Story by ADRIANNE MURCHISON
If there’s one thing many of us have in common, it’s that we love a good story and pearls of wisdom. More than 45 authors bring both to this year’s Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.
There are memoirs, intrigue, investigative journalism, novels and more. The festival officially runs Oct. 30-Nov. 18. However, a prologue to the event started last month and continues with special appearances in the coming weeks.
“We are recognized as the largest Jewish book festival in the country,” says Pam Morton, festival director. “It’s a celebration of culture and community. We work so hard to bring a huge range of subjects. There is something to appeal to everyone.”
LOOK WHO’S COMING
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Author: Mitch Albom talks about his book, “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven,” a follow-up to the bestseller “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”
When: Oct. 13
Author: Investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author Ronen Bergman discusses “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.”
When: Oct. 18
Author: Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field discusses her descriptive, newly published memoir “In Pieces.”
When: Oct. 21
Author: Mike Luckovich, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial cartoonist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, brings the humor with his book of political cartoons on Donald Trump, “A Very Stable Genius.”
When: Nov. 4
Author: Liane Moriaty, whose bestselling novel “Big Little Lies” inspired the HBO hit series of the same name, is sure to grab audience attention with her just released book, “Nine Perfect Strangers.”
When: Nov. 10
Author: Novelist and columnist Anna Quindlen presents a slice of New York City life in her new novel, “Alternate Side.”
When: Nov. 11
Author: Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Jon Meacham is in conversation about his New York Times bestseller “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.”
When: Nov. 17
INSIDER STORIES: WORDS TO LIVE BY
‘Anything is possible’
Susan and Laura Stachler are among several local authors appearing at the book festival this year. Their book, “The Cookie Cure: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of Cookies and Cancer,” is the story of young Sue’s journey through the same form of cancer that killed her namesake aunt, and the cookie business that came about during her recovery.
Sue and her mother, Laura, own Susansnaps, a gourmet cookie shop in Sandy Springs that specializes in gingersnaps.
Sue was diagnosed with cancer at age 22 in 2004, just two weeks before graduating from Auburn University.
Despite her diagnosis, she felt fine, with little to no symptoms.
“At 22, you think you’re invincible,” says Sue, who is now healthy and vibrant. “I walked into chemotherapy healthy. I thought, ‘Surely chemo won’t be that bad. I can do anything.’”
“Literally by the time she walked out the first day, she was sick,” Laura says.
During Sue’s six months of grueling chemotherapy that left her feeling sick and nauseous, Laura, a baker who had a commercial kitchen in the garage, learned from a nurse that ginger might ease her daughter’s discomfort.
“I never baked gingersnaps,” Laura says. “I was so desperate. Halfway to entertain her, I baked 100 cookies and that was that.”
The cookies helped relieve Sue’s side effects. “The ginger helps sooth my stomach,” Sue says.
As her health improved, Sue started baking gingersnaps with her mother. Eventually, they would take cookies to chemotherapy patients.
“Baking — it’s therapeutic in its own way,” Laura says. “There’s a rhythm to it. You can get lost standing up there in the garage baking those cookies.”
100 cookies turned into thousands and thousands gifted to patients and sold to corporate businesses. Soon the duo opened their brick and mortar location and found themselves on such programs as “The Today Show,” “ABC World News with David Muir,” “The Rachel Ray Show” and others.
Most of their appearances were due to Sue’s ease in going for what she wants by contacting corporate heads and such people as David Muir directly.
“I don’t think I was like that before,” Sue says. “ I was very safe and played by the rules. It took a little while after I finished treatment to notice it, that I go after things differently now.
“Making a phone call or sending an email to somebody is not life or death. You look back sometimes and think, ‘What if I had?’ Good, bad or indifferent, anything is possible.”
Susan and Laura Stachler appear at the Book Festival of the MJCCA on Nov. 8. Susansnaps, susansnaps.com
‘Take You Wherever You Go’
Busy Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon has found time to write a memoir sharing the great influences that shaped him as a person and artist. They were his mother and grandmother, who he lived with from age 4-8 in Tallahassee, Fla., as well as playwright August Wilson.
Leon says his grandmother’s words to him when he was a youth, “Take You Wherever You Go,” have been a guidepost throughout his life.
Living: What prompted your grandmother to say those words to you?
Leon: It was something that she always said. It was ongoing. It was the way she lived her life. I used to wear red Reeboks all the time. I said, “Grandma, do you think it’s cool to wear red Reeboks to church?” She said, “God, don’t care, but have a little class. Wear a matching bow tie. But you have to be you.” In 1992, when she died, I started wearing tennis shoes every day. They remind me to stay grounded.
Living: What do actors teach you?
Leon: I always say any project is always a collaborative experiment. With Denzel [Washington], I like the way he makes me earn his trust. With Phylicia Rashad, it’s the many different ways that she can [express] every emotion. Sam [Jackson] is demanding. Like all great artists, he pushes me to be a greater director. Even when casting young people, it’s a test to teach.
Living: You suggest people make a significant change in their lives every seven to 10 years?
Leon: People know if they are craving something new. We become insecure prisoners of our own false sense of security. I tell young folks they have everything they need inside of them. I tell them the same thing my grandmother said a long time ago: Always be yourself.
Kenny Leon appears at the Book Festival of the MJCCA on Nov. 18. kennyleon.com
Although the book festival is the major annual literary event, MJCCA hosts authors on occasion throughout the year, as well as book club gatherings.
The 27th annual Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. Oct. 30-Nov. 18. Prologue events continue through Oct. 21. 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 678-812-4005. atlantajcc.org/bookfestival