A celebrity-studded BookCon started out with a bang on Saturday morning: The very first panel featured Mindy Kaling in conversation with best friend (not to mention sometimes boyfriend, past co-writer on "The Office" and future co-author of an as-yet-to-be-titled project) B.J. Novak. From the moment the doors opened at 10am, crowds wound through the basement of Manhattan's Javits Center, hoping to snag a coveted entrance bracelet.
Whatever their current relationship status, Kaling and Novak had an easy chemistry throughout the 45-minute discussion, which kept the capacity crowd laughing. Though the two dodged any questions about their upcoming project, which reportedly sold for $7.5 million, Kaling dished plenty on her life, her career and of course, her new book, Why Not Me?, which comes out September 29.
On the differences between her first book and her second
“[For the first book] I was just excited to be writing a book and hope that anyone would read it. . . . I wanted people to like me. The thing with this book is that . . . I wanted people to really know who I was. So I’m incredibly honest and vulnerable in this book. And it’s a little scary, actually. But I think it makes the book funnier.”
Kaling dictates first so that she can strike the conversational tone she’s seeking. “The biggest compliment that I can get about my writing, particularly in essay form, is that it’s like you’re talking to your friend or listening to your friend talk to you.”
“I have found in the past four years that I want a friend, a female friend. It’s much harder to find someone you want to talk to than a man you want to sleep with.”
According to Kaling, her closest local female friends (Lizzy Caplan, Lena Dunham and Ellie Kemper were mentioned) are also busy and successful, so it’s hard to find time to get together. Her goal for the next five years is to “make a good female friend.” Judging by the applause at Javits to that statement and the almost unanimous prefacing of audience questions with “I love you, Mindy,” there’ll be plenty of applicants.
On being a boss
“Surprisingly, I like it a lot.” [laughter] “You get things done the way you want to get things done. But the sad thing is . . . there’s so much fun in a job about complaining about the job. It’s like, that’s 40% of what’s fun about the job. . . . My writing staff is largely comprised of people who were my friends before I hired them to come work on the show, but I do miss that aspect of it. I can’t really sit there and complain about the hours with them, because they’re like, you set the hours.”
To Novak’s question of “What do you say to someone who looks at you and thinks, why not me?” Kaling responded with “Back off, it’s not your time yet, I’m still trying to get this going.”
On a more serious note, she added that people should focus on listening to others and not merely expressing themselves. “I feel like we don’t talk about that a lot, because the only way to show that we’re empowered is by speaking it. . . .'I Feel This and I Should Say This' would be a really popular TV show. Not like, 'I Am Listening and I Understand What You’re Feeling.' Which I think is a little more important.”
On what she has learned from Mindy Lahiri
“Mindy Lahiri has dated more men than I’ve ever met in my life, and I think that it’s been interesting fake-dating so many great guys, because as an actor, when you’re dating someone on screen, a little bit of their actual courtship rituals come to life.”
She also talked about the two sides to the character—accomplished OB-GYN and celeb-stalking girly-girl—and how playing them has helped her accept some of the contrasting facets of her own personality. “It’s been very interesting being able to flip those in the character, and also in the way that it seems like realistic to people’s real lives.” To which Novak added that he has noticed the way that’s changed her: “You’ve become more comfortable being yourself, and being excellent, and not thinking of those two things being in conflict.”
On B.J. Novak
“You’re like the baddest of the good boys. Like at space camp, you’re the kid who goes, wanna smoke weed? And the other kids are like, that guy’s cool.”
“One of the things that makes you such a good best friend is whenever I want to steer into stuff that could get us into trouble . . . you definitely steer us back.” Novak: “It’s a full-time job.”
“My first crush that I can remember, the kind that keeps you up at night, when I was 11 years old, was Dana Carvey,” whom she described as “the Bill Hader of 1992 'SNL.' ” Her Carvey fantasies? “Living next door to my family with him in our house.” To which Novak responded, “Parents love Dana Carvey.”
