Paul Russell says that writing a period piece – like his recently released The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, for instance – is very different from writing one taking place contemporarily, in that it involves a tremendous amount of research. “This is my first historical novel,” he says. “I’d write the first half of a sentence, and then have to go to the library to write the second half of the sentence. It’s not spontaneous.”
He explains, for example, that a contemporary character getting into his car brings up 50 possibilities, and whether he gets into a BMW or a Ford Fiesta communicates something about that character. “But in 1915 in St. Petersburg – I can find a list of cars on the streets in Russia then, but I have no idea of the cultural, socioeconomic connotations of those cars. I can’t tell you the difference between a Packard Touring Arrow and a Wolseley Landaulet. Which of those would be more likely than the other? Fortunately, there’s almost nobody on the planet who knows that difference anyway. If you just say it with enough authority, 99 percent of your readers will think, ‘He must know what he’s talking about.’”
He’s joking, of course. His exquisitely told tale about the famous Nabokov’s gay brother, Sergey, has been deftly researched, so that the line between fact and fantasy is seamless. Hosted by the Golden Notebook, Vassar professor Paul Russell will read and sign copies of The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov at Oriole 9 Restaurant on Saturday, February 25 at 6 p.m.
“I tried to be faithful to facts I know about Sergey. But the thing is: There aren’t very many facts. A few scattered letters survived. He’s the kind of person you find in the index of the biographies of more famous people, like Cecil Beaton mentioning that he saw Sergey in a costume store. That’s not very much to go on, but it was quite precious to me.”
Russell captured these tiny details, and then used them to infer something larger. Reading letters, biographies and diaries – like the Berlin Diaries, 1940 to 1945 of Marie Vassiltchikov, Lev Grossman’s essay The Gay Nabokov and Vladimir Nabokov’s own Speak, Memory – the author rendered one possible, if not also fictional, account of his character, painting a vivid set of scenes into which he might live.
Sergey, born less than a year after Vladimir, was the opposite of his strong-willed, self-absorbed and talented brother. He stuttered; he had few friends; his inchoate homosexuality was both fascinating and terrifying to him. Russell talks about inventing a personality for someone who actually lived, particularly one who was related and acquainted with other notable persons of the era. “This is one of the reasons I chose that title, the unreal life: just to remind people that this does not pretend to be a biography. It is very much a work of fiction.”
It is a beautifully written one – a work that evokes loss and longing, in that the real Sergey died in a concentration camp just before the war ended. Russell has honored his memory, at least.
Coming up at Barnes & Noble in Kingston:
Friday, February 10 at 6:30 p.m. – Children’s book illustrator Scott Campbell will be in the store to do a fun and funny presentation about his work. Zombie in Love, cleverly written by Kelly DiPucchio, is the story of a true outsider whose dreams of attracting the right girl (or ghoul, as the case may turn out to be) speak to every kid’s longing for acceptance.
At Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie:
Saturday, January 28 at 2 p.m. – Karl Puttlitz, author of Red, White & Boom, will read and discuss his book.
Saturday, February 18 at 1 p.m. – Buford the Bully will delight your young ones and impart an important message about bullying. Meet author June Pierce and illustrator Tatiana Rhinevault for this fun reading and demonstration.
At the Beacon Hebrew Alliance in Beacon:
Thursday, February 2 at 7 p.m. – Jay Michaelson, author of God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality, will lead a discussion and share views on this highly contentious and important debate. The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP at https://emekproject.org/2012/01/god-vs-gay-the-religious-case-for-equality/885. The Beacon Hebrew Alliance is located at 331 Verplanck Avenue in Beacon.
At the Golden Notebook in Woodstock:
Saturday, February 18 at 4 p.m. at the Colony Café – Come meet singer/songwriter Suzzy Roche of the Roches as she launches Wayward Saints, a first novel of family, music and second chances.
Saturday, February 18 at 6 p.m. at Oriole 9 Restaurant – Shalom Auslander’s debut novel Hope: A Tragedy is described as a hilarious and disquieting examination of the burdens and abuse of history. The author/irreverent philosopher will read and sign copies of his book and make you laugh.
At Inquiring Minds in New Paltz:
Saturday, January 28 at 7 p.m. – Juliet Dark (a/k/a Carol Goodman) will read and sign copies of The Demon Lover.
At Inquiring Minds in Saugerties:
Sunday, February 19 at 1 p.m. – William Parry presents his book Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine, a photographic depiction of the graffiti and art that have transformed Israel’s Wailing wall into a living canvas of resistance and solidarity, with the work of many known artists: Banksy, Ron English, Blu and others, including Palestinian artists and activist. Not to be missed!
Sunday, February 26 at 3 p.m. – Meet William Rhoads, author of Ulster County, New York: The Architectural History and Guide, as he discusses his book and presents a slideshow at the event.
At Merritt Books in Millbrook:
Friday, February 17 at 10 a.m. – Children’s author Peter McCarty brings his popular monster back in style, with a sequel that will have kids drawing their own little monsters in no time. The Monster Returns is fun, funny and delightful!
Date/time to be determined – Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrator James E. Ransome
Date/time to be determined – Please contact the store to ask for the date and time of the signing and discussion with Annie Leibovitz when she presents her latest masterpiece, Pilgrimage.
At Oblong Books in Millerton:
Sunday, February 5 at 4 p.m. – Author Roxanne Bok, native New Yorker and gentlewoman farmer, presents her memoir Horsekeeping: One Woman’s Tale of Barn and Country Life, a cautionary and celebratory tale of what happens when tidy urbanites take to rescuing and restoring a horse farm in Salisbury, Connecticut. The author’s proceeds from this book will be donated to various local and national horse-rescuing charities.
Sunday, February 26 at 2 p.m. – Oblong welcomes Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, founder of Ranging Yeshe, Inc., a nonprofit that preserves Tibetan Buddhist teachings, and of the Tibetan Refugee Children’s Fund. Author of Living Fully, Tenzin has lectured at Harvard, Yale and Wesleyan Universities and the Naropa Institute, and divides his time between Nepal and New York City. Don’t miss meeting this bearer of timeless wisdom.
At Oblong Books in Rhinebeck:
Sunday, January 29 at 4 p.m. – Meet with Bard professor Bradford Morrow, author of The Uninnocent, a collection of his most Gothic, darkly comic tales.
Sunday, February 12 at 4 p.m. – Jeanne Kelly, author of The 90-Day Credit Challenge, will discuss how best to manage your credit portfolio in an ever-changing financial landscape. A guest on The Today Show and a number of radio programs addressing credit issues, and quoted in several newspapers, magazines and online financial sites such as CNN, Money and The New York Times, Kelly is a recognized voice in credit consulting.
At the Woodstock Library:
Saturday, February 11 at 5 p.m. – The Woodstock Poetry Society presents its new poetry anthology Lifeblood, a collection of poems written by members, with readings by Phillip Levine, Trina Porte and Marcia Slatkin. Levine is poetry editor of Chronogram Magazine; Trina Porte is publisher of Chickaree Press; and Marcia Slatkin is a poet and playwright.
Saturday, February 18 at 5 p.m. – Spiritual teacher Valerie Stiehl and writer/editor Vera Haldy-Regier will present their recently published book Spirit Speaks: Are You Listening? an inspiring account of Stiehl’s spiritual journey from a childhood in New York’s gritty East Bronx through impoverished single motherhood, a corporate executive career in Manhattan, ten years of life with the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota, a transforming near-death experience and a rich teaching life of spiritual guidance in Woodstock and beyond.
@ Ann Hutton