Jewish Book Festival persists, flips page to Zoom for 2020

Book Festival 2020

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

Not even a pandemic can stop the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival. However, like so many events in 2020, this year’s festival will take place virtually via Zoom. 

The Jewish Book Festival, held by the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis, will run from Nov. 1-8, opening with a keynote talk by director and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld. 

Zelda Sparks, director of cultural arts at the J, said: “This is the 42nd year of the book festival, and hopefully the one and only time we will have to put together a virtual festival. But we didn’t want to let a year go by without having a festival. People look so forward to it.”

So how will the virtual Jewish Book Festival work? 

Festival events will be via Zoom, and each author will have an interviewer to facilitate the discussion. Attendees can ask questions  by typing them into the Zoom chat module, and the interviewer will ask as many as time allows. 

Books can be purchased through a partnership with Main Street Books. 

Sonnenfeld will open the festival with a discussion of his hilarious memoir, “Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker,” at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1 (see interview with him on Page 10A). 

Sonnenfeld directed the “Men In Black” films, “Get Shorty” and “The Addams Family,” among others. As a cinematographer, he worked with Joel and Ethan Coen on “Raising Arizona,” “Miller’s Crossing” and “Blood Simple,” as well as on such films as “Big,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Throw Momma From the Train.” 

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Sonnenfeld writes with his signature dark humor about his childhood, storied career and personal life. 

Sonnenfeld will join Zoom from Canada, where he is working on a new TV series, and will be interviewed by Alan Zweibel, an original “Saturday Night Live” writer and Emmy winner who wrote for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”and “The Late Show With David Letterman” and was a consulting producer on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” 

Some other highlights this year include: (See the full schedule on page 11A). 

• A Fall Bookend event, before the festival officially starts, with broadcast journalist and TV host Joan Lunden, who will discuss her book “Why Did I Come Into This Room: A Candid Conversation About Aging,” at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25. Lunden, 70, explores with humor the phases of aging, turning what could be a depressing subject inside out to find the funny side. Lunden will be interviewed by KSDK-TV (Channel 5) anchor Kay Quinn.

• Silver and Gold on Monday, Nov. 2. at 2 p.m.: Johanna Silver, former gardening editor at Sunset magazine, will discuss her book “Growing Weed in the Garden: A No-Fuss, Seed-to-Stash Guide to Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation,” in which she writes that Talmudic literature includes instructions for growing cannabis. At 7 p.m., comedian Judy Gold comes to the defense of comedic free speech in the era of social media with “Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble.” Gold will be interviewed by Jo Firestone, comedian and formerwriter for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

• Sports Night, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, will feature Jon Pessah, who discusses his biography “Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask,” and Ben Cohen, a Wall Street Journal reporter who talks about his nonfiction book “The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks,” a look at streaks in sports and elsewhere.

• Author Claire Saffitz will host a tasty, interactive event at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 6. Saffitz will invite her audience to a “bake-along” as she discusses her book “Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence,” with a downloadable recipe available in advance.

• Mystery Night, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, which features Sara Paretsky, author of the wildly successful V. I. Warshawski detective novels. Paretsky will talk about her most recent Warshawski novel, “Dead Land.” Hank Phillippi Ryan, an investigative journalist and award-winning author of the Jane Ryland thrillers and the Charlotte McNally mysteries, will discuss her latest thriller, “The First to Lie.” 

• A wrap-up Sunday, Nov. 8, with two events: At 2 p.m., Liel Leibovitz will talk about “Stan Lee: A Life in Comics,” his biography of the creator of characters in the Marvel comic book and movie universe, which explores the surprising Jewish influences in Lee’s life. At 7 p.m., Bruce Feiler, author of six New York Times bestsellers and presenter/writer of the PBS series “Walking the Bible,” talks about “Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age,” his thoughtful exploration of how to navigate life’s big changes.

Other nonfiction author events will feature: Jill Wine-Banks, the only female lawyer on the team of Watergate prosecutors, whose book “The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President,” takes us back to a time of crisis for democracy and crossroads for women’s; and historian David G. Marwell, who dug into new academic sources for his biography of the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, “Mengele: Unmasking the ‘Angel of Death.’ ”

Other fiction writers will include Alex George, who will discuss “The Paris Hours,” set in Paris in the era of Hemingway and Josephine Baker. Ronald H. Balson’s “Eli’s Promise” takes us across three time periods as it explores its characters’ experiences before and after the Shoah.

The festival is keeping Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 3) open so patrons can head to the polls and cast their ballots.

Jim Bogart, who is co-chairing this year’s Jewish Book Festival with Barb Williams, said planning the festival was challenging but rewarding. 

“Reading in a time of a pandemic informs and entertains,” he said. “Reading distracts us via a beautiful novel, a thrilling mystery or amazing biography. This year’s book festival, perhaps more than any previous festival, will bring needed joy into the homes of so many people. I am thrilled to be a small part of this. 

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