I was very excited to see the list of writers coming to Sarasota for this onth's Reading Festival. I don't know how they manage to get such good authors year after year, but this time they have outdone themselves. Such intriguing personalities, and some are my very favorites.
Take Bob Greene, for example. Imagine, Oprah's own personal trainer and fitness guru, coming right to our little town. True, his record with Oprah has had its "ups and downs"-the National Enquirer recently reported that she's back up to 275 and had some appalling pictures-but I've read his books and they sure have worked for me. His latest, Get With the Program, has been an inspiration. Not only have I learned to identify my "emotional eating triggers" (fights with my boss, fights with my other boss, any sort of Florida election) but I have even joined a gym. I chose the Jewish Community Center. It certainly sounded low-key. In fact the only thing lower key might be the free-weight room at Plymouth Harbor. But I must say, things are working out great. I'm there every afternoon, riding an imaginary bicycle and watching the stock market drop point by point. So you can imagine my disappointment when it turns out that it isn't Bob Greene who's coming at all. Well, it is Bob Greene, but it's the "other" Bob Greene, the famous columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
He's the uintessential baby boomer and is always writing about high school and how you never get over it. He is enormously successful, so successful in fact, that jealous competitors often make terrible fun of him. There's even a Web site that contains a synopsis of his latest work. It's called "We Read Bob Greene So You Don't Have To." And then there was that awful fuss when he got a new toupee. But I must say, his new book, Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platt Canteen, is a real gem, maybe his best yet. It's the true story of a small town in Nebraska that opened its heart to all these World War II GIs passing through on troop trains. The townspeople would get up at 4:30 a.m. and start making coffee. All sorts of lasting friendships were formed. Bob has interviewed residents and soldiers and the result is a poignant and heartwarming footnote to American history. And Leslie Glass! I can't tell you how excited I was to hear she was coming, as I have been following her career for years, ever since she was chosen runner-up for Penthouse "Pet of the Year." And she didn't stop there. She turned her drive and energy to help the other kind of pets, the four-legged kind, and founded Pets-4-Pets, an animal rescue organization. Unfortunately, she didn't stop there, either, and went on to perform in a plethora of adult films. But you know me-I don't judge people. Still, I was a little perplexed to hear she would appearing at the Reading Festival. Poor Leslie passed away several years ago from liver cancer, which she kept from her husband because she didn't want him to worry, even though her medical bills were $30,000 a month with very little health insurance-the porn stars union has a $29,900 co-pay-and she had to work overtime at the adult movie set all day and all night just to make expenses. Now there was a story. Still, I didn't see how she could be here delivering a lecture when she's been dead since August 2000, so I called up Phyllis Cobb, who was handling publicity for the festival through her new PR firm Collier & Cobb. You can imagine my surprise when it turned out that the person who was coming was the other Leslie Glass, the famous mystery writer. Luckily, I'm a fan of hers, too. She writes the April Woo series, about the female Chinese NYC detective.
If you haven't read any April Woo I highly recommend it. She's torn between two worlds-the tough, combative NYC police force where male chauvinism and racism are always aising their ugly heads, and her family back in Astoria, Queens, articularly her mother, Sai Yuan Woo (Skinny Dragon Mother). The mother is "old China" to the core and tries to browbeat her poor daughter into marrying a rich Chinese man so she can have grandchildren to boss around. Her favorite insult to April is to call her "worm daughter." She also wears peasant clothes around the apartment, hoping to fool the gods into thinking she's poor. Leslie understands the Chinese mindset so well because when she was a little girl in New York, a Chinese ouple worked for her family. Now Leslie is a Sarasotan, glamorously nsconced in a Bird Key showplace (the April Woo movie rights were just napped up by the producer of Good Will Hunting; and the first film will opefully star Zhang Ziyi, who was so marvelous in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, providing she can learn English in time).
I called up Leslie and she provided me with an exciting scoop-a novel about Sarasota is in the works! She says she's fascinated by all the gossip and ntrigue in our town and has been taking notes like mad. She's also very xcited that our new police chief is Peter J. Abbott, an NYC cop. In fact, he just attended his retirement party at a Manhattan precinct station. he's itching to plunge into the Sarasota crime scene, although hopefully as writer and not a "perp."
Someone else with a famous namesake is James B. Stewart, the prizewinning ournalist's journalist. But I didn't confuse him with the movie star, ecause Jim and I are old friends, having been struggling young writers many ears ago in New York. And now look-Jim is rich and famous, with a Pulitzer rize under his belt, and I am... Mr. Chatterbox. Who says God doesn't have plan?
Jim's new book is called The Heart of a Soldier, and it recounts the life of ick Rescola, a British-born Vietnam war hero who later became director of ecurity for Morgan Stanley and ended up saving thousands on 9-11 although e himself died. It reads like a novel: Rick's best friend is a military dventurer who plots to kill Osama bin Laden and he has a loving wife who is is soulmate. Jim himself is astonished at the many parallels it shares with ipling's famous tale of Afghanistan, The Man Who Would Be King.
On a more personal note, Jim is a frustrated concert pianist. It's his big assion in life. At age 50, he still takes lessons. He even gives recitals. very once in a while he rents Steinway Hall in New York and plays-the hard tuff, like Bach-before an invited audience. People say he could make a iving at it, with a little more practice. By the way, in case you're ondering, a Pulitzer Prize looks like a high school diploma. Jim keeps his n the closet.
P.S. NEWS FLASH! We have just received word that Bob Greene may not be oming, following his dismissal yesterday from the Chicago Tribune over an mproper relationship with a teen-age girl. Hmmm... maybe it's not too late to get the real Bob Greene.