published his second novel) dreaming up ways to unnerve and frighten us. A dark, suspenseful Gothic tale, the plot of his third tome, Help for the Haunted (Harper Collins), involves murders, demonology, loneliness, introspection, and tragedy, and it unfolds in a riveting, unpredictable way and in a compelling style. You keep thinking you want to move on to something less scary, but it’s awfully tough to put down this book once you’ve started reading. As for Searles himself, he says, “People are often surprised that I am so upbeat.”
Food and cooking are themes essential to Jessica Soffer’s beautifully written debut novel, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, as plot or character. Masgouf, for example, a traditional dish of the Jews of Iraq becomes a touchstone in the novel of a mother-daughter dynamic. Soffer is a natural artist with language, creating in fresh and elegant prose two unusual and finely drawn women characters adrift in New York with food never far as a presence or a reference. The bond that develops between the elderly Iraqi cooking teacher and the young girl whose world is somehow exemplified by food is unforgettable. “When my father [artist Sasson Soffer] came to the United States, he was forced to abandon his family, his Jewish faith, his national pride, and so food and the flavors of his childhood were the way he reestablished a home,” says Soffer, who is clearly one of the talented voices of her generation. “Writing about Iraqi Jews, about his culture, meant—for me—writing about food.”
Depending on your time and abilities, you can also tempt your taste buds in author Leeann Lavin’s The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook (Voyager Press). The more ambitious and culinary inclined among us will reach for the cutting board; others of us will make a beeline for the armchair to enjoy its pages. The lavishly produced book is organized by geographical areas: the Hamptons and South Fork; the North Fork and Shelter Island; the North Shore; and the South Shore; and then by restaurants with essays on the chefs and growers or resources and of course favorite recipes, all with dazzling color photographs. Lavin’s expert understanding of the world of food is matched by her gift for conveying not just the glories of the now familiar concepts of local or seasonable or sustainable but the personalities of the men and women who are making it actually happen.
“It’s a wonder to be a part of this literary tribe,” says Lavin. “I feel a bit in simpatico with an Academy Award nominee who says it’s just so great to even be nominated. To participate in Authors Night is a dream invitation to a special world—a blink-back moment that reveals a portal to a magical place filled with established, popular, and famous artists. As someone who has been deeply, madly, in love with books and reading and writing and telling stories for my entire life, this is somewhere over the rainbow.” Authors Night takes place Saturday, August 10 at the Gardiner Farm, 36 James Lane, East Hampton, 324-0222
Photography by eugene gologursky/getty images for hamptons magazine (tent); thomas caruso (searles); beowulf sheehan (soffer)