The pub date of September 1 came and went minus fanfare. Understatement: absolutely nothing happened. I wasn’t devastated because I hadn’t expected anything. At least I hadn’t admitted to myself that I had the slightest anticipation of—I don’t even know what, something. Still, faced with the nothing of the day, I did feel a bit downcast, since I had not succeeded in fooling myself. (Yes, I confess that I was hoping for a miracle, even though I don’t believe in them.) But a few short weeks after the uneventful date, two excellent things came to pass: a friend and fellow writer, Ellen Cassedy, alerted me to a wonderful review of my book What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past that had appeared on line in the newspaper The Forward, with the headline, “Nancy K. Miller Hunts for Roots on Three Continents”. The review was by a woman I do not know, Joanne Jacobson, but a reader, herself a writer and memoirist, who understood the project of my book almost better than I did. That was something of a thrill (maybe even a miracle?), and I felt—and still do—that if that is the only good review my book receives, I will be satisfied. I love the review, but I love more the fact that a reader got it, got me.
A few days later, I had a book launch in the gorgeous loft space of Girls Write Now,hosted by the founder of the nonprofit, Maya Nussbaum, and co-hosted by Kamy Wicoff, founder of She Writes, and Victoria Rosner, co-editor with me of the Gender and Culture Series at Columbia University Press. Rather than sell books and give the proceeds to Girls Write Now, we gave books away in the hopes of receiving a donation. And it worked. We raised $1500. Because I had paid for the books, the food, and the wine out of my own pocket, I suppose that strictly speaking I subsidized the donation. But that wasn’t how it felt. I had the pleasure of giving a party for friends and colleagues, and at the same time of bringing them into the GWN community—enlisting them in the fantastic mentoring program through their support. As I signed books, I had the intense pleasure of knowing that the world of the girls would literally be enriched. And by the same token, that I had found a wonderful alibi for giving myself a party, as I launched my book into the great unknown of parallel universes.
By all accounts, the party was a great success. I say this because I spent most of the time signing books (I’m not complaining!), and never even tasted the food, chosen by Victoria, that was reported to be excellent. I did, however, get to drink some of the wine, after my post-toast spiel. I didn’t read from the book but thanked everyone who had helped me in the post-production process, not least the designer of my website and my social media consultant, Claire Fontaine, who, sadly for me, great for her, was on vacation in Turkey.
There were two things I wanted not to forget when I spoke: to thank my husband, who remains only slightly less a skeptic about what he calls my “Jewish navel gazing,” but who helped out by working the projector (we asked people to send in photos on email of “what you saved”), as well as taking this snapshot of the toast moment, and to have the opportunity of recalling the original title of the book, “How I Found My Family in a Drawer.” I’m still not quite over that loss, even though I’ve come to appreciate the economy of my current title.
Moral of the story: it feels good to make your party count for something other than our terminally narcissistic, and also intensely vulnerable, authorial selves. That sounds sanctimonious and self-congratulatory, and in some ways, it is, but it’s also an excellent remedy for the highly contagious disease of self-promotion that now comes with the territory of writing.