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All the Light There Was


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Pie Chart by Nicola Griffith

Pie Chart by Nicola Griffith

 

Since a few months before the launch of All the Light There Was, I have been sending out a newsletter to friends, family, and interested readers. Below is my latest missive with instructions on how to sign up to receive the newsletter yourself.

5 Jun 2015

Dear Friends,

Well, I didn’t go to Book Expo America as planned. I was flattened by a virus and had to cancel pretty much everything for the week. I was sad to miss the event at the Republic of Armenia pavilion, and even sadder to miss a private dinner with Archipelago Books and translator Maureen Freely to celebrate the publication of Sait Fait’s A Useless Man: Selected Stories. While I was sick in bed, I read and loved the stories—the working class people, the scenes in and around Istanbul, and the humane, often melancholy, and yet sharp voice of the narrator.

For the past two months I have been enjoying Skype calls and email exchanges with a young Palestinian writer and translator in Gaza as part of a mentorship program called We Are Not Numbers. Please read the first harvest of our collaboration: Enas Fares Ghannam’s piece, FORCED: A Story from Gaza.

An article I wrote entitled “Choosing ‘Co-Resistance’ Rather Than ‘Turkish-Armenian Dialogue’” for the hard copy of Armenian Weekly’s April 2015 Armenian Genocide Magazine posted online last week.

And for those who are following the upcoming Turkish elections, you might find this amusing: Erdogan accused journalists, gays and Armenians as being ‘representatives of sedition’ through supporting the opposition, Kurdish-friendly HDP party. In The Nation, Maria Margaronis offers a good overview of the issues at stake in this election, along with some paragraphs about Armenian Genocide Centennial commemorative events in Istanbul.

At the end of May a novelist named Nicola Griffith wrote an essay about the fact that books about women tend not to win big awards and a second piece on the topic that offered solutions. Nothing in the data Griffith collected was surprising (disheartening yes, surprising no), but the pie charts were great. The inimitable Ursula Le Guin also wrote an excellent piece entitled Up The Amazon about Amazon, books and capitalism that I highly recommend.

Thanks, as always, for your support and interest. Please feel free to forward to a friend. Anyone can sign up to receive this newsletter by sending a note to nkbookgroup@gmail.com.

Best,

Nancy Kricorian

 


News: Los Angeles, Istanbul, Toronto, Gaza

Banksy in Gaza, 2/15

Banksy in Gaza, 2/15

 

In the spring of 2013, around the launch of my third novel ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, I started sending out a newsletter of sorts, usually twice or three times a month, to friends, family and interested readers. Below is the latest missive. If you’d like to be on the mailing list, drop me a line at nkbookgroup@gmail.com. 

 

Dear Friends,

I’m sending you a quick update because I wanted to share with you this week’s highlights! I had a great trip to Los Angeles—it was an utter delight to escape from NYC’s interminable winter and have a taste of spring in California. My two talks went well, and I got to hang out with old friends and new.

Herewith, as I promised last time, is Project 2015’s two-minute promo video in which I explain why I’m going to Istanbul for the Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemoration. Please watch and share. (And maybe you want to join us in Istanbul?)

On Friday, Armenian students in Toronto organized a brilliant action at a lecture by two speakers who specialize in genocide denial. My friend Corey Robin posted the article to Facebook with this commentary:

This, by a group of Armenian activists at the University of Toronto, really is the best kind of protest against loathsome speech (in this case, against two denialists of the Armenian Genocide, one of whom is a prominent American conservative). The student activists didn’t try to stop or ban the speeches. They just allowed the speakers to say a tiny bit, then turned their backs on them, prompting furious but futile attempts to get the activists kicked out, and then walked out en masse, leaving the speakers with a pitiful audience of 20 supporters. This is the way to shut down (without shouting down) denialists, racists, and the like: f*ck with their heads, disrupt through silence, and demoralize the sh*t out of them.

And last, but not least, earlier this week the street artist Banksy revealed new works and a brief “travel” video that he shot in Gaza. As the artist wrote on a wall in Gaza, “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful—we don’t remain neutral.”

