Thirty years ago, a Book Fair was launched in Miami with three major authors and several hundred attendees. Thirty years later, the Miami Book Fair International – hosting 500 authors and 250,000 attendees – is vying with “Art Basel-Miami” as the defining annual high culture feature of Miami and Dade County, Florida.

Book fair chairman, Mitchell Kaplan, launched this year’s festival by introducing author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code; Inferno) at a seafood restaurant. Kaplan, a past president of the American Booksellers Association, is a co-founder of the festival, and owns the Books & Books chain of Miami (and the Hamptons) bookstores. The opening was given a royal flair with the presence of Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. They were present to celebrate the fair’s Spanish books and readings and mark the 500th anniversary of the Spanish colonization of Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon.

Among the authors present and books featured were the top books of 2013. The included:

arishavitAri Shavit. Author of “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” which was named a top book by The Economist and The New York Times Book Review. Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz, draws on interviews, historical documents, private diaries, and letters, vignettes of yishuv figures, as well as his own family’s story, to tell the story of Zionism and Israel, and call – a scream – for a change in Israel’s narrative. Shavit introduces the reader to Shavit’s great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, a British Zionist leader who in 1897 visited Palestine on a Thomas Cook tour, reported back to Herzl, decided to stay, and later, bought land from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s to grow the Jaffa oranges that would create Palestine’s booming economy. He mentioned his great grandfather so much in his talk at the Miami Book Fair that I got the feeling that he had a “chip on his shoulder,” and was trying to distance himself from any other Israeli who came to the land in the various waves of aliyah or who did not purchase their land legally. He primarily asks what Israel is and what its future should and shall be. His stories set up the foundations for what became the current state and structures of Israel. he writes that Israel’s main problem is that it lost our narrative: “We were a story that became a reality, but we lost our sense of meaning. We need to love Israel in a new, authentic way.” Shavit will visit a number of American college campuses in 2014. He realizes that many young Jews “who see Israel as an embarrassment and he wants to make Israel attractive and sexy again, and to connect it with the heart of the Jewish experience. Essentially, he wants to renew Zionism. Should be interesting conversations.

A video of his talk at the Miami Book Fair International can be found HERE. Shavit appeared on stage with Scoot Anderson, the author of Lawrence IN Arabia: The Making of the Modern Middle East. Anderson tells the real story of T.E. Lawrence who toiled to unite the Arabs against the Ottoman Turks, which he said was a sideshow to the sideshow, and ignored by Britain, which was much more busy with WWI. Among the stars of his book is Curt Prüfer, an effeminate academic who worked for Germany in Cairo and tried to get the Arabs to revolt against Britain, and Aaron Aaronsohn, the renowned Jewish agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria and ran a complex Jewish spy ring that the British ultimately ignored, since they hated the Palestinian Jews, and Jews in general.

doubledMark Halperin and John Heilemann authors of “Double Down: Game Change 2012” read from their book on the 2012 U.S. presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It is filled with gossip and jokes and big words that make the authors look wise. They expose the successes, gaffes, arguments, blunders, and background machinations on the campaign trail. You find out that the Romney’s actually liked that Ann Romney was said not to have ever worked; if Joe Biden was seriously considered being dropped from the ticket, and why New Jersey governor Chris Christie could never be Romney’s running mate (too many skeletons in his closet).

A video of his talk at the Miami Book Fair International can be found HERE.

I was excited by the book reading by civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). Part of the excitement came from bumping into him looking for umbrellas for sale as the rain poured down in Miami, and sitting next to him in a small coffee bar as we waited for the book reading to begin. What can i say, I am a sucker for political celebrities. Lewis was promoting his graphic memoir March – Book 1 which he wrote with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. March – Book 1, tells the story of Lewis growing up on his father’s farm, preaching to chickens and his younger cousins (the chickens never said AMEN), his letter to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., his college years, and his involvement with King and the civil rights movement. It was Rosa Parks’ lawyer who introduced the teenage Lewis to King and Ralph Abernathy. It was actually a MLK, Jr comic book that influenced the start the lunch counter sit-ins movement in Greensboro. Lewis, who met with President John F. Kennedy in 1963 after the March on Washington (Lewis is the last surviving member of the March’s main speakers), told the book fair attendees that he has been arrested forty times. Lewis told his readers to stand up, and get into trouble; good trouble and necessary (non violent) trouble.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL) also was at the book fair and spoke to her constituents and readers about the book she co-authored, For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation’s Problems, in which she talks about her experiences in politics, and challenges the American people to address issues that face future generations. Her talk can be found HERE.

