Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mishna Wolff Book Tour Review

Mishna Wolff Elliot Bay Books 6-28-10

The short review: Why did this author bother to show up?

It's taken me awhile to write about this one. Though I try to find something good there are some readings that are not worth attending.

Mishna Wolff is a tall comedian/comic writer, ex-model whose memoir "I'm Down" is a comic look at a white girl whose white father thought he was black.

Ms. Wolff now lives in New York but she arrived to the place of her birth (Seattle) to sign and read from a bestselling memoir. Raised in the Seattle's Central District attending black functions with a black step mom and a father who epitomized what Norman Mailer wrote about his famous 1957 essay "The White Negro".

Her book is funny in a rare way that frees the barriers of race and allows people to examine, without malice, the differences in American culture. Race, however, is a delicate issue in the world of comedy. It tends to fall into a special category of acceptability if performed by those who are in the minority and often a bad idea performed by members of the establishment unless you are Mel Brooks.
Maybe that it is the subject of race that caused Ms. Wolff to be so uncomfortable on this night. Maybe she has gotten sensitive to some of the response to her book. I could have been because the books main subject (her father) was sitting in the audience. Either way, Mishna Wolff didn't care about reading tonight.

The dungeon of Elliot Bay's reading room is packed. More chairs are added, and then all the folding chairs are opened up and filled. It's standing room only. This is her home town and friends’ family and fans are pouring in. The book has been out for a time and this is the launch of the soft cover. This is a book sellers dream evening.

The reading should start at 7:00pm. In the back of the room, Mishna drinks her coffee and waits making small talk with the Elliot Bay Employee as if this reading were a Court order Community Service. Its 7:19 when the New York transplant decides to start the show. (DAMN IT) For a comic she was in no hurry to take the stage.

Unlike novels, Memoirs are one of the few acceptable times when an author can read from any part of a book. Her selection is great. She explains about her background as a comic writer and stand up performer but she wants off the stage. The audience is with her still. They want more,

She reads more. It is funny and yet respectful of her past and her family.

In the Q&A session Ms.Wolff is not funny, she is defensive about everything. Audience questions of race are deflected; questions of her family are minimized to the point where her constant side to side swaying motion on stage and her agitated playing with her hair became a distraction. Admirably, Ms. Wolff tells the audience she wants control of the television pilot so that someone else does not reduce the material down to a stereotype.

She offers to read more but comments that she is sure the audience is sick of her reading by now.
Talk about the inability to read the room. They are here to see her and listen and laugh and buy books and Ms. Wolff looks as if she has just had oral surgery. It was sad to see the success so many authors crave go to waste on someone who didn’t want to be here.