Wide Awake: Worth Repeating
The making of a book

Last year, a woman grabbed my arm at Starbucks and said she had always wanted to thank me for a column I had written about when my daughter started kindergarten. She reminded me I had written about placing five kisses in the palm of my daughter’s hand for her to use throughout the day. This mom had done that with her daughter, and it made a big difference. I wrote that column in 2008.

It used to take me by surprise when people would tell me how much they enjoyed a column or repeat their favorite line from a column (having someone quote something you wrote is remarkable and such a compliment). But after a while I was no longer surprised, just really touched and really grateful.

I also knew the same thing was happening to our other columnists, Maury Z. Levy and Sally