A portion from Adele’s and my book has gone up at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/i-will-keep-you-alive-excerpt-from-the-levins-cardiovascular-romance/
Bob and Adele Levin’s I Will Keep You Alive: A Cardiovascular Romance is this husband and wife’s joint account of Bob’s heart attacks and recoveries. The Levins’ write-ups of their own emotional states, as well as their angles on vagaries of our country’s healthcare system, make their book a national resource – a map of the future for countless Americans fated to cope with hearts gone wrong. I Will Keep You Alive comes with an epigraph from Flannery O’Connor – “In a sense, sickness is a place more instructive than a long trip to Europe.” Its lessons from the land of the very sick reminded me of another instructive book: The Immoralist. Yet the Levins’ takeaways are sweeter and more sociable than Gide’s. Not that the Levins are pious types. (They are alive to dark humor in the horrors of their fearsome years.) It’s true, though, their testament hits hopeful notes that seem pretty far gone from the dailiness of hardcore modernists. Cue Ram Dass who’s praised I Will Keep You Alive as “an inspiring story of a journey through illness toward love, compassion and being.” The excerpt that follows starts with an upside as Adele Levin muses on her husband’s changes. Her entries to I Will Keep You Alive are italicized; Bob Levin’s are in plain text.
Adele sold two “I Will Keep You Alive” to a high school classmate, one for herself, one to donate to the school. I sold two to a friend who plans to give them as gifts. Adele sold one to a woman in the health club locker room, and I sold one to a-back-to-the-land second cousin in rural Arkansas. (She couldn’t begin reading it until she and her husband had finished injecting oak stumps with shittake and oyster mushrooms, which reminded me that another fellow can’t start our book until hew finishes Michelle Obama’s. I note these delays as evidence of our audience’s wide range of interests.)
We also got a check in the mail from a complete stranger. (Not only do we not know him, we never heard of the town he lives in.) The only action at the café was from a prior customer – and elderly, bushy bearded fellow in several layers of clothes and bulging backpack, who said he would be back after the first of the month, presumably by which time his S.S.I. check will have arrived.
Words-of-mouth have included “an extraordinary book” (A lawyer-friend) and “overwhelming” (A fellow author). The president of my Mended Hearts chapter plugged IWKYA in our monthly newletter. The locker room woman (See above) said she would tout it to her reading group. A buddy from my pick-up basketball days recommended it to everyone on the game’s mailing list. (One fellow said he’d ordered it, and another said he would.)
But an East Coast journalist pal pitched a review to a half-dozen places, and heard, “Not one fucking word.”
No sales at café. No interactions of interest
But sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to a checker at Safeway and two by mail to a friend from college. A couple folks said they’d be buying it from Amazon or indie book stores. (Swapped a “Schiz” to a writer in Kentucky who’d sent me a book of his. He’s sending me two more and I’m packaging an “Outlaws, Rebels…” for him.)
IWKYA received a five-star Amazon review from a Mended Hearts member in New York, but the only fellow I know of who’s attempted to place a review in a periodical has had two places decline interest. Meanwhile rave words-of-mouth from friends, relatives and acquaintances continue. (“It’s a everything good. It’s Shakespeare. It’s poetry. It’s prose. Whatever it is, it’s gorgeous.” A loquacious health club member. “A real page-turner.” A less loquacious member. “Packed with insight and emotion. An urgent and harrowing medical drama… and, above all, a love story.” Our oldest nephew.) Then there was the woman from the café who said “I can’t wait to read it,” which isn’t quite true since she had bought it 16 days before she said that.
People have read it “in small bites” and “devoured it.” Adele’s sister, who’d had a similar operation to mine, mastered her anxiety by beginning at the end and reading forwards.
In other news…
The scans have arrived for the book from Kentucky University Presses for the book to which I’ve been asked to write an introduction. And I’ve been invited to review a book on Edward Gorey forthcoming from University of Mississippi Press in 2020.
So the Devil will find no idle hands here for the next few months.
My latest is up here:
In 1999, I interviewed and wrote about Maxon Crumb (“Alone in the Western World,” The Comics Journal #217. Reprinted in Levin. Outlaws, Rebels… 2008). He was, I still say, the strangest person I ever met. When I was asked to review Malcolm Whyte’s illustrated biography of Maxon, Art Out of Chaos (F.U. Press. 2018), I said I would if I could interview him again. We’d had no contact since he’d come to a reading of mine for Outlaws, and I wondered how time had treated him. (I knew it had changed me, and I wondered if that those changes included my characterological assessment.) But Whyte said Maxon no longer communicated with him and could be contacted only through a nephew in Colorado. I e-mailed the nephew but did not hear from Maxon.