On dream ‘Mindy Project’ guest stars
Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hanks and Dave Chapelle.
In her third memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come, Alexandra Fuller reflects on her African childhood and the dissolution of her marriage after moving to America. Our reviewer writes, "Fuller’s blend of wry honesty and heartfelt environmental consciousness will resonate with both new readers and longtime admirers of her distinctive style." (Read the review here.)
We asked Fuller to tell us about three books she's been reading lately, and she graciously agreed to share.
I’ve read and re-read this spellbinding memoir of growing up with all the privilege and unconsciousness of a doomed elite in pre-war Liberia. Now, with West Africa and Ebola in the headlines, I found myself drawn back to Cooper’s lyrical, clear-eyed work. Anyone who wants to understand the political dynamics that have led to the current state of paranoia and suspicion in Liberia could do worse than start here. Anyone who loves beautiful, honest writing—or tales about families or coming-of-age stories—will find themselves smitten by Cooper’s descriptions of an exotic other time and the price we have to pay for paying too little attention to those less fortunate than ourselves.
I was completely smitten by this nonfiction novel (read it, you’ll see what I mean). It started life as four lectures delivered in Oxford in 2012 and appears in these pages more or less as given. An absolutely hypnotic, fiercely erudite meditation on art and literature, but also a reimagined love story (what if your lover could come back after her death? What if your connection to her was the ways in which you spoke about art and literature to one another? What if you missed your dead lover back to life?). Artful is not only about what art can do, but also about why we cannot do without it. Smith’s ambition is to break open the musty parchment of the way we typically think about literature and blow the reader’s heart open in the process.
I think Olivia Laing could write about the inside of a brown paper bag for 300 pages, and I would still be enthralled. Her prose is so gorgeous, so evocative, so sumptuous, I had to keep stopping to catch my breath and to ask myself, “How did she just do that?” In this work, Laing follows the drinking lives of six of the most brilliant writers—and tragically heavy drinkers —in modern U.S. history. What the reader learns—or doesn’t—about Hemingway, Fitzgerald et al from these pages is, in my view, completely beside the point. It’s more of an adventure story into the internal lives of familiar writers, their struggles and demons—perhaps somewhat partly familiar to many of us—and Laing’s own attempts to glimpse what early trauma can do, or undo, in a person.
Thank you, Alexandra! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
Author photo by Wendell Locke Field
As part of our Best Books of 2014 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
How does a Southern Baptist boy from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, become an enthusiastic proponent of LSD and the countercultural voice of the 1970s? Tom Robbins connects the psychedelic dots in a mind-blowing memoir that reminds us why we love his hilarious, colorful and utterly unique voice.
As part of our Best Books of 2014 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Journalist and novelist Joanna Rakoff perfectly captures the anxiety and uncertainty of young adulthood in a memoir about her experiences working at an odd, stodgy literary agency in the late 1990s. All the unfortunate trappings of your early 20s are here: the lame boyfriend, the money problems and the aching hope for something better.
As summer begins winding down, it's about time to kick off the new school year.
When Kim Bearden began her teaching career, she never expected so many of her school day's teaching moments to come from her own students.
Bearden delves into her 27 years of experience in the education field and tells the story of her founding of the Ron Clark Academy (an innovative middle school in Atlanta with a world-renowned reputation) in her uplifting new memoir, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me.
Crash Course is filled with anecdotes about the importance of bringing creativity into the classroom, advice for tackling problems from a place of honesty and embracing and celebrating her students' cultural differences—all relayed in Bearden's down-to-earth voice.
While aimed at fellow teachers, Bearden's memoir is a beautiful read with insights for anyone working with youth or the public at large.
See Bearden and some of her real students discuss Crash Course in the trailer below:
What do you think, readers? Any teachers out there looking for a back to school read?
International model Cea Sunrise Person may have an unconventional career, but she had a very unconventional childhood.