May it soon be Spring.

Best,

Nancy K

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


The Nightmare of Publication and the Happy Afterlife of Books

novels

 

NIGHTMARE

Much has been made of the analogy between publishing a novel and giving birth to a child. Having given birth to two children and published three novels, I can say the two things have very little in common. One of traits they do share is that the pain involved is quickly forgotten, almost erased from memory, so that one is willing to undertake the process again. When I was in labor with my first child—a labor that lasted 24 hours—at the height of the agony, I insisted that my spouse repeat this sentence, “I promise I will never let you do this again.” Of course, several years later I was the one lobbying for another child, and when I went into labor a second time, the pain of the first rose up in my bodily memory like a hammer, and I thought, “Oh no! I didn’t want to do this again.” But by that point I had no choice.

About six months before the publication of my first novel, I had lunch with a writer friend who had already published three books. He kindly offered to pen a laudatory quotation for use on my novel’s back cover, and we talked shop about publishers, first print runs, foreign rights sales, and the like. I was working as a literary scout for international publishers at the time so I knew a fair amount about the business, but I was a neophyte as an author. When he said, “The three months around publication are a complete nightmare,” I was shocked. For years I had been longing to hold in my hands a copy of a book with my name printed on the cover. Wasn’t that the whole point of writing? Wasn’t that every unpublished writer’s dream? And here he was telling me that the achievement of my heart’s desire was going to make me miserable. I didn’t believe him, and even if I had believed him, it wouldn’t have made any difference because, as with childbirth, no amount of intellectual knowledge can prepare you for the lived experience.

Yet when the novel Zabelle was published in early 1998 I entered, as he had predicted, a dreadful realm where I couldn’t see the cover of a newspaper or magazine, including automotive trade rags, without wondering if my book were reviewed in its pages. I read all the reviews, getting a quick, temporary high from the good ones, and inadvertently memorizing the nasty bits from the bad ones. In the middle of the night the derisive comments would come echoing up in the voice of a wicked Disney Queen. The book tour had similar highs and lows—at one reading there were over a hundred people in the audience and for an hour I felt like a rock star; at the next gig only five souls showed up and I felt humiliated. I checked my Amazon.com sales rank on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I was still working in publishing then, and when I heard news about novels my editor had subsequently purchased, I was jealous if she had paid higher advances for them than she had for mine. I was, in fact, suffering from jealousy about what other “literary” (as opposed to commercial) writers that I knew had achieved: advances, print runs, foreign sales, film sales, starred reviews, twelve-city book tours, awards, honors, speaking gigs, and teaching positions.

But eventually the publication ordeal was in the past, the anxieties receded, and life got back to relative normal—until the aftershocks of the paperback launch a year later. It was difficult, if not impossible, to work on another novel during the months around publication of the hardcover and later the paperback. Then I was finally writing again—working on a second book. I went through a similar process when that one was published in 2003, except that it was a less successful book (fewer reviews, fewer copies sold, no translation sales). The Armenian community had avidly embraced Zabelle, which was a fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life as an Armenian genocide survivor and immigrant bride. The second book, Dreams of Bread and Fire, was a coming of age story about a half-Armenian young woman named Ani Silver who hops a freight train, has sex, experiments with drugs, and gets involved with a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who sets off a bomb outside a Turkish airlines office. Two years after the 9/11 attacks was not a great moment for a book with a bomb in it, and if Zabelle was everyone’s beloved grandmother and mother, Ani was the daughter and granddaughter nobody wanted. If I had titled the book The Bad Armenian Girl it would have sold more copies. But my imagination resists commercial considerations.

