The enormously popular author, Jennifer Weiner, was at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Tuesday to talk about her new book, “Who Do You Love?”
Like any self-respecting Jewish person attending a big gathering, Jennifer Weiner brought a little something for the people who showed up to see her speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
Last year, when she was promoting her book, All Fall Down, she brought a giant cannoli filled with miniature cannoli. At The New York Times bestselling author’s new book signing Tuesday night, she added donuts to the spread.
Weiner was in town to talk about her new book, Who Do You Love, and to sign copies for her fans.
Bringing snacks for her devotees is just one of the ways that Weiner tries to make her author appearances as atypical as possible.
“Everywhere I go, I try to make readings as fun as they can be,” she said. “There’s a lot of excitement about what kind of food I’ll bring. It’s very Jewish.”
She is now the author of 12 books, and her name is a regular sight on The New York Times best-seller list — as befitting someone who has more than 11 million copies of her work in print in 36 countries.
Her success isn’t limited to the printed page: In Her Shoes, was made into a major movie starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine in 2005.
Weiner, who lives in Center City, has previously worked as a newspaper reporter in central Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Philadelphia, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times, among other publications.
Who Do You Love chronicles the romance of two teens who fall in love and revisit and rekindle their affections over the course of the next 30 years.
Weiner said she enjoyed writing her 12th book and immersing herself in it for the year or so it took to write — a standard amount of time for her. She intimated that this book is her favorite one, although she was quick to add that she always feels that way about whichever book she is currently writing or has just finished because she feels a more intimate connection with the characters at that point in time.
“It was really fun to sort of be in that world of love and romance, and two people that hopefully you’re really rooting for to get together,” she said. “I hope readers will respond to it and like it.”
Weiner says she sets most of her books in Philadelphia because the city is livelier and provides more to talk about. She grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut, so she likes the added flair of the city and the different kinds of people and lifestyles.
“I think living in a city really does inform the stories that I tell,” she said.
When she’s not writing or promoting her work, Weiner spends time with her two daughters.
Her oldest daughter is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah next spring, which Weiner said is much more extravagant than when she was a kid. She reminisced about her own Friday night Bat Mitzvah service, where she led the entire Hebrew-heavy ceremony. Her “party” was an oneg, and her grandmother just cooked some extra food for the crowd.
She had to acclimate herself to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah scene today, which have elaborate parties, luncheons, dinners, disc jockeys and even fancy outfits changes.
“How do you do it all in a way that still centers the actual ceremony and the actual Judaism of it?” she asked rhetorically.
The Bat Mitzvah experience may have been simpler when she was a teen, but the collective heft of her own Jewish upbringing has repeatedly been brought to bear in her storytelling.
“Growing up Jewish, I felt like an outsider a lot of the time, and it made me very sensitive to details and to nuance,” she said.
The Judaism in her books feels very organic, she added. Readers who are familiar with the culture find the books very comforting, like talking to an old friend, whether it’s about a Jewish summer camp, a shivah service or a Bar Mitzvah.
Her Jewish characters and themes aren’t always explicit, but it creates a way for the characters to be outsiders too, based on how they live through those experiences and interact with other characters.
For her Jewish characters — like Cannie Shapiro’s disastrous shivah call in Good in Bed or Rachel’s seder in Who Do You Love — being Jewish is just another facet of their development, similar to describing a character as having brown hair or freckles, she said.
She said she likes writing about Jewish themes in a very matter-of-fact way, but also enjoys how her non-Jewish readers understand these “exotic” storylines.
“What is this ‘seder’ of which you speak?” she said by way of paraphrasing what a non-Jewish reader may ask — which she’s happy to explain in her books.
Weiner is also well known on social media. With approximately 120,000 Twitter followers, she made Time magazine’s list of “140 Best Twitter Feeds” in 2011. The New Yorker and Forbes also highlighted her social media presence.
She said she likes using social media to communicate because she gets a lot of input from fans and likes to interact with them.
“I’m not just a little tiny picture on a book flap,” she said.
Even just 15 years ago, she said, being a writer was a very different experience. Writers would work in isolation, and fans would have to actually write letters to the publishers to get in touch. Now with Twitter, “if they don’t like something you said, they’re in your face.”
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