2009.06.10 It's all about the tomatoes and homemade bread

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Landing Elizabeth Berg for an appearance at Stair Public Library traces back to the culinary prowess of another Elizabeth...retired library director Liz Stella.

It all started when I emailed Elizabeth’s agent to see if she would put me in contact with her. I was trying to schedule a speakerphone chat for “Dream When You’re Feeling Blue” for the evening book discussion group’s March meeting.

Elizabeth wasn’t available, and said she doesn’t like speakerphone chats anyway. But she loves doing readings and asked if the library ever hosted authors.

I sent her a long email in response:

Oh, phone chats are so fun! I'm sorry you don't enjoy them. The first one we did was with Steven Sorrentino ("Luncheonette") and it was also his first book discussion chat. He started off telling us he had done lots of conference calls by speakerphone in his work for a publishing company so he was quite experienced with it. Then he caught us off guard by saying this was the first one he had done in the nude. When we stopped laughing, one of our ladies retorted, "Well, I thought you might want to know, we're all naked here, too!"

We do host authors in person, but I am guessing we are way out of your league. We're a small library, so we don't have a huge budget to host big-name authors like yourself.

This scenario is more our speed: the Ultimate Cheapskate, Jeff Yeager, author of "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less" visits our library, is served a wonderful lunch of homemade manicotti, homemade bread, and a fresh garden salad with just picked tomatoes, prepared by our former director who married an Italian from the hills of West Virginia and learned to cook from her [first generation Italian-American] mother-in-law...Yeager speaks to a group of 66 people at 2 on a weekday afternoon and sells lots of books and he ends up paying us $100!

That's a bit unusual, but he had such a good time here, he decided to offer us the deal he gave libraries on a book promotion tour he had just finished. He biked from library to library and gave his publisher's per diem to the libraries if they arranged for somebody to put him up overnight....

...Do you have a special price for displaced-New-Yorker library directors trying to add big-city culture to tiny rural Midwest towns? Or a flat fee for everyone? And what would that fee be?

Elizabeth was taken in by the tales of small town library life and responded with this email:

What a charming letter! So let's see what we can do here. First of all, fresh-picked tomatoes: a must. Ditto homemade bread.

When I speak through my lecture agent, I get $5,000 which I rush to add I'm sure you can't afford. So here's the deal: do you think you can get over 100 people and good book sales? And some tomatoes to take home?

If so, give me your best offer, and let's see what we can work out.

The email exchange continued with negotiation on price and book sales—and promises of more of Liz’s specialties:

 Tomatoes, bread...even homemade brownies using the Zingerman's recipe (the most divine brownies known to womankind) and sticky toffee pudding which sounds horrible, but is the most luscious dessert known to all of humanity. ... Liz Stella, the afore-mentioned former library director, says she will fix you up with a basket of good stuff.

...I think I could offer something in the $300 to $500 range. That sounds so paltry compared to your usual fee, but your usual fee is our programming budget for the entire year! I promise you, though, Zingerman's brownies and sticky toffee pudding made by Liz are utterly priceless and totally worth your time...along with the tomatoes.

In one exchange, Elizabeth proposed this scenario:

...For my payment, start with $500, but for every person over 100 that you get, take  $10 off my fee, but up the portion size of the sticky toffee pudding. …

In that scenario, if we had 150 people she wouldn’t have received anything....and Liz would have had to bake a heck of a lot of sticky toffee pudding. But, in the end we settled on a flat fee and Susan Bach of Waldenbooks in Adrian will handle book sales. Elizabeth forfeited the tomatoes when she realized June was better for her schedule than tomato harvest season.

I’m nervous as all get-out about having a good-size crowd, especially in light of Berg’s comment in this email excerpt:

For the record, I think a crowd of 100 would be terrific, and I always like to do whatever I can to encourage book sales of ANY author.…

On the strength of her emails alone, I’m expecting an entertaining, enlightening wonderful program.

And, of course, it will be all the more wonderful if you’re there, too.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016