In her memoir North of Normal, Person deftly details the "miserable excesses and occasional beauty" of her off the grid upbringing in the Canadian wilderness. Until the age of 13, Person lived with her free-spirited mother, grandparents and two aunts in a tipi. That's right: No running water, no plumbing and no electricity. They formed a totally self-sufficient community, foregoing modern amenities and living off the land.
Their tiny hippie utopia—where little clothing is worn, lots of pot is smoked and sex is rarely private—is soon interrupted by Person's mother, whose string of whirlwind relationships threaten any possible stability.
Watch the trailer, narrated by Person herself, below:
What do you think, readers? Will you pick up a copy of North of Normal?
Our June Nonfiction Top Pick is Joanna Rakoff's new memoir, My Salinger Year. In this absorbing account, Rakoff (A Fortunate Age) describes her time as an assistant for one of the most storied literary agencies in New York City—one that represented such literary legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Judy Blume, along with the agency's star client, J.D. Salinger.
At just 23, Rakoff found herself thrown into an office perpetually frozen in time where the agents still smoked at their desks, and the typewriter and Dictaphone reigned supreme. Aside from her more predictable administrative tasks, Rakoff learned that one of her duties would be answering fan mail for the reclusive Salinger. She soon found a rebellious courage to ditch the form-letter response, and secretly composed her own thoughtful replies to the passionate letters.
Although Salinger will certainly draw most readers in at first, Rakoff offers "a deeply moving but unsentimental coming-into-your-own story" that resonates long after the final page is turned.
Of course, Rakoff explains it better herself: Watch her video from Knopf below.
What do you think, readers? Interested? My Salinger Year hits shelves today! You can also read our lengthy Q&A with Joanna Rakoff for even more details.
Golden Globes winning actress, producer, SNL alum, personal role model and hilarious human Amy Poehler has unveiled the cover of her upcoming book, Yes Please. Set to publish on October 28th with It Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, the book will cover topics such as friendships, dating, motherhood and more. It Books says this of Poehler's debut book:
"Her original twist on the conventional memoir will have universal appeal. An illustrated, non-linear diary full of humor and honesty and brimming with true stories, fictional anecdotes and life lessons, the book will be a unique and engaging experience from one of today's most talented and beloved stars."
If it's anything like her good friend Tina Fey's book, Bossy Pants, I will be overjoyed. But the real question is, can it live up to Leslie Knope's book, Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America?
The book is already available for pre-order. Do you think you'll be checking out Yes Please?
Emmy-winning actor, singer, director, producer (and my hero) Neil Patrick Harris is publishing a most unusual (we expect no less) book this October with Crown Publishing.
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography is an autobiography in every way that an autobiography isn't, as readers choose the direction of NPH's life (or is it your own life?), from Broadway to fatherhood and everything in between. Because who wouldn't want to be NPH for a day?
The publisher shares more, because I won't even begin to try to explain this book in my own words:
"Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. ...
Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a guest stint on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song."
Think you'll join NPH's adventure on October 14?
I'm simply fascinated by the idea of teens writing memoirs. Never mind whether anything interesting has happened to them yet. Are they capable of insightful reflection—and communicating it through the written word? Last year, Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala answered those questions with a resounding yes.
On the opposite end of teen experience is that of Maya Van Wagenen, the bookish 15-year-old whose eighth-grade social experiement is the subject of an utterly charming new memoir, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek.
Awkward and a self-described "Social Outcast," Maya came across a book that would change her life forever: Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide, originally published in 1951. Betty Cornell was a former teen model in the '50s, and her guide was filled with tips and advice on becoming popular. And so Maya decided that she would follow Cornell's 60-year-old advice—on everything from hair to clothing to "figure problems"—during eighth grade and just see what happened. The results are hilarious and heartwarming.
It's not surprising that, after a publisher bidding war over the book, Hollywood also came knocking, with DreamWorks snatching up the film rights before the book was even published. Something tells me we haven't seen the last of Maya Van Wagenen. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what she does next . . . aside from get her driver's license.