Chris Matthews, a pundit, media personality, author, and political speechwriter read from his book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Seriously, I thought he was a little inebriated during his hilarious reading. But I sense this is just his speaking style. More enjoyable than the book were his answers to audience questions, during which he told one fan to watch another television show if they weren’t happy enough with his. The reading can be seen HERE.

Actress Anjelica Huston presented her memoir at the fair. It is titled A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York. It is the story of her youth and education and early acting career before she moved to Hollywood in 1973. She was raised on an Irish estate and was introduced to dozens of authors and actors. At age 17, precocious, vulnerable, and model thin, she was devastated when her mother died in a car crash. Months later Anjelica (who dreamed of being Morticia Adams) moved to Manhattan, fell in love with a much older, disturbed photographer named Bob Richardson, and became a model. They lived in the famed Chelsea Hotel. Her decision to write the memoir came when she was shooting a film in Prague, and felt bored. Acting, she said opens you to criticism, boredom, disappointment, and a lot of waiting. She began to trade e-mails with producer Mitch Glazer (the son of famed Miami writing coach, Zelda Glazer), and he began to coax her to to her memoirs (which she did, by hand… and in pencil.)

heartcheneyA late addition to the festivities was former Vice president Dick Cheney in a book discussion with his co-author and cardiologist, Dr. Jon Reiner, or George Washington University Medical Center. Their book is titled, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey. The book tells the history of modern cardiovascular medicine using Cheney’s life as the sample subject. He had his first heart attack in 1978 as a young adult, had several more heart atacks and bypass surgeries, lived with a pacemaker, and an artificial heart pump, and recently recovered from a heart transplant. In 1978, the White House was stock full of free cigarettes and Wite House matchbooks; there were no drugs to open arteries or stents. These are now standard tools. As a young teen, Cheney witnessed his grandfather die of a heart attack in their house. Did this affect his political outlook? Who knows. Their book is a fascinating account of a man who changes his lifestyle in order to live.

paulausterPaul Auster’s reading was a multimedia event, combining a slide show with a reading from his memoir, Report From The Interior. The book charts Auster’s moral, political, and intellectual journey as he inches his way toward adulthood through the postwar 1950s and into the turbulent 1960s. My favorite segment? He was distant from his father until he learned that his father had worked for Thomas Edison. For years, Auster felt second-hand esteem from that fact, until as a teen, he learned that his father had only worked for Edison for a few days. Edison learned that Paul’s father was Jewish and had him fired immediately. Auster evokes the sounds and smells of his early life in New Jersey.

Thane Rosenbaum read from Payback: The Case for Revenge. A legal scholar, novelist and professor, he is an outspoken critic of Holocaust literature. Revenge, he argues, is not the problem. It is a healthy emotion. Instead, the problem is the inadequacy of lawful outlets through which to express it. He mounts a case for legal systems to punish the guilty commensurate with their crimes as part of a societal moral duty to satisfy the needs of victims to feel avenged.

Just down the hall from Rosenbaum at Miami-Dade College, cultural critic Roger Rosenblatt read from his memoir, The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood. When he was nine years old, living on Gramercy Park in Manhattan, he imagined himself a private detective in search of criminals. With the dreamlike mystery of the city before him, he sets off alone, out into the streets of Manhattan, thrilling to a life of unsolved cases. A grown man now, he investigates his own life and the life of the city as he walks, exploring the New York of the 1950s. Rosenbaum was followed by Greg bellow, the son of author Saul bellow, and his book, Saul Bellow’s heart: A Son’s Memoir it is an affectionate and honest look inside the life of one of America’s greatest writers, his father the Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow, Greg Bellow offers a if a man known to be quick to anger, prone to argument, politically conservative, and vulnerable to literary critics.

