Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep and The Man of My Dreams

This evening I attended a reading by Curtis Sittenfeld. Her first novel, Prep, was a runaway best seller and was chosen by the New York Times as one of the top ten novels of 2005. (See the link in the sidebar.) The narrator, Lee, in Prep is an angst riddled teen who convinces her parents to let her move out of South Bend to attend a boarding school out East. Being from South Bend (sort of), I was attracted to the story line. The novel was smart and just dark enough for my tastes to make it stand out from a crowd of novels with young female characters.

I was also attracted to Sittenfeld as an author. She was teaching ninth grade English at a private high school for boys at the time the novel reached publication. After the novel hit the charts, I read one (or two?) essays by her describing her experience writing, getting published, and being marketed. She seemed smart and witty, but not in a snarky way. She was articulate and insightful.

Tonight she read from her latest novel, Man of My Dreams. The narrator is also a young woman, Hannah, but Sittenfeld insists that she is quite distinct from Lee. Lee's story was told during her high school years. Hannah's story spans fourteen years and she gets to mature into her late twenties. Lee said not-so-nice things because she was filled with bile. Hannah also gets verbally callous, but her roughness comes more from naiveté instead of nastiness. These are Sittenfeld's descriptions, as I have yet to read her new work.

Sittenfeld is tall. Tonight she wore black slacks paired with a black v-necked top. Her shoes: black. She looked cool. She looked like she writes: forthright, natural, and comfortable. Hhhhmmm...not sure those are the best adjectives. Alas. Or perhaps I should avoid any connection whatsoever between her writing style and her fashion style?

Sittenfeld shared with us her pleasure to be a guest author of Brookline Booksmith, where she used to shop when she lived nearby seven years ago. After a few opening remarks, she read several pages from the new book, and then took questions.

One person asked her about her readership: men, women, girls? Sittenfeld receives letters from readers of every ilk, but she surmised that many of her readers are women. She laughingly remarked that her audience consists of her family, her high school advisor, and a few strangers. Sure enough, she took questions from "Aunt Nancy" and "Aunt Sue."

The reading was held at the Coolridge Corner Theater, where sounds from surrounding theaters occassionly provided a soundtrack for the reading. After the Q & A we were all invited to the book store for a signing. This time I decided to pass. Not sure why. I suppose that the reality of packing all my books for the move back to South Bend is growing more present in my mind. I have accrued boxes of books already. My copy of Prep is back in South Bend and I wasn't quite ready to buy her latest. I will keep it in mind, however, as a future read.

Useful Links

Curtis Sittenfeld Official Website

May 22nd Time Article by Lev Grossman
Prepping for Love:
With The Man of My Dreams, novelist Curtis Sittenfeld
puts the literature back in chick lit.


T.L. Holmes said...

I must've picked this book up and held it while walking around Borders about 2 dozen times--each time relinquishing it for other choices. I'm intrigued by the "Bend" connection, so I'll have to help make its way to the cashier the next time I make it to the bookstore. Thanks for the posting! Looking forward to seeing you next month!

J.K.Kelley said...

I wanted to ask her why she selected South Bend for the story, but I figured she must have given an account of her choice somewhere else. I'll try to track it down...

By the way, the book was turned down by 14 publishers before it sold. Good to remember!

Anonymous said...

why the eff haven't you updated your site lately?

i'm having withdrawl symptoms...