The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








Julia Glass visits NH

Where: The Music Hall Loft, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth
When: Wednesday, June 21, at 7 p.m.
Admission: $42, includes copy of book, drink, book signing meet-and-greet
Contact:, 436-2400

Back on tour
Julia Glass on indie bookstores, movies and new novel

By Kelly Sennott

 Many published authors despise book tours and everything they involve, from air travel and hotel living to events void of readers.

Julia Glass is not one of them. Granted, the Marblehead, Mass., writer’s events probably don’t lack guests; her following has been large ever since she won the National Book Award for Three Junes in 2002. But unlike many writers, Glass is a self-described extrovert. She loves talking to people (and is generous with her time, spending 40 minutes on the phone for this story) and is an enormous fan of indie bookstores. 
“One of my favorite things to do is to walk into an independent bookstore … and say, ‘So tell me the things you’ve read lately that I will not have heard about.’ Fewer and fewer books get public attention these days, as newspapers are cutting back on arts coverage,” Glass said via phone. “That’s one thing independent booksellers offer that no online bookstore truly can — [the ability] to look you in the eye, hold out a book to you and say, ‘This is an incredible book that has not been reviewed.’”
Needless to say, Glass looks at promoting A House Among the Trees, published June 13, with anticipation, and the expectation she’ll return home with boxes of new titles. 
Glass’s sixth novel is about the unusual bond between world-famous children’s author Mort Lear and his assistant Tommy Daulair. When he dies and unexpectedly leaves her everything, Daulair is honored but dismayed at the complexities of his will and the prospect of dealing with people like the outraged museum curator Lear once promised his artistic estate and the British actor cast to play Lear in a movie.
Unlike most of Glass’s stories, which usually start with a character that pops into her head, this one blended two ideas driven by unusual circumstances. The first one was triggered by a New York Times article about children’s author Maurice Sendak leaving most of his estate to his long-time assistant.
“I thought about having this enormous honor and responsibility bestowed upon you — and at the same time, the judgmental opinions of the world falling on your head,” said Glass, whose research into Sendak’s story ended with that article. “I thought a lot, too, about what it would be like to devote your life to the care and management of someone’s reputation, as well as someone’s career, and then to be left with that ongoing responsibility beyond that person’s death.”
The second part of her idea was inspired by a YouTube video she watched during the 2015 Oscar season featuring Eddie Redmayne, Ethan Hawke, Timothy Spall, Benedict Cumberbatch, Channing Tatum and Michael Keaton.
“What I realized, while these actors were discussing their roles, is that all of them were playing real people. And in some cases, the people were still alive,” she said. “I thought, what if this famous person was about to be played in a biopic? And if that actor had communicated with him and expected to meet him? And when that great writer dies suddenly, he meets with the assistant instead?”
Glass follows theater and film closely thanks to her 21-year-old son, who’s passionate about acting. They see live productions and watch annual awards shows together. Her fascination is usually with the stories, his with the performances, but Glass found enjoyment imagining what it might be like to be an actor.
“[I think] what an actor does is actually quite parallel to what a fiction writer does. … One of the greatest pleasures of fiction is when you fully enter the psyche of a character who’s not like you,” she said.
A House Among the Trees also allowed Glass to dip back into the art world, which she was part of after graduating from Yale in the late ’70s. Her dream was to be a painter, and her first job post-college was in a secretarial position at an art museum. Much of her free time was spent mingling with other artists. 
“The art world still fascinates me. ... It’s the path I didn’t follow, and I’m perfectly OK with that,” she said.
When she’s not writing or promoting books, she keeps busy as the Writer in Residence at Emerson College and co-director of a Provincetown arts festival, Twenty Summers, which this year saw big-name novelists like Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo. 
But one of her favorite things to do is interact with readers, who often give her extraordinary insight into her work — in fact, they sometimes notice themes or nuances she incorporated subconsciously.
“I’ve had people at events tell me what I’m doing [in my writing] that are so true, but I had no idea I [was doing it]. It’s one of the reasons I love going on tour. I love hearing the surprising things people say,” Glass said. 

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