A Happier Hour Literary Salon with Elisabeth Egan & Stephanie Clifford
On Monday night, I had the privilege of hosting debut novelists Elisabeth Egan and Stephanie Clifford for a Happier Hour Literary Salon. It was, just as I expected, a bright night laced with wisdom, wit and wonderful conversation about books and life and really so much more.
Stephanie Clifford's NYT-bestselling Everybody Rise, is, at bottom, a story about the struggle to fit in, and what we sometimes do to find belonging in worlds beyond our true reach. The protagonist, Evelyn Beegan, is smart and ambitious and hungry for acceptance among New York City's elite in those heady pre-recession years. Her quest for inclusion is at once painful to behold and universal in essence. To various degrees, we've all tried to shape-shift to adapt to our environments, to appear to be something we are not. J. Courtney Sullivan calls the book "a masterful tale of social climbing and entrenched class distinctions, as seen through the eyes of an outsider who desperately wants in. Tense, hilarious, and bursting with gorgeous language. Stephanie Clifford is a 21st-century Edith Wharton."
Liz Egan's critically acclaimed A Window Opens is, in my mind, an ode to the modern woman who is trying so desperately to do it all - raise children, work professionally, support a spouse and aging parents. With heart and hilarity, Liz brings us Alice Pearse, a funny, fierce, and wildly relatable woman who toils to hold her life together in the face of the perfect midlife storm. She longs for time with her three kids while working a a job that's emotionally and physically and existentially depleting, her husband is falling apart in the wake of a professional loss, her beloved father is ill. Novelist Christina Baker Kline says her "wry, up-to-the-minute social comedy perfectly captures the harried life of a working mother who is, by necessity, on call 24/7 in every sphere. Filled with humor and heartbreak, this acutely observed debut is compulsively readable."
What I enjoy most about these Happier Hours is the windows the authors give us into their own selves and lives and processes. Liz and Stephanie shared that they both wrote their books while holding down demanding day jobs. Liz is books editor at Glamour magazine and Stephanie is a reporter for The New York Times. Each wrote in the early mornings, before going off to work, Liz at her daughter's swim practice or on the train to and from Manhattan each day and Stephanie in her small apartment staring at a lineup of aloe plants in the window. Both confirmed the truth that we do not need eight-hour swaths of time each day to be creative, that we must carve out bits of time to get our butt in the chair.
The authors talked and joked about how they both just returned from book tours. How life on the road hawking a novel is exciting, but not always glamorous. I asked them if publishing a novel had changed them or their lives in any profound way. The answer seemed to be yes and no, but mostly no and both seemed please with this. It struck me that these authors, despite the successes they are both enjoying, are fond of their pre-book lives.
We talked about that nebulous word and thing, balance. Both books explore the question of how to balance work and life and we as a crowd pondered whether this is really a singularly female dilemma, or whether men are feeling this too. It was a rich and familiar discussion, with mentions of Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter, and the conclusion, fittingly, was that there is no answer. Neither author claimed any new or special expertise about the question of how to have it all.
books & wine & food
Guests also savored chicken liver crostini with fried capers, ricotta and bottarga on pane carasau, arancini (rice balls), fried artichokes with aleppo pepper, black truffle sausages and mozzarella hot crostini, and mini fruit and lemon tarts.
A fun footnote:
This Happier Hour was all about The Book Group, the literary agency launched in spring 2015 by publishing industry veterans Julie Barer, Faye Bender, Brettne Bloom, and Elisabeth Weed. Brettne is my incomparable agent and also represents Liz and Courtney Sullivan. Elisabeth Weed represents Stephanie. All of us are pictured below. What a wonderful gaggle of literary ladies. I consider myself lucky to be among them.
And so, another fantastic night of authors and books.I'm so thankful to Liz and Stephanie for joining all of us in my yellow living room and for writing such great books in the first place. I encourage all of you to read both of these novels. To learn more about Happier Hours, please check out the new site.