Wednesday, August 23, 2006

To live and die and read in L.A.

Authors of surprise best seller to appear in Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack arrive in Ketchum from their homes in Los Angeles today to sign copies of their book "Literacy and Longing in L.A." at Iconoclast. Photo by Firoooz Zahedi

Mature book lovers rejoice. Here's a book written for, by and about them. "Literacy and Longing in L.A.," by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack, is not, as some have thought, about classroom size or the lack of teachers in the Los Angeles school district. Instead, it's about a single, upwardly mobile though stagnating writer and book lover making her way through a complicated time.

Dora, 35, used to be married to a guy who alternately seems quite wonderful but then behaves like a pig. So uncommon. She's now living on her own in a nondescript apartment building with fabulous views. She has a happily-married-with-child sister who loves and rescues her and a reformed dipsomaniac mother who took the sisters on literary trips for fun.

Dora reads books the way others consume chocolate when depressed. While wallowing in bubble baths, a full wine glass at her side, she gobbles up nuggets of classics, mysteries, poetry, serious fiction and even (gasp!) a romance or two. In fact, the gal is addicted. Her friends and family become worried. They've seen it happen before. You would think there are worse things, but, for Dora, book bingeing is not a pretty thing.

She, like many of us who dive into books to be diverted and escape, looks for answers within the pages of every tome she ingests. The authors write, "I think I might open to any page and find the truth. I just can't stand the fog of not knowing. Whether you love someone or not, what you are willing to do to make it last, how you come to terms with the people who leave you and disappoint you, or how you deal with people with whom you feel a deep connection but who ultimately might not have anything to do with your life. I don't know. The answers are there. Somewhere."

Dora may be every woman. She dresses nicely, drives a nice car, though not on the freeway, which she has a phobia about, and tries to reclaim her old job at the Los Angeles Times. There's a good-looking book-head at the nearby bookstore, who flirts and utters literary quotes. Dora thinks she's pathetic and for awhile the reader may wonder, but in the slyest way the authors reveal her character to be appealing and attractive. She's got heart and is not an airhead.

It's refreshing that these ladies have written something tasty with oomph that could just as easily been more chick-lit drivel about shopping and makeup.

Mack, a film and television producer, has a house in Sun Valley, and on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m., she and Kaufman, a former staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, will be at Iconoclast in Ketchum for a reading and signing.

"We wanted to write a romantic comedy, but serious," Kaufman said. "We have kind of a knack for doing that. We're very good friends, and we used to collaborate in work but this just happened."

Mack continued.

"Mainly the idea came from the character—a woman who uses books to console herself when times are tough. We are both like this and thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to write a book about a women who takes it to the nth degree?'"

Feeling blessed and busy, the authors just returned from London, where the book was recently published under the title "The Book Lover," and have been on a whirlwind of a book tour.

"The book is now in its 11th week on the Los Angeles Times Best Seller list and just hit number one," Mack said. "We hit a nerve. It seems to resonate with thousands of women. Much to our surprise, we have gotten the chick lit audience and we've gotten the book club audience. That contributed to its surprise success."

Unlike many literary collaborators, they actually sit down at one desk and kind of act the story and dialogue out.

"Until we hear it out loud it doesn't work for us," Mack said. "We heard Dickens used to do this: write, then stand up and act it out in front of a mirror."

"It's like writing a song. You don't say this one wrote the words and that one the melody," Kaufman said. "We kind of make it as one piece, make it a melody."

Obviously the system works. The dialogue is fresh and natural. People are funny, but not overtly so, and it reads like a breeze but lasts longer.

"The fun thing is, Dora is an indiscriminate book junkie. We like that part of her," Mack said. Her partner finished the thought. "Sometimes you just want good trash."

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