Adele and I read to/answered questions from 25-30 people at the monthly meeting of the Oakland chapter of Mended Hearts. (I’m a member.) Sold 14 copies of “I Will Keep You Alive.” It went so well the president offered to suggest other chapters to invite us to meetings and to urge national to review or write about our book.
I sold two copies at the café and Adele three – one to a stranger – at the health club. A friend of Adele’s from high school bought two and friends visiting from NYC another. A second cousin and a friend from college reported ordering copies from Amazon. Sent a “review” copy to an on-line magazine to which Adele and I both contribute, and another to a bookstore in Philly friends recommended as a likely outlet. (I also threw in a “Chessesteak.”)
Sample reactions: “Honest, thoughtful, humorous, soul-ful, helpful, true… Many people will ber thanking you.” “WOW!!… beautiful and intimate.” [Also one: “I’m withholding judgment.” Like we should care, bitch.) In the small world of our friends and acquaintances, IWKYA is a smash, but in the larger world, it has not caused a ripple.
Still, each time I open my lap top, I can hope movement has begun.
[NOTE: All of Bob’s books can be ordered from this very web site.]
Each morning the woman from Indonesia sits at an outside table, reading a Buddhist text, paperback or hardcover, poetry or prose. She is thin. She wears loose fitting jackets and flared slacks. She has tiny, oblong-lensed glasses. Her grey hair is swept up and pinned aback her head.
Goshkin mentioned he had read about upcoming elections in Indonesia a strict Islamic party was expected to win. The woman appeared unaware, then indifferent, expressed an opinion of pendulums swinging one way, then the other. “Every law imprisons someone,” she said.
“But what do you do?” Goshkin said.
“Stay in the middle.” She paused. “The only problem with the middle is it can become boring. So people climb mountains. Barefoot.” She laughed. “We’re all coming back anyway.”
Sold five “I Will Keep You Alive”s. One, by mail, to the president of a Mended Hearts chapter in Florida – who also invited Adele and I to speak/read. One, on credit, to a woman at the health club, and another, also on credit, to a fellow at the café, neither of whom had cash on them. Sold three, four for cash and one for whom I successfully worked my Square. Two were café regulars, one a lawyer-pal, and one a woman who hadn’t been to the café in eons. She’s an in-hospital social worker, who said she reads a lot of books about illness but never one written by both the patient and the care-giver, so she is very interested in ours.,
Three Amazon sales have been reported, one by a second cousin, one by a lawyer whom I’ve met through the MH message board, and one to a pediatrician who read about the book on my friend Budd’s blog (“Budd’s Blog” – highly recommended). Speaking of Budd, who has been extraordinarily supportive of IWKYA – and who, because of his own medical background and interest in doctor-patient relationships, may have appreciated the book more than even its authors, he has recommended it to his Lower Merion High School and Harvard Med classmates, resulting in a literary world-connected fellow from the former requesting a review copy, in case he could help. (I sent it First Class.)
Also, since the MH-connected lawyer said he’d also bought an “Outlaws” on line, I sent him a “Cheesesteak” gratis, and I swapped a “Schiz” to one of this month’s café readers for a copy of his new novel, “Disposable Man.”
Finally, I received some numbers via my distributor, the crunching of which led me to conclude that for each IWKYA sold on-line or in stores, we will lose 75-cents. (It seems I made an error when setting its price.) But if we get into a second printing, or Adele and I sell all the copies we have on hand or it gets into the right movie producer’s hands…
“I am not cut out for business,” I told our publicist.
“Then you’re perfect for publishing,” she said.
Sold one “Schiz.”
The buyer was an 80-something woman, in town from the Upper West Side (“near Lincoln Center”) for a grandson’s bar mitzvah. The book was for her son, a physicist at UCB. She had me sign it, with maternal pride, for “Dr. D____ R____.” She was at the next table in the café and explained that she believed “in omens,” but what omen had led her to select this book from my others was kept to herself.
All other news was about “I Will Keep You Alive.”
Even though it is not officially for sale, we decided it would be kosher to sell copies to people who hadn’t come to the launch but would have bought it there if they had. So we moved another half-dozen – and gave one to the fellow who designed our invitation. (The one exception was the sale Adele made in the health club locker room to a woman from out of town, who overheard her discussing it and found the topic irresistible since she had been born with a heart defect left undiagnosed until she was 25.)
Responses have ranged from raves to people who found the subject too anxiety producing. One woman flagged us down in a parking lot to thank us for our “contribution.” An e-mailer called the story “terrifying and deeply moving.” Then there was the woman who said, while passing my table, “I started your book” – and kept moving.
“And…?” I called after her.
“And then I started having chest pains.”
One couple has thought enough of the book to recommend it to several book stores, all of whom then ordered multiple copies. Which made me wonder what the distributor’s sales representatives had been up to. It also embarrassed me enough to raise the subject with the Berkeley Public Library.
