So, 100 authors gather under one tent . . . It sounds almost like a joke if you threw in a rabbi and a priest. And for sure if Robert Caro, Alec Baldwin, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer walked into a bar, I would want to be there. But this true-life cornucopia of talented writers gathered to sign books for Authors Night, a fundraiser celebrating 122 years of reading at the East Hampton Library. As not only a writer but a card-carrying member of the local library, it warmed my heart to see such enthusiastic support for the written word beyond 140 characters. In this milieu, favorite books were discussed even more fervently than Hamptons real estate gossip or sex scandals.
After the cocktail hour, guests moved on to private homes for dinners with their favorite authors. I had the pleasure to attend a dinner held at the home of Jodi and Michael Moreno, where guests were served delicious and healthy recipes from Jodi Moreno’s cookbook “More With Less: Whole Food Cooking Made Irresistibly Simple.” Simple was hard to imagine given the complex flavors from sungold tomato gazpacho with toasted almonds and chives to rhubarb, blueberry, and polenta crisp with olive oil gelato. The dinner also honored writer Fiona Davis. Davis’s first novel, “The Dollhouse” is one of my absolute favorites, not just because my little Sag Harbor Victorian is also called The Dollhouse, but because she so beautifully captures female bonding and betrayal.
Each of Davis’s books centers on a building, and for “The Dollhouse,” it was the Barbizon Hotel. She happened upon the idea when looking for a condo and learned that the fourth floor remained rent controlled apartments for the original all-female hotel residents. In her book she follows two characters in different time periods, both out of step with their time — one a woman from the past who vowed never to marry and in present day, a woman counting on a man. Davis shows how women’s roles and agency and voices have changed over time, and the ways in which they haven’t.
Historical fiction was a natural for Davis, who came from both an acting and journalism background. She actually did her thesis at the Columbia School of Journalism on the shelf life of a New York actress. Hence her move to writing.
Davis’s newest novel, “The Chelsea Girls” is set in the McCarthy era, following characters living in the Chelsea Hotel. She sees what she calls echoes of history of the red scare in the present-day political climate, looking at the “other.” The beauty of her fiction, however, is that it does not preach, but allows readers to make their own conclusions through her complex characters and compelling plot twists.
Davis herself is a card-carrying member of the New York Public Library, where she has a favorite writing spot, the Allen Room, a space dedicated to writers with book contracts. The library is also the building setting for her next novel. The reference librarians have always been a rich resource, but even more essential for this book. She recounts her email titled “strange request,” asking them where in the library they would hide a body. They dutifully replied, complete with floor plans. I think this is a fantastic idea, and can’t wait to approach the John Jermain Library with this same question.
For all of the authors, dinner hosts, and guests who supported Authors Night, the conclusion is certainly that for print, à la Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The local community’s commitment to reading is, certainly, no joke.