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April 29, 2005

More Diana Abu-Jaber On the Road

by Ron Hogan

abu-jaber.jpgHere's the scoop on the second leg of Diana Abu-Jaber's west coast tour, earlier this week...

April 24th: Between the cabs and the running around, it was hard for me to absorb the full fabulosity of the LA Times Book Festival. I stumbled around in circles for a while before someone took me by the hand and led me to the so-called VIP Room. The VIP Room was filled with some very hungry looking writers all buzzarding away on a great groaning board of banquet food. Out on the crowded patio I saw: my friend and brilliant writer Michelle Huneven, Colm Toibin, T.C. Boyle, agents Betsy Amster and Bonnie Nadell, and a guy that I'd swear was one of the drummers for The Grateful Dead (apparently this is what happens when I go to the West coast, I see The Grateful Dead everywhere). Science writer Jonathan Weiner plunked down next to me and said, "Whad you write?" He'd never heard of me, I'd never heard of him, but we shared our sun umbrella very happily.

My panel was called "Memoirs: Family Matters" and surprisingly, it seems to have been the only memoir panel at the festival. It was me and Debra Ginsberg, Michael Datcher, Louise Steinman, and Karen Stabiner. The place was jam-packed--loads of people in the audience wanting to write their own memoirs, it seemed. I was surprised by the recurring theme of truthtelling in memoir that came up on the panel and in the audience. I, for one, have never believed in altering a perfectly good story merely to serve the "truth," ha ha. But I suppose that's the novelist in me, since I also feel that there's a powerful emotional truth that exists independently from the things we call "facts." A man in the audience asked me what we needed to do to change the negative stereotyping of Arabs in the media (since I write a lot about my Arab heritage) and I said I think we need "My Big Fat Arab Wedding." I also asked if anyone there knew Tom Hanks or Rita Wilson, but nobody came running forward. Oh well.

April 25th: I thought I knew what fabulosity was, but I didn't know until I got to San Diego...the W Hotel in San Diego, that is. It was so hip I was afraid they wouldn't let me in. Do you know they have a outdoor bar there complete with a white-sand floor called The Beach? Luckily I still had my long black jacket from Seattle, so that might've helped. That morning we shot a cable access TV show in a Middle Eastern restaurant:  Wayne's World on hummus! My San Diego NPR interview got bumped when the mayor resigned (how inconsiderate!). At a speaking luncheon at the U of San Diego, a book club came all the way down from San Clemente. And right before lunch, a wonderful nun gave a benediction and blessed the meal, the university, the foundation, me, and my talk! That evening, I read at the ever-fab Warwicks bookstore in La Jolla (where the seals meet and greet) and afterwards events-coordinator extraordinaire Amy Pickell whipped out plates of baklava for the audience.

All in all, I've gotta say, it was a rocking book tour. One of the Warwicks audience asked me something I'd never been asked before, namely, what do you learn from going on book tours? I didn't have a good answer at the time (I whined about the dining situation) but on further reflection, I have learned a few things on tour:

  • There are tons of places in this country that I desperately want to live.
  • Pack your most comfortable shoes and, seriously, underpack.
  • Talk to everyone you can.
  • It turns out that most people are generally sweeter, smarter, more generous, interesting, loving, and astounding than you ever thought possible.

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