Other authors of note at the fair included Dani Shapiro (Still Writing); Gary J. Bass (The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide); Peter Baker (Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney); Joshua Safran (Free Spirit: Growing Up On The Road and Off The Grid); Leslie Maitland (Crossing the Borders of Time); Rich Cohen; Samuel G. Freedman; Rabbi Solomon Schiff; Richard Breitman (FDR and The Jews); James Goodman (But Where is the Lamb? Imagining The Story of Abraham and Isaac); David Kaufman (Jewhooing The Sixties); and Dror Burstein (Netanya).

About the author

larry

2 Comments

  • I have self-published my book in 2012 and twice its prints sold-out. The link to the Kindle version of my book is: http://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Iran-Glimpse-Into-Persian-ebook/dp/B00DQF3VPW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1387461185&sr=1-1&keywords=leaving+iran

    I am very interested to take the book to the next level and I need your help. I am seeking to find a Book Agent/Publisher to represent me. I have given 100s of presentations here in the US as well as England and Italy. The following is a sample of some comments on my book. Please click on the following web site to see the picture of the book and its summary. If you have any question/s please call me 216-496-2376.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DQF3VPW/ref=r_soa_w_d

    http://tackk.com/zk2a5g

    Comments on “Leaving Iran – A Glimpse Into The Persian Mind”:

    http://tackk.com/zk2a5g

    A picture of life in Iran is ingeniously brought to life by Isaac Yomtovian in his book, Leaving Iran. Through his unique and simple writing style, Yomtovian blends history with personal anecdotes and humorous tails as he explores the importance of the bonds of family, political and religious persecution, and the challenge of holding true to one’s heritage while embracing the mores of a new culture. With detailed short stories that weave together history, politics, poetry, and personal life, the reader is sure to gain a broader perspective of the Persian Jewish and Muslim worlds. This is a must read book and a true glimpse into the Persian mind. As a non-Jewish American, I highly recommend this book to the Jewish and non-Jewish readers.

    Alireza Afshin, MD

    I particularly enjoyed reading your account of living as a Jew in Iran in the mid 1900’s. My Father was in the Army and stationed in Teheran during World War II served as a part time Chaplain for Jewish soldiers there He wrote of the kindness of Jewish families, who included them for Passover and other holidays, so I thought my brother would also enjoy your narration. Are any copies available? I am in the Cleveland area (Seven Hills). Thanks so much for your response and for sharing your story.

    Marna Kacenj

    64 years old

    Reading this book felt like reliving the story of my own life. Not just because I grew up alongside this brilliant story-teller, but also as an Iranian Jew. Indeed, Isaac Yomtovian’s story beautifully captures more than the rich moments of his own life, but also embodies the unique and untold experience of an entire population of Jews in Iran. He vividly describes what for many Jews was an uncomfortable reality: that we were often regarded as strangers in a country and culture we regarded as our own. He illuminates both the beauty of diversity and the ugliness of prejudice. The discrimination he faces even by his closest Muslim friends, neighbors, and colleagues, is disheartening. Yet, the animosity he endures by fellow Jews is a sobering reminder that hate and prejudice are sadly conditions that afflict all of humanity. For generations to come, Isaac’s riveting journey from Iran, to Israel, and eventually the United States will serve as an enlightening personal account of an important period in Jewish history.
    Bijan Navidbakhsh

    32 years old

    Isaac Yomtovian’s account of his childhood in Iran provides color and depth to a country that most of us only know through the headlines. His work is an important counter balance to the one dimensional perspective on Iran that most Americans hold. Rabbi Trubhauff

    I just finished reading your book. I first off want to congratulate you for such a significant accomplishment. I thoroughly enjoyed it cover to cover. It solidified the verbal accounts and anecdotes I have heard from my parents, aunts/uncle and cousins. Your accounts and descriptions of Islamic culture and the antisemitism that is engrained, and apparently inseparable from it, are eye opening for a US born Persian Jew like myself. I am recommending it to all my friends and cousins who will certainly be enlightened by it as well. All the best,

