It was cold and foggy on Thursday as I left my house in Berkeley to drive to the Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek. I was scheduled to give a talk on my book, Towers of Gold, to those who had gathered at the center for the Contra Costa Jewish Book and Arts Festival. But I wanted to get there earlier to hear Joan Bieder speak about her book, The Jews of Singapore. And when I entered the lecture hall – a bit late – the lights were dimmed and a group of about 40 people were intently watching a slide show of Jewish life in Singapore.
The keen interest in the speaker (seemed) to continue when I gave a talk about Isaias Hellman and the ways he used his financial acumen to help transform California. People listening to my speech appeared quite fascinated by details of the state’s growth and how Los Angeles only had around 4,400 people in 1860, Hellman’s early years in banking and his rise to the top of Wells Fargo Bank. And when I finished, quite a number came to buy my book.
This is the Jewish book fair circuit, one of the best-attended, yet least-known ways, for authors to connect with audiences. In Jewish community centers and synagogues around the country this month, hundreds of authors will talk to thousands of readers about their books. And the topics range from humorous to serious. In just a 24-hour period at the Walnut Creek JCC, visitors could hear Sharon Waxman talk about stolen antiquities and learn about the life of an elite Israeli commando, as well as about Hellman and the Jews of Singapore.
The idea of having November become Jewish Book Month was the brainchild of the Jewish Book Council, a group founded in 1925. It’s subsidiary the Jewish Book Network, now helps coordinate 70 book fairs around the country featuring 160 authors. It’s a $3 million industry and the major way for those with Jewish-themed books to reach a targeted audience.
It shouldn’t be such a surprise, since Jews are often called “People of the Book.”
I will be appearing Sunday Nov. 2 at Bookfest at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. I will be talking at 5:15 p.m. about California moguls with Fred Basten, who has written a biography of Max Factor. (Both our books are about Jewish men who grew old. Guess what he has on his cover? A glamorous woman! I guess she is made up in Max Factor makeup. It’s a clever way to sell a book.)
There are lots of other authors appearing as well, including David Grossman, Amy Bloom, Lore Segal, John Rothmann, Marie Brenner, and more.