Monday, August 9, 2010

A Plug

I sometimes think I would have made a good publicist.

When I get excited about something -- a musical artist, a movie, a book -- the urge to share what I'm excited about is kind of uncontrollable. (Cut to Jennifer, circa 2000, forcing virtually everyone who crossed the threshold of her Dupont Circle apartment to watch this Nickel Creek video. Or Jennifer, earlier this year, randomly calling friends to tell them to read this stunning book. Or Jennifer, phone in hand, frantically dialing her brother Matt every time there's a particularly great Roz Chast cartoon in the New Yorker. And don't even get me started on my love for this new blog that skewers furniture catalogs, which I've been pimping incessantly on Facebook and Twitter.)

When the something in question is the product of a someone that I actually know and care about, that urge to share is ratcheted up to astronomical proportions. I'm sure my closest friends must wince a little every time there's a new creative project from one of my brothers, envisioning the barrage of e-mails and Facebook and blog posts that will soon issue forth from me. (Did you know Eric's film is going to the Deauville Film Festival? It is! But I digress.)

So today I'm happy to finally end my blog's embarrassingly long dormant period by sharing something I'm very excited about. And it's the product of someone I know, at least virtually. So be prepared for enthusiasm of the astronomical variety.

A little over a year ago, I stumbled onto a blog called Flotsam, and immediately fell hopelessly in writer love with the rapier wit and warm heart of Alexa Stevenson. I think she roped me in with this post, and this one, in which she provides commentary on the search terms that lead people to her blog. I spit beverages clear onto my computer screen. But Alexa wasn't just funny. She was frighteningly well-read, and thoughtful, and whip smart, and emotionally poised far beyond her years. At some point I wrote Alexa a fawning fan letter. (I think the subject may have actually been "Fawning Fan Letter.") At some point she wrote me back, and we struck up a virtual acquaintanceship.

Not long after I began to read Alexa's blog, she let on that she had landed an agent, and soon thereafter that she had a (well-deserved!) book deal.

Tomorrow marks the official pub date for Alexa's first book, Half Baked: The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn and How We Both Learned to Breathe, which I have just finished reading. In hopes of saving myself the trouble of having to call each of you individually to urge you to read it, I am going to try to cover myself with a single blog post.

Half Baked is a memoir, the story of how Alexa went through infertility treatment and became pregnant with twins through IVF. It's the story of how her son, Ames, died without warning in utero at 22 weeks, and how his sister Simone was born just three weeks later -- a full 15 weeks before her due date -- weighing one pound eleven ounces. (Babies the size of her newborn daughter, she writes, are "nearly impossible to describe without resorting to size comparisons involving produce and small mammals.") It's the story of the harrowing three months Simone spent in the NICU. And it's the story of how weathering a real, honest-to-goodness catastrophe proved -- rather ironically --to be the one thing able to quell Alexa's lifelong anxiety.

Alexa is one of those writers in whose skilled hands I would listen, rapt with attention, to the story of how, say, she went to Jiffy Lube for an oil change, or tried a completely unfamiliar brand of toothpaste. The fact that she has such a moving one to tell, and that she tells it with humor and grace and candor but never resorts to treacle, is just gravy.

Much like her blog, Half Baked is uproariously, side-splittingly funny. (You know, the kind of funny where you're constantly having to read passages to your spouse because you're laughing in bed so much.) She quite literally had me laughing out loud by the second page, in which she discusses why fireworks belonged on a list of things she found "insupportably risky" as a child:

"partly because of an episode of Lassie in which Timmy befriended a boy blinded by a firecracker, and party because of my oft-stated maxim that while suicide bombers or errant landmines may be beyond our control, surely choosing not to detonate explosives for sport is a small, sensible measure we can all take to prolong our time on earth."
Alexa had me at hello. But she never disappoints. She describes her fertility medications as "suspiciously nondescript for agents of reproduction...I would have liked a little drama, say in the form of trumpets that sounded when you popped the plastic cap: dun duh-da DAAAH!" She calls the delicate dance of embryos implanting "terribly dramatic, like a tiny pelvic James Bond movie." By the time she recalls the whirlwind of her emergency C-section ("I was...briefed by an anesthesiologist who read the consent form so rapidly that at the end I half expected him to shout 'SOLD! One C-section to the lady in the hospital johnny!") and her later concern about finally bringing Simone home to her apartment, "where the nurse-to-neonate ratio is suboptimal (0-1)," I was putty in her hands.

There's a feeling I get every time I go to see David Sedaris read, and it's a feeling I can best describe as... satisfaction. I love hearing him, but my enjoyment derives in part from doing so in rooms filled with lots and lots of other people who feel the same way. It makes me enormously satisfied to know that David Sedaris is a best-selling author, not just someone's strange cousin David, an acerbic widget salesman who writes odd essays that nobody in the family quite gets. It may sound trite, but it really just makes me enormously happy -- relieved, even -- that he's found such a wildly appreciative audience for his voice.

In much the same way, I'm so pleased that I'm clearly not alone in my admiration for Alexa Stevenson's writing. I'm so genuinely thrilled that she has this amazing opportunity to be read even more widely than she already is. I believe she is a major new talent, and I want to virtually buttonhole all of you to pay attention and make her book the smashing, rollicking success it deserves to be.

So buy yourself a copy of Alexa's book won't you? Come on! Best $10.17 you'll spend this year, I promise.

And while the blasted book tour powers-that-be are cruelly keeping her from the east coast, denying me the chance to stalk meet her in person, those of you who live in the middle and western parts of our fair nation are lucky enough to have the chance to support Alexa on her book tour. So go hear her read. Tell her I sent you! (And bring her a sidecar. She likes them.)

  • St. Paul, MN
    @ Common Good Books
    11 Aug 2010 19:30

  • Chicago, IL
    @ Women and Children First Books
    12 Aug 2010 19:30

  • San Francisco, CA
    @ Book Passage
    17 Aug 2010 18:00

  • Portland, OR
    @ Annie Bloom's Books
    18 Aug 2010 19:30

  • Seattle, WA
    @ University Bookstore
    19 Aug 2010 19:00

  • UPDATE 8/11/10: Charming Q and A with Alexa here, from Twin Cities Metro Magazine.