Discussion with Paul Reiser kicks off 11-days of authors galore


Paul Reiser, Leonard Nimoy, Judith Viorst, South Beach Diet creator Dr. Arthur Agatston and Judith (Miss Manners) Martin are among the luminaries featured at this year’s St. Louis Jewish Book Festival.

The 29th annual St. Louis Jewish Book Festival kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 4 with actor/comedian/author Paul Reiser. Reiser and St. Louis Post-Dispatch film critic Joe Williams will have an on-stage discussion about the multi-talented Reiser’s work, at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center’s Robert L. Edison Gymnasium.

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The evening’s festivities continue with a Tuscan buffet at the Coronado Ballroom at 7:15 p.m.

The 29th Annual St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, the largest such festival in the nation, runs Nov. 4 – 15.

Keynote speaker Paul Reiser is the author of two books Couplehood and Babyhood both of which were on the New York Times bestseller list. A native New Yorker, Reiser starred in the popular TV show Mad About You and has appeared in films such as Diner, Beverly Hills Cop and the St. Louis-inspired One Night At McCool’s. In 2005, he wrote and starred in the comedy The Thing About My Folks, with Peter Falk and Olympia Dukakis, a delightful and funny exploration of family dynamics.

Other authors scheduled to appear throughout the festival include Ambassador Dennis Ross, A.J. Jacobs, sports writer Gary Belsky, Stephen Fried and Mindy Schneider. A host of other authors on a host of topics are also scheduled to appear.

Every year, the Book Festival offers a range of topics, a something for everyone smorgasbord, that includes books and authors for interests ranging from entertainment to history to biography to business to literature.

The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival is the largest in the country, with attendance over 21,000 during the 11-day event at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. Authors speak on their topic and then answer questions from the audience, followed by a book signing in the festival bookstore. If you are not able to attend an author presentation, you can still get a book autographed by contacting the festival.

The organizers of the festival strive for a wide a variety of books and topics while still keeping the festival Jewish. “There are two guidelines for the Festival. First of all, the book has to be published in the year of the festival or re-released in paperback in the year of the festival. Also, if the author is Jewish, a book can be considered. If the author is not Jewish, the book must have Jewish content,” said festival director Marcia Evers Levy.

That still leaves a lot of books to choose from, so Levy described how the options are narrowed down. “We ask publishers to send us books that we are interested in a lot of authors who are contacting us,” she said. “We also are in a network with about 80 other festivals across the United States, and we meet once a year, just before the annual publishers convention.”

“We have what we call ‘speed dating with the authors.’ We have three nights when approximately 150 authors have about two minutes to promote their books to all of the festivals,” said Levy. “They get up and talk about their book, talk about themselves and we get a little taste of each author.” Levy says you really have to pay attention to garner the most information in those two minutes.

Levy brings all that information back to the festival committee and they discuss the books. “We talk about what is going to be topical, what everyone is going to read, what is going to be literature,” she said. “We want to give the community a taste of some sports, some medicine, fiction and non-fiction, some entertainment, a little taste of everything.”

Levy looks for authors who are good speakers as well as scouting for interesting books. As the largest Jewish book festival in the nation, competition to be invited to the St. Louis event is fierce and the festival can book major authors. Levy takes the recommendation of the volunteers in the committee, and from community, and combines it with her own research and the author’s speaking ability in making her choices for the festival. She looks for authors who do not simply read from their books but who bring to the audience something extra that cannot be found in just reading the book.

Evers Levy stressed the importance of volunteers in making the festival a success. “We have many wonderful volunteers, including festival co-chairs Alice Ludmer and Sheri Sherman. The festival would not happen without them,” she said. The Festival Book Store, which has the authors’ current books and some previous titles, is entirely run by volunteers.

Next year is the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival’s 30th year, so plans are afoot to make it extra special. “Every year the festival gets bigger,” she said. “Anyone who wants to volunteer for next year should sign up now.”

Among this year’s other Festival highlights are a “He Said/She Said” program featuring Stephen Fried, author of Husbandry: Sex, Love and Dirty Laundry and Laurie Rozakis, author of The Portable Jewish Mother. Fried is an investigative journalist who takes a comic look at the different ways men and women think, including the immoveable object of husband and irresistible force of wife clashing over the dirty socks that cannot quite make it into the hamper. Fried has appeared on TV and radio discussing the book and his twenty-year marriage. Maybe the solution to the sock dilemma would have been an earlier application of Jewish mothering, the topic explored with humor and wisdom by Laurie Rozakis. This comic battle of the sexes takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

There are serious topics as well. Award-winning journalist Philip Dine discusses “State of the Unions ” in which he ties mounting home foreclosures, illegal immigration issues and the decline of the middle class to the state of labor unions and the labor movement today. What promises to be a fascinating discussion takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 1 p.m. A noon lunch is available by reservation.

Look inside Hollywood with Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins when they discussion their book “A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some Of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies. ” The two women cast such films as Harry Potter, Apollo 13 and Ghost and discovered such stars as Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. The behind the scenes look takes place on Thursday Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Favorite authors such as Judith Viorst and Judith Martin also appear. Taking a break from etiquette advice, “Miss Manners ” columnist Judith Martin tells us all about her love of Venice in “No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. ” The special event takes place Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Ritz Carleton Hotel in Clayton (no vulgar hotel, indeed). Martin discussing the beauty of Venice, the famous authors and artists who have fallen under its spell and even travel manners, in an evening filled with European desserts and prizes.

Parents and children everywhere love Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. ” Viorst’s latest book is a non-fiction tale about what happens when grown-up Alexander and his wife and three small children move in with Viorst and her husband for a summer of family togetherness in “Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days. ” Viorst shares her multi-generational experiences with us on Wednesday Nov. 14 at 10:30 a.m.

Leonard Nimoy has moved from actor to photographer over the years. His latest photography book “The Full Body Project ” is an exploration of the images of full figured women. Through his mostly nude black and white art photographs, he presents large women of various ages in artistic, beautifully composed ways usually reserved for the young and thin, exposing the myths and preconceptions about women’s bodies. Nimoy will discuss his thought provoking work on Monday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Besides the author events, there is also a concert titled “The Voodoo That They Did So Well: the Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage. ” Members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra perform at B’nai Amoona Congregation, at Ladue and Mason Roads, on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.

The full schedule and tickets to events, or the whole festival, are available by contacting the St. Louis Jewish book Festival at 314-442-3299. The schedule, and other year-round events, can be found at their website at www.stljewishbookfestival.org.

The festival also sponsors event through out the year. Upcoming events include a inside sports look with NFL sportscaster Rich Eisen in December, an exploration of Israel through photography by Davd Rubinger in January, and in June, just in time for barbeque season, it is TV’s barbeque maestro Steven Raichlen.