Sunday, June 11, 2006

Rockin' With the Author

Who says all the good book parties are in New York?

I went to a fabulous one on Friday night. It honored Neil MacFarquhar, the New York Times correspondent whose new novel, The Sand Café, has gotten fantastic reviews. Neil read from his book and then talked about various aspects of the Middle East. The audience was rapt.

The party was a who’s who of Bay Area journalism, with a smattering of authors and other creative types. Not everyone knew one another, but you couldn’t tell that from the buzz of voices in the room. Ready for the Bold Faces:

The host was Peter Waldman, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and a former Middle East correspondent. Peter, an insightful writer, did a lot of research for The Sand Café while Neil was recuperating from a horrific bike accident. Peter figures prominently in the book’s acknowledgments. Charene Zalis, his wife, shared hosting duties (as did I). She is an accomplished broadcast journalist in her own right.

For at least one evening, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal didn’t compete with one another. Neil’s colleague, the investigative journalist Lowell Bergman, called right before the party to say he couldn’t make it. But Jesse McKinley, the new San Francisco-based national correspondent for the New York Times, did. (He’s only been in the Bay Area for a few months, but has already picked up the pulse of the region. He wrote a lengthy article on Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and another on the TV show Deadwood, which appeared Sunday). Marilyn Chase, a science reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the author of The Barbary Plague, picked Neil’s brain about writing fiction. Julia Flynn Siler, another WSJ type and the author of the forthcoming House of Mondavi, came as well.

There were scads of other reporters/writers as well: Dan Fost, a technology reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle came, as did Frontline correspondent Mark Shapiro, who is writing a book on how American businesses have responded to the formation of the European Union.

Tom Barbash, who works out of the Grotto and writes fiction (The Last Good Chance) and narrative non-fiction (On Top of the World) partied with the crowd. Barbash and Neil (and I) were all reporters at the Syracuse Post-Standard in upstate New York in the 1980s, although at different times.

Much of my wonderful writing group, North 24th, mingled with the crowd. There was Susan Freinkel, who is writing a book for UC Press about the decline of the American Chestnut Tree, Jill Storey, who writes for Salon and other magazines, Allison Hoover Bartlett, whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post (she’s started a book project now), Katherine Neilan, a doctor whose personal essays about medicine have won lots of awards, and Sharon Epel, who most recent personal essay was published in Alternative Medicine.

There was a private eye set too: Alex Kline, (the brother of the actor Kevin Kline, who went to Stanford with Neil and whose brother, the actor Kevin Kline starred in the movie The Emperor’s Club, based on a short story written by Ethan Canin, one of Neil’s best friends.) Betsy Blumenthal, who works for Kroll Associates, came as well.

The company was good, the margaritas cold, and the food excellent. Best of, more than 25 people bought copies of The Sand Café.

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