    Robert Nejat, MD

    Yomtovian’s book is an honest first-hand account of life in Iran under the Shah. The stories that you’ll read are fascinating. Here, reality is interesting enough, you won’t need fiction. I love reading historic books, but a historian cannot convey the experiences from inside as Yomtovian does. His compelling and candid accounts of his experiences will escort you into a culture that has defied understanding by other means. He will tell you about the ingrained hate or at least disdain for all things non-Muslim, but he will also tell you about the principal of his Jewish school, a Muslim that was dismayed when he discovered that the Jews didn’t know about the Holocaust and vigorously fought to include it in the curriculum. There is no lack of humorous tales, such as the “religious experience” that Jews had when they went to see the movie The Ten Commandments. Many other more contentious issues are described here, such as the treatment of women and -surprisingly- women’s reaction to all that. Yomtovian doesn’t mince words and doesn’t forgive anyone here. I guess having left Iran and living as a free man in America gives him the tremendous pleasure of saying things without fear and without owing favors to anyone. As I said, if you want to understand what drives the Iranian -and to a great extent the Muslim- mind, this book will dispel many myths and will help you view the “Arab Spring” as well as Iran’s inexorable path to nuclear power with a different, more realistic pair of glasses. Disclaimer: I know Mr. Yomtovian and I had the fortune to read the book before it was published. Ruben Mizrachi.

    •Jila Nazarian ·

    Leaving Iran by Isaac Yomtovian is a must read book informing the reader about the daily life in Iran and truly “a glimpse into the Persian mind”. The author takes the reader through his multicultural neighborhood and into the local shops, Jewish and Muslim schools and classes, synagogues, bazaar, butcher shops, bakeries, prostitution houses, and many centers of art and culture. Through his humorous short stories he shows how Iranians talk, treat each other, develop friendships, and establish intimate relationships that capture the so called unfriendly individuals. I highly recommend this book to all those who want to take a journey into Iran while siting at home reading this wonderful book.
    Thanks to Mr. Yomtovian

    •http://www.facebook.com/jimdelshad

    Jimmy Jamshid Delshad · Two times Mayor and Goodwill Ambassador of Beverly Hills at City of Beverly Hills

    This book brought back so many memories of my own experiences in Iran , Israel and America.
    Isaac Yomtovian detail description makes it possible to imagine yourself at every scene. This book is educational, entertaining and thought provoking. I highly recommend this book not only to Jews, but for anyone that has any interest in knowing about the life of any Minority in Iran now or even before the revolution.

    •kuritzky (signed in using yahoo)

    Entertaining and insightful, “Leaving Iran” beautifully describes not just what it’s like to grow up as Jew in Iran, but what it’s like to just grow up–to leave the comfort and protection of home and family. Also: I’d love to see a companion cookbook–the descriptions of meals and recipes are mouth-watering.

    •I would like to thank Isaac Yomtovian for his insightful beautifully written story combining history with perspective. Some people think our American culture of love, understanding and compassion is universal. You exposed a culture of hate and control. The key to survival is love and the ability to allow people to be empowered to fulfill their dreams. Your body might have been driven away from Iran but your heart is still there. The love that you have for humanity, kindness and the culture you were raised in is very much alive in you. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. Jeff Pickholtz

    •Rachel

    Great book. The stories were gripping, and I felt like Isaac was speaking directly to me. Through his fascinating personal stories, I was able to gain unique insight into the world of Iranian Jews.

    From: James Levine
    To: yomtovian@yahoo.com
    Sent: Friday, January 18, 2013 5:21 PM
    Subject: Your book

    Isaac,

    You are a great story-teller. Your book was not only informative but fun to read. I highly recommend to anyone who would like a better understanding of the world.

    Sincerely,

    Jim Levine

  • New Release: Death of the Black Haired Girl by Robert Stone.
    Surely Robert Stone is one of the best writers of individual scenes in all of our literature – think of the scene in A Flag for Sunrise where Tabor shoots his dogs, or in Children of Light where members of a film crew mistake the phrase “Bosch’s Garden” for “Butch’s Garden”, which they speculate is an S&M joint in Los Angeles.
    http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-release-death-of-black-haired-girl.html#.Up9tfDYo6M8

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