Upstairs I was introduced to a room full of other local booksellers, librarians, and “bookish people”. It seemed like everyone knew everyone else from years of being in the industry, but I did my best to join in the cycle of introductions and small talk. When the author came out, I was able to chat with him for a few minutes about the book and his other career as a performer on Broadway. This turned out to be very lucky for me, because once we were seated for dinner I was on the far end of the table and no longer had easy access to him.
After we'd settled into our seats, the book and the author were introduced. Gavriel Savit's book Anna and the Swallow Man is a dark tale set in 1930s Poland. Anna, a little girl of seven, is left a friend of her father's so he can attend a meeting, but he never returns. After a day, the friend kicks the child out into the street. She is saved by a mysterious man, whom she learns to call the Swallow Man. He takes her under his care and together they journey from one city to the next, trying to escape the escalating war.
I'd read the book before the event, and it's simply stunning. The language is so beautiful and the words so carefully, perfectly selected that even though I am tired of World War II novels and wouldn't pick one up by choice, I devoured Anna and the Swallow Man.
Savit talked about the genesis of the book and his inspirations, but the talk at the table quickly moved into the world of Broadway, with a lively debate about the merits of Sondheim's works quickly erupting between the author, a radio program host, and a librarian. It was very entertaining, but challenging to follow. I know musical theater well enough that I would recognize the titles of different shows, but couldn't remember specifics about the lesser known ones. After the appetizer round, Savit moved on to a new table.
As we ate, I got to know the booksellers sitting around me. It seemed like I was the only one from the South Bay, there were a lot of booksellers from San Francisco (naturally) and quite a few from the East Bay, especially Oakland and Berkeley. It's amazing that there are so many bookstores in the Bay Area. I often forget just how lucky we are here because there are so many I have yet to visit, but at some point I should set a weekend aside and go on a little road trip to see as many bookshops as I can.
After dessert, Savit signed books, and I was able to pick up an extra copy for my boss. Even better, the publicist who had organized the event asked if I wanted to take the large poster of the book cover back to the store, since she knows we often use them to decorate our walls. I immediately thought of a perfect place for it, so I said yes, and the author signed it with a flourish.
When I got back downstairs, I did remember to collect my husband from the bar. I probably would have been fine to drive back home – the staff was generous with wine-pouring during the dinner but I wasn't too buzzed – but he had liked the bar so I didn't feel too badly about hauling him up to the city with me.