Sunday, February 13, 2011
Susan Vreeland Book Tour Review
Elliot Bay Book Company 2-09-11
The short version: An author reading not to be missed.
Author Susan Vreeland came to Seattle to promote her fifth book, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany.”
Based on historical facts, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany is the story of the woman who designed and created the legendary Tiffany Lamps, which until recently have been credited to the company owner, Lewis Comfort Tiffany.
Ms. Vreeland’s story of Clara is a profile into the life of a ground breaking individual whose thoughts and lifestyle were years ahead of her time. Until the last few years, little to nothing has been known about Clara Driscoll, nor the group of designing women she supervised, known as the “Tiffany Girls.”
Before her reading begins Ms. Vreeland, is quick to acknowledge the recent academic work of Professor Martin Eidelberg, who is credited with the discovery that Clara Driscoll and not Lewis Tiffany had been responsible for design and construction of the famed lamps. This research combined with Ms. Vreeland’s own detective work, provide the accurate depictions of the Gilded Age when this story takes place.
The basement of Elliot Bay is arranged with the stage set for a slide presentation on a large projected screen which does not bode well for an eventful evening. Often times the slide presentation is a mask to cover the inability of the author to present the book on its own merit. Here it proved to be an integral part of the evening’s success.
A former school teacher, Ms. Vreeland understands what it takes to hold a class’s attention. She is that rare combination of grace and intellect that illuminates the room the moment she arrives. She looks smashing in her outfit that contradicts the dank boiler room decor of Elliot Bay Books. She emits the aura of a lady holding court at a charity function.
She is the perfect hostess. She arrives early, and soon the audience is no longer in Elliot Bay Books but in Ms. Vreeland’s room. She owns the place. Before her introduction, she glides through the crowd, introducing herself to people, thanking them for attending on a winter evening and then (AND THIS IS A CLAUDIO FIRST) proceeds to pass out her business card to the audience so that she may be contacted with further questions or comments afterwords.
She is the perfect guest. This is Ms. Vreeland’s fourth time to Elliot Bay and before beginning her reading she encourages the ample crowd to make all their future purchases at this store.
She is a publishing house dream. Author readings are about selling books. She presents a fascinating synopsis, giving the audience enough details to leave them wanting; then saying with an unequivocal frankness, “If you want to know more then please buy the book.” She elicited this polite response to a few members in the audience asking in depth questions, showing a deft grace of salesmanship that would have sent the most petulant used car salesman into therapy.
In regards to the last comment; it is so rare that an author actually helps sell the product for the book store and themselves that other writers should take note.
At first glance, the books subject seems dry begging the question how could anyone take the creation of glass lampshades and spin it into an intriguing tale?
Then Ms. Vreeland begins to tell the story, rather her story, of Clara Driscoll. The audience is taken back in time to the Gilded Age where America began its economic ascent and began its ability to produce, not just admire, serious art.
She reads her novel without hesitation, demonstrating that she has practiced for these moments. Ms. Vreeland changes the inflection in her voice for each character, accentuates the important descriptions that place the reader in her world. Like a rehearsed actor, she changes reading speed and uses just the right amount of hand gestures on stage to draw the audience into her tale.
The presentation is informative without being condescending or pedantic, but as the evening goes on the reading turns into less about the book and more the lamps construction and design. As the screen is filled with images, the author’s knowledge fills the cavernous room to the point where even the cars from the book stores underground are drowned out.
Simply put, this portion of the program is a hypnotic presentation, convincing enough to believe that the creation of the Tiffany Lamp is on par to the construction of the Great Pyramid. This is all due to Ms. Vreeland’s skill as a storyteller. Only when she admits that she simply spent seven months of research on Tiffany does she break her spell.
Only seven months?
It would be easier to believe Ms. Vreeland has written her Masters dissertation on this subject.
Ms. Vreeland knows the history of Clara, the inner workings of the Tiffany production, how the glass was designed, who selects the glass, how it was cut, molded and placed before being sent off to be soldered into place. All of this done on a simple, even stale subject matter, but proof that the passionate author can change a perception, seal a reputation and sell books.
It may be a long time before Seattle has an author whose reading can match Susan Vreeland.