Yearly MJCCA book festival proudly takes center stage — virtually

Michael J. Fox (clockwise from left, Rachel Beanland and Jonathan Safran Foer are presenters at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta's Book Fest in Your Living Room this fall. Courtesy of MJCCA

Michael J. Fox, Jonathan Safran Foer will make appearances at livestreamed event.

“You can park as close to the front door as you can get; you can sit in the front row; and, you can watch the whole thing in your pajamas,” says Pam Morton, director of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s (MJCCA) book festival.

Those are the perks of attending this year’s festival, which will be livestreamed via Zoom this fall.

“What it lacks is the human component of meeting an author and having a picture taken with them,” Morton admits. But people she’s queried about MJCCA’s previous virtual programs say they enjoy “sitting in their living room in their pajamas, drinking their wine or having a beer and watching on their computer or TV.”

The MJCCA Book Fest in Your Living Room takes place Nov. 8-22, but it spans from now through Dec. 2 if you count all the prologue and epilogue programs that total 28 author events. Transitioning online has not diminished the star power that typically distinguishes this festival. Presenters include Michael J. Fox, John Grisham, Lawrence Wright, Joan Lunden, Ina Garten and Jonathan Safran Foer, among others.

Some events are free, but most are ticketed at a cost of $6 for day events and $11 for evening events. Ticket bundles with the purchase of a book are available, and some marquee programs require book purchases to access the livestreamed event. A Cappella Books is handling sales and shipping.

"No Time Like the Future" by Michael J. Fox

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, the MJCCA quickly converted its author events from in-person to online. In the process, Morton decided to make the programming available to some other Jewish Community Centers (JCC) around the country. Sixteen signed on, and the experience was so successful, the decision was made to expand its reach for the festival.

“My CEO Jared Powers called me one day and said, why don’t we offer this to the entire JCC movement? It would be a wonderful way for people who wouldn’t normally have opportunities to present authors of this caliber to their communities,” Morton says.

They established the National JCC Literary Consortium, and 85 JCCs across the U.S. and Canada signed on. MJCCA handles the programming, streaming, marketing and book sales. Each JCC is provided with a unique link for ticket sales, which are split 50-50 between MJCCA and the participating JCC.

Not only is the national organization bringing programming to people who may not otherwise have access, but it has been a boon to the publishing industry.

“In this world where people are struggling to sell books, we’ve done very well with that,” says Morton. “We just did a program with a Jodi Picoult, who is a huge fiction author with a tremendous fan base. With the total consortium, we sold 1,100 books. Publishers were very happy.”

Among the authors Morton is looking forward to this year is journalist Lawrence Wright, whose debut novel “The End of October” is a prescient look at a global pandemic; Michael Oren, former ambassador of Israel to the United States, whose literary debut is a collection of short stories called “The Night Archer and Other Stories”; and Raffi Berg, whose nonfiction book “Red Sea Spies" inspired the Netflix drama “The Red Sea Diving Resort.”

"Florence Adler Swims Forever" by Rachel Beanland

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“I’m also very excited about Joan Lunden. I grew up with her on ‘Good Morning America.’ I think she is hilarious, and this book is absolutely hysterical,” says Morton. “It’s called, “Why Did I Come Into This Room?” A lot of people of a certain age are going to find it quite humorous because that’s what it’s like when you’re 50-plus. It’s like, what a minute, why did I come into this room?"

The current state of the nation’s affairs played a role in the programming this year, Morton says.

“I like the humor programs," she says. "We stayed away from heavy political topics. We wanted feel-good programs. People right now need a laugh.”

"I Want You to Know We're Still Here" by Esther Safran Foer

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Michael J. Fox. The beloved actor of the “Back to the Future” franchise and the hit TV show “Family Ties” talks about life with Parkinson’s in his memoir, “No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality.” He’ll be in conversation with the New York Times bestselling author Harlan Coben. (8 p.m. Nov. 19. $36 including book)

Harlan Coben. The New York Times bestselling author whose thrillers have been made into Netflix series (“The Stranger,” “Safe”) talks about his latest, “The Boy From the Woods.” He’ll be in conversation with Atlanta author Emily Giffin. (8 p.m. Oct. 25, $23 including book)

Rachel Beanland and Kristin Harmel. The authors of “Florence Adler Swims Forever” and “Book of Lost Names,” respectively, talk about their historical novels that feature strong women protagonists who demonstrate the power of the human spirit in the face of devastating adversity. (1 p.m. Nov. 10, $6)

Cameron Douglas. The son of actor Michael Douglas and grandson of Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas spent 10 years in prison, including two years in solitary confinement, for a myriad of drug convictions. Today, he is rebuilding his life and following in the family’s footsteps as an actor. His memoir, “Long Way Home,” charts the course from his privileged upbringing to drug addict to prisoner to family man. (8 p.m. Nov. 11, $11)

Jonathan Safran Foer. The New York Times bestselling author discusses his investigation into how a plant-based diet can have a positive impact on climate change in “We Are the Weather.” (8 p.m. Oct. 19, $11).

Esther Safran Foer. Jonathan Safran Foer’s mother discusses her memoir, “I Want You to Know We’re Still Here,” about her family’s history during the Holocaust. (8 p.m. Nov. 9, free)

EVENT PREVIEW

MJCCA Book Fest in Your Living Room

Nov. 8-22. Prologue events now through Oct. 29. Epilogue event Dec. 2. Ticket prices vary. Via Zoom. 678-812-4000, atlantajcc.org.

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