“Are you giving us this copy?” the clerk said.
“No. I want you to order it.”
She showed me a form to fill out.
This week it was all about the “I Will Keep You Alive” Launch.
By all accounts the party was a great success. We drew a SRO crowd of about 70 and sold about 40 books. (Many people attended in couples and some already had copies.) (“Fabulous,” “Beautiful,” “Courageous,” “Intense and intimate,”early readers have said.) Everyone was someone we knew personally or was a friend of someone we knew. (In other words, our FB notices drew zero. So much for the power of the Internet.) All pockets of my life were represented but one. Lawyers basketball guys, the café and health club and Mended Hearts. (Unrepresented was the comix world. You know how shy those folks are.) Demography-wise, 94% of the attendees were over 60 and white.
The five best reasons people gave for not attending were: (1) I had a book group meeting. (Book unspecified.); (2) I went to a reading by a friend at UC. (Author unspecified); (3) A five-way tie between “You mean it was last night? I thought it was today” (Two people), “You mean it was Wednesday. I thought it was Friday), and “I thought it was in April.”; (4.) “My wife’s cousin came in unexpectedly from New York”; and (5) “S____’s mother died.” [Then there are those who have not even acknowledged there was an event to which they had been invited, including two who asked multiple times when and where it would be. The customs and behavior of human beings, even to someone my age, remain of interest.]
One fellow who hadn’t come asked if the prevailing mood in the room had been one of “empathy.” Adele agreed that was so. “Everyone had similar experiences in their lives – or worries about future ones.” I suggested “love” and “terror” too. It was present in small doses in the portion we read [pp. 8 – 13 (top)] and came across more strongly in the questions and discussions that followed.
I should admit that I spent a lot of time in my head afterward going over the people who’d said they would be there and weren’t, and the people who did not buy a book. Then about 4:30 a.m., it dawned on me, What about “gratitude”? What about “forgiveness”? That seemed a better way to carry on, and I have had it by the handle since.
P.S. Two days later, a second cousin e-mailed that IWKYA was #1 in an Amazon category. What category, I wondered. Best book by septugenarian Jewish couple?
Nope. I found it at “Heart Disease.” But in two hours it had dropped to #9.
Which wasn’t bad, considering it won’t be on sale for 10 days.
In other news…
The editor of the university press book to which I had been proposed by the authors to write the introduction has replied, “It would be nice to have someone like him.”
Someone like me! That’s the nicest thing anyone in mainstream media has said in years.
Gave away two “Best Rides” and a “Fully Armed” though. The BRs went to the cartoonist and writer whose collaboration I’ve been asked to introduce. (See previous “Adventure.”) The writer had generously sent me his book from which the story to be adapted had been taken, and the cartoonist had been the one to suggest me for the gig. (He got the FA because we’d long admired each others’ work, and he needed it to complete his “Levin” shelf.)
My “business” did bring one surprising visitor to my table. youang woman looking over “The Schiz,” which was not that surprising, but when I asked “Wanna buy a book?” she said she already had it. It turned “had” did not mean “own” but that she’d obtained it from the man from whom she is renting. (Who he is or how he got his copy remains a mystery.) She has been here seven from months from Turkey, studying at Berkeley City College, sharpening her English. She says once she finishes the book she is reading, she will read mine. That will be a response to which I look forward.
Also a friend just back from Ashland, reports that, on his and his wife’s recommendation, Bloomsbury Books has ordered THREE copies of “I Will Keep You Alive.” My gratitude to it and them.
Finally, a previous customer (“Cheesesteak) stopped by to say his 16-year-old son, an aspiring screenwriter, loved it too. I invited them both to IWKYA’s launch party, at which the boy may be the only guest under 50.
In other news…
Well maybe this is marketing too, but…
At the suggestion of another friend, I stopped by the cardio-rehab facility I had passed through in 2011 to leave announcements of the launch, figuring current enrollees would find the book of interest. While there, I ran into a nurse from my time. (Only one other I knew remained, the others, she said, having “got old.”) She and I had “met” when I was in a coma in the ICU, just before she transferred after 20 years there to rehab. We had a lovely chat about health and life and things. She doubted she could make the party but the other nurse I knew might. I promised to give each a copy of the book, in which she appears. on p. 111, under another name.
As for the launch (FINAL NOTICE: March 20, 7:30 p.m., Berkeley Espresso, SW cor. Shattuck & Hearst), attendance continues to grow, despite a couple cancellations. One fellow will be out-of-town. The other, expressing his regrets at missing the affair in a sort-of “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia” vein, will be having a camera stuck inside him to take pictures of his penis. “Sounds like an invasion of privacy,” I said. “And I really don’t want to see those films on Facebook.”