I started my third novel not undaunted, but definitely unbowed. By the time the All the Light There Was, a novel about Maral Pegorian, a young Armenian girl growing to maturity in Paris during World War II, came out, the publishing world had undergone a sea change. While the book was a success in many regards—I earned out my advance, I sold over three times as many copies as I had of the previous book, and it was well reviewed—the process was fraught for all the old reasons and a few new ones. In addition to the mainstream reviewers and Amazon customer comments, there were now dozens if not hundreds of places people could vent their feelings about a book: Goodreads, Library Thing, and professional, literary and personal blogs. No matter how many four- and five-star reviews my book accrued, I had to train myself NOT to pay attention to the snarky one-star reviews. Then, in what seemed like an unimaginable setback, the publisher decided not to do a paperback. For a few weeks I was devastated, but rather than wallowing in despair, I followed my hero Grace Paley’s dictum, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” My agent was able to get the publisher to revert the paperback rights, and I approached my friends at She Writes Press about the possibility of doing the paperback with them. She Writes was in the business of producing paperback originals, but the publisher told me I was the third writer who had recently approached her with this kind of reprint saga and they would indeed be able to help me.

The paperback of All the Light There Was appeared in October 2014, and the sales have been good, far outstripping the low expectations of the hardcover publisher. Now I’m starting work on my next novel, the fourth in what my editor has labeled The Armenian Diaspora Quartet. I have been researching for over a year—the book will be focused on an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I haven’t started writing yet, and my psychotherapist asked me, “Are you sure, after how hard the publication process was on you, that you want to do another one?” I answered, “The writing is the good part, and the rest… I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I’m such a slow writer that it won’t be for another five years in any event.”

 

HAPPY AFTERLIFE

The other aspect to all this is that, despite my complaints and pains, all three of my novels are still in print. And when I reference the “happy afterlife of books,” I’m using the word happy in its original, archaic meaning. The word “hap” comes from Middle English for chance, luck, or fortune. I have the great good fortune that my books are available in paperback, in e-book versions, and in audio format. I have even recently signed a contract for a French edition of my second novel. I am lucky and grateful.

Each time after the promotional push around publication, I’ve had the feeling that my novel, which has the shelf life of yogurt in the brick-and-mortar bookstores, has been laid to rest. As far as the publisher is concerned, it’s done and they have moved on to the next season’s titles, but the funny thing is that my books are out in the world—in libraries, in people’s homes, available through online retailers, and in second-hand bookstores—and they continue to circulate and to have lives of their own, lives that I know nothing about except when I see a new customer comment on Goodreads, or when someone contacts me via Twitter or Facebook to express appreciation, or when I receive a fan letter through my agent. Another way that I’m fortunate is that I have a readership that cares about my work. I’m a minor celebrity in a minority community. At a recent Armenian fundraiser, a man seated at my table, when he found out that I was the author of Zabelle, told me that his mother has kept a copy of the book on her nightstand for many years. I love the idea that Zabelle Chahasbanian, Ani Silver, and Maral Pegorian are living in the hearts of unknown readers. It gives me the necessary drive to breathe life into my new heroine. Her name is Vera Serinossian.

 

Nancy Kricorian


Palestinian Fiction, National Book Awards, and Armenians to Istanbul

Marash Embroidery

Marash Embroidery

 

My article “That Country Beyond Our Reach: Palestinian Fiction Since 1967” is available for free download to the first 50 “colleagues” who click on this link. It is part of a special Palestine issue (edited by my friend Rachel Holmes) of the U.K. literary journal Wasifiri.

I wanted to share a few edifying links about book publishing from the National Book Awards Benefit Dinner in New York City on November 19. I was not there, but the proceedings attracted a great deal of media and social media attention because of a practically sublime speech from one writer and a shocking and appalling joke by another. Ursula K. LeGuin, who accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award, gave a beautiful and inspiring speech. You can read the transcript here and watch the video here. There is much to love in what she said, but this was my favorite paragraph:

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) made a racist watermelon joke after Jacqueline Woodson was handed the National Book Award in the young adult category for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. Handler issued an apology via Twitter and, to his credit, donated money to the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Woodson penned an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke.”

