Saturday, June 6, 2009

What is Chandler Burr up to with his new book?

Most of you know Chandler Burr from his regular columns on scent, Scent Notes, in the New York Times, as well as his articles on the Style magazine supplement to the Times, and his two books, "The Emperor of Scent" and "The Perfect Scent" (both quite educational and enjoyable reading by the way and highly recommended). We had conducted a two-part interview with Chandler Burr on Perfume Shrine too, which you can read here and here. But as rumours to the precarious position faced by The New York Times, were fueled by comments on a unrelated Thinking Digital convention in the UK in which he was a speaker, some of you might have been wondering what he will do next. Or rather what he has been doing lately regardless of that eventuality!

The time is ripe for me to announce to you what has transpired by some private conversations which we had with Chandler Burr, namely that he has his first novel out: "You or Someone Like You". Yup, a piece of fiction unrelated to perfume and something that is inspired by his own esoteric path in life, having to do with his struggle between his conflicting background: Judaism on the side of his father (his mother is Protestant) and his personal choices. Feeling like an outcast within that frame, left him with the desire to give voice to what it feels like to belong or not, the idea of "group-ness" itself. "It's not only restricted to Judaism, but this is my experience", he had intimated to me.

The plot is nicely delineated in the book jacket, which bears a blonde sketch not unlike Gwyneth Paltrow (intentional or not?), herself a product of mixed background, and I quote:
"Anne Rosenbaum leads a life of quiet Los Angeles privilege, the wife of Hollywood executive Howard Rosenbaum and mother of their seventeen-year-old son, Sam. Years ago Anne and Howard met studying literature at Columbia-she the daughter of a British diplomat from London, he a boy from an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Now on sleek blue California evenings Anne attends halogen-lit movie premieres on the arm of her powerful husband. But her private life is lived in the world of her garden, reading books.
When one of Howard's friends, the head of a studio, asks Anne to make a reading list, she casually agrees- though, "Anne," a director reminds her, "no one reads in Hollywood." To her surprise, they begin calling: screenwriters, producers from their bungalows, and agents from their plush offices on Wilshire and Beverly. Soon Anne finds herself leading an exclusive book club for the industry elite. Emerging gradually from her seclusion, she guides her readers into the ideas and beauties of Donne, Yeats, Auden, and Mamet with her brilliant and increasingly bold opinions. But when a crisis of identity unexpectedly turns an anguished Howard back toward the orthodoxy he left behind as a young man, Anne must set out to save what she values above all else: her husband's love."

Things are peppered with small sub-stories, and with lots of caustic wit, judging by the previews, thankfully it seems bypassing the kitschy stuff inherent in cliché twists (we had elaborated on how art can pose the risk of Kitsch in detail here) but at some point the two heroes draw apart, as you can read in this small excerpt:
"He wraps some black shoes in felt. There is a suit bag. He is leaving our home.

Who will you be staying with? I ask.

He is struggling with the suitcase. "I'll be in touch," he says through gritted teeth, working on the lock. He snaps shut the case, hefts the suit bag. Glances heavily at the dresser to check that he hasn't forgotten anything.

Who will you be staying with?

It takes an instant for his feet to begin to move.

I hear his footsteps going down the hall. The kitchen door opening, a moment of auditory void, then the sound of it closing. An eternal period, and the car's powerful German engine wakes again, calm mechanical equanimity. I listen to the recessional down our driveway. The faint sound of gravel crunching under tire comes through the open window, then the engine, the car leaps forward, and Howard vanishes into what is left of the night.

The movie cliché is the woman reaching out her hand, touching his pillow, and only then remembering. But I, when I wake again, find by contrast that my brief sleep has been entirely drenched in a blue distillate of his departure, such that even awake I confuse waking with sleeping and believe dreams to have become merely mundane. Unlike in the movies, there is never a single instant I don't know that he's gone".
When I asked Chandler whether he feels like he might chaff some butts with his comments, even though I was sure he must had considered it already, he told me the most memorable line: "And maybe some will think 'Isn't this completely obvious? Why don't we deal with this clear problem of not being able to reconcile Jewish tribalism and racialism with democratic, contemporary universalism and anti-racialism?'"

The book is officially launching on Tuesday June 9th in hardcover from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; you can read reviews on this and yet on another link; you can pre-order the book at Amazon clicking here.

Chandler will make personal appearences with free readings (no admission tickets!) as follows:
June 10, 7:00 PM at McNally Jackson,52 Prince St.New York, NY,
June 16, 7:30 PM at Borders 11301 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD
June 18, 7:00 PM at
Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
June 22, 7:00 PM at Book Soup 8818 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA and on the 23rd, same time, at Vroman's Bookstore 695 E. Colorado Blvd. LA
June 24, 7:30 PM at Elliot Bay Book Company Town Hall 1119,8th Avenue Seattle,WA
June 25, 7:00 PM at Book Passage 51 Tamal Vista Blvd.Corte Madera, CA

June 26, 12:00 PM at Rakestraw Books 522 Hartz Ave. Danville, CA
and at 7:00 PM at A Great Good Place for Books 6120 LaSalle Avenue Oakland, CA
June 30, 7:00 PM at Barnes and Noble 2289 Broadway @ 82nd St.New York, NY


  1. Hi E

    I just read the link to Maureen Corrigan's review, which wasn't as much a review as a preview actually. But she clearly likes the book, and the theme of cultural pride/tribalism vs universality is certainly ripe for our times. Or probably for any times, to be fair. Thanks for calling our attention to what seems to be a very interesting read by Mr. Burr.

  2. Hi E!

    I am in a similarly mixed marriage, and I can't wait to read this book. There is so much ambiguity, so much left unsaid, when these two cultures meet. I'm off to pre-order, thanks!

  3. M,

    you're welcome! It's certainly an interesting issue, if not perfume-related, and I trust that C's personal experience informs it, which is good (one always writes best what one knows well).

  4. P,

    hope you get to enjoy it, I believe it will be especially interesting for you then! (and I had no idea, how interesting!)


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