In terms of things Armenian, lavash bread was added to UNESCO’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Fethiye Cetin, Turkish human rights attorney and author of the memoir My Grandmother, was interviewed by Pinar Tremblay on AL Monitor: Turkish Woman’s Search Gives Voice to Islamized Armenians. And System of A Down announced they would be commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide with a “Wake Up The Souls Tour.” I’m continuing my work with Project 2015 to organize a mass fly in of Armenians to Istanbul for April 24, 2015. When the web site launches I will let you know, but for now you can LIKE the Facebook page or follow on Twitter.

And because I’m supposed to be pushing the paperback of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, let me remind you that books make great holiday gifts. I will be happy to autograph and inscribe copies!

 

Nancy Kricorian


I could never sell Girl Scout Cookies

blue21

 

I started writing a newsletter for friends, family and readers a few months before the March 2013 publication of my third novel, ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. The sample below is what I posted to the NK Book Group list last week on the publication date of the She Writes Press paperback edition of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. It’s a low volume mailing list–one or two emails a month–and if you’re interested in joining, send a note to nkbookgroup[at]gmail.com. 

7 October 2014

Today is the official publication date of the paperback edition of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. When I was a kid I had to drop out of the Girl Scouts because I was unable to sell the cookies, and pushing my own books is always embarrassing for me, but I’m going to force myself. Assuming that you already have a copy of the hardcover, please consider buying the paperback as a gift for a friend.

Just by way of explanation, the reason you should buy my book—or buy any book by a friend, or by any author whose work you admire—is not because I will profit financially. Most writers, myself included, are lucky, if you calculate the number of hours that go into the writing, to make minimum wage for the books they publish. The idea is, however, that by buying the book you are showing the publishers that you think they should invest in my NEXT novel.

Lately I’ve been hearing about the sorry state of publishing from agent and editor friends. When the subject turns to literary fiction, they grow absolutely grim faced. This is why, if I love a book, I buy multiple copies and give them to friends. For people who care about literary culture and serious publishing, I recommend that this holiday season you take a vow to give only books. (Myself, I’ll be giving books and beautiful handcrafted items from Sunbula Fair Trade.) On a brighter note, I’m thrilled and blessed that all three of my novels are available in paperback, ebook and audio editions.

I had a great trip to Los Angeles this past weekend for the Armenians and Progressive Politics Conference at Occidental College. I was on the keynote panel on Friday evening with my friends Khatchig Mouradian and David Barsamian. I’m also excited to be working with friends on Project 2015, an effort to organize a mass fly in to Istanbul of Diaspora Armenians for the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015. It sounds a little sad, but it’s actually going to be an amazing act of memorialization and resistance. (More on this at it develops!)

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Just published in paperback by She Writes Press

Just reissued in paperback by She Writes Press

 

You hear all kinds of advice about writing, and there are dozens of handbooks offering guidance, most of it is abstract and pretty useless, or else it’s so specific that it doesn’t suit. Many years ago when I was a student, a poet and teacher gave me a piece of advice that didn’t mean much at the time, but which I understood much later to be the best writing tip ever offered to me.

“Respect your process,” is what she said, and she said it before “writing process” had become a registered trademark. Her words echo in my head at moments when I am annoyed with myself for how slowly I write, or for how much time I spend researching before I even start to write, or for the fact that I don’t have the book mapped out in my head before I begin, which means that I will have to do multiple drafts to get it where it needs to be.

What I have recognized lately, however, is that process, like everything else, doesn’t stay the same. I have written three novels, and each time, the process has been different. With the first book, as I made the transition from poetry to fiction, the only way I could possibly think about taking on something as enormous as a novel was by breaking the narrative down into 10-15 page episodic chapters. I also had two small children, and was running a small business as a literary scout for foreign publishers, so the only time I could devote to writing was Friday morning. I never had writer’s block, because if I didn’t churn out those pages once a week, the novel was never going to get done.

By the time Zabelle, a fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life as an Armenian Genocide survivor and immigrant bride, was published, I was already two years into researching my second novel, Dreams of Bread and Fire, a coming-of-age story about someone of my generation growing up in the Armenian-American community. My kids were in elementary school, I had quit the scouting business, and my writing process had changed: I wrote for two hours each day. I knew other writers who could sit at a keyboard for six hours or more a day, but for me two hours was the upper limit of productive writing time. Of course, I kept tinkering with it in my head while I was sitting on the playground or even when I was sleeping, but two hours in front of the computer was my process.

When I started researching my third novel about Armenians in Paris during the Nazi occupation, I was working twenty plus hours a week for CODEPINK Women for Peace. There were many days when being at a street demonstration against the Iraq war took precedence over laboring on the novel; still I tried to stick to the two-hour a weekday regimen. But I added a new rule: even if I didn’t have two hours, I would write for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes was enough to keep the characters and the language active in my mind so that the passive work would continue. It took me ten years to write the third book, partly because of CODEPINK and the miserable state of the world, and partly because as my kids got older they took up more space in my head than they did when they were small.

All The Light There Was, my World War II novel, was published in hardcover in 2013 and has just been reissued in paperback by She Writes Press. For two years now I’ve been researching a new novel, the fourth installment in what my editor has dubbed “The Armenian Diaspora Quartet.” It’s about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I haven’t started writing, and I feel anxious when I think about the fact that I don’t yet hear the sentences that will launch this story. But then I remember my mantra: “Respect your process.” I’m not entirely sure what the process will be. One of my daughters is in graduate school, and the other is a freshman in college. I’m still engaged in grassroots social justice organizing with CODEPINK, and I’ve started doing more speaking engagements, traveling, and teaching. I do know that the name of my main character is Vera, and that she grew up in the Armenian community of Bourj Hammoud before she and her family immigrated to the United States in 1980. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with her.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian
New York City


Milestones, Celebrations and Ghosts

 

Peace Out: We just celebrated our 25th Anniversary

Peace Out: We just celebrated our 25th Anniversary

 

This is, for our family, a season of milestones and celebrations. On May 26th James and I marked our 25th wedding anniversary, and later in the week we hosted a celebratory Chinese banquet complete with Moutai (“the world’s #1 selling spirit”) and poems offered by our friends, ranging from recitations of Auden, Frost, Rukeyser, and Levertov to a limerick composed for the occasion. We also heard selections from Rosa Luxembourg’s prison letters and an eclectic list of world events from 1989 (for example, the TV show Seinfeld was launched and Beijing was put under martial law).

Our younger daughter, Djuna, will graduate from high school this week. Our elder daughter, Nona, will graduate from college two days later. And two days after that, I will be leaving for an Armenian Heritage Trip to Turkey. I have been referring to this as “Twenty Armenians on a Bus,” which a friend suggested would be a great title for a one-woman show. I thought it might make a good stand-up comedy routine. But I am also describing the voyage, primarily to non-Armenians who think of Turkey as the land of good food, fabulous bazaars and historic mosques, as a search for ghosts. The itinerary is planned around the participants, taking us to visit the cities and towns our grandparents fled during the Armenian Genocide.

As a final note, the official publication date for the paperback of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS by She Writes Press has been set for October 7, 2014. It’s already posted and available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and McNally Jackson. When I get back from Turkey in early July, I’m going to start the push to get the word out about the paperback, and to line up events for the fall and next year. I’ve come a long way since grade school when I dropped out of Girl Scouts because selling the cookies was a most mortifying experience.

 

Nancy Kricorian

P.S. For summer reading, I’d like to recommend two titles I recently read and loved: Nescio’s AMSTERDAM STORIES and THE COLLECTED STORIES OF LYDIA DAVIS.

 


We Have So Many Stories

The Renault factories are working for the German Army. The Renault factories were hit.

The Renault factories are working for the German Army. The Renault factories were hit.

 

Last week I presented my ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS slideshow at the Armenian Church of the Holy Ascension in Trumbull, Connecticut. The event was hosted by the Church’s Women’s Guild. Two sisters, Marie and Jean, who are members of the church and had already read the novel, spoke to me before and after my presentation. Jean said, “It meant so much to us that you have written this book. Everything was so familiar, and I have never read before our story.” They had lived in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, a working class suburb of Paris, during the war. Jean, the younger of the two, was born just before the war started and so her memories of the occupation were hazy, but her elder sister Marie told me the story of how her mother and other Armenian women had worked at the nearby Renault factory making nets to cover the tanks and trucks that were being manufactured at that location. Because of the German war work, the Allied bombers targeted the factory. One night, however, the Armenian women, who worked the shift that got out at 11 p.m., were at the factory when the Allied fliers mistakenly dropped bombs on their civilian neighborhood. The sisters’ building was badly damaged, but no one in the family was harmed. Their neighbor fared worse—while she was at work her husband and three children were killed. “You should have talked with us before you wrote the book,” they said. “We have so many stories.”

 

Nancy Kricorian


Fall Book Events and Literary Fashion

Book Culture

 

It’s September, and the summer hiatus from peddling books has come to a close. I’m about to start doing public events (see schedule here) and some private gigs (a book club meeting in NYC and a political science seminar at Vassar, for example). I’m especially looking forward to an evening at the Robbins Library in Arlington, Mass. on October 3rd. Librarian Jenny Arch wrote a lovely blog post about the upcoming event. If you want to invite me to a public or private venue near you (and me) or to a Skype chat convenient for all, let me know. You are also invited to join my 9/25 online book chat via Togather and Spreecast. You can also check out an interview I did last month with Book Case TV (starts at 15:23 and runs to 21:17).

In August there were a number of articles about the state of literary fiction that I thought might be of interest: a funny piece in Flavorwire about why bestselling novelist Jonathan Franzen annoys so many people; a piece in Salon discussing the dubious distinctions between “Chick Lit” and “Literary Fiction” by women; and a related piece from the Fashion & Style Section of the New York Times in which the author of this summer’s hot debut novel waxes eloquent on life in the literary borough of Brooklyn. If you’re still confused about how to separate literary fiction from genre fiction (chick lit, historical fiction, mysteries, etc.), you can read this piece, which probably won’t clear things up. And finally, in yesterday’s New York Times Style section, in honor of New York Fashion Week, there was an article entitled “The Rising Value of Land in Book Titles” about a hot trend in book publishing this fall. As Oscar Wilde said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”

 

Nancy Kricorian


Book Report

 

Book Report

 

In Time Magazine Lev Grossman covered the literary drama of the summer: J.K. Rowling was revealed to be the author of a mystery novel entitled The Cuckoo’s Calling, penned under the name of James Galbraith. The book, which was published in April, had sold approximately 1000 copies in the U.K. and the U.S. before the story broke. Predictably enough, once it was known that Rowling was the author, the book shot to the top of bestseller lists. As Grossman put it, “If nothing else. l’affaire Galbraith is an object lesson in how hard it is to get attention for even a well-received first book. Its slim sales notwithstanding, the reviews of The Cuckoo’s Calling had been almost universally good. The book was widely ignored by the mainstream critics, but the trade magazines, which cover most new releases, loved it.” Once the J.K. Rowling “brand” was made known, sales skyrocketed, and there was some suspicion about the timing of the reveal, but then the law firm that represents her apologized for being the source of the inadvertent leak.

This week there was also a funny piece on Book Riot by Jennifer Miller, a first-time novelist who decided to try to break the world record for the most book club visits by an author in one month. The gimmick got her a fair amount of media coverage, but also drew the attention of another writer who claimed to hold a record for book club visits that would be hard for Miller to beat.

Speaking of book clubs, I’ve accepted an invitation from the Carleton College New York City Alumni Book Group to join a September discussion of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. I am also trying out a new online platform called Togather that allows writers to connect with readers and reading groups by setting up real-world events and online meetings. I have scheduled a book discussion to be held on September 25th at 7:30 p.m. via Spreecast, another new online service that allows for group video chats. If you are interested in joining the September 25th discussion of my book, you can register here. If you are in a book club that would like to read ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, let me know. If it’s within reasonable commuting distance from New York City, I may be able to visit in person, or we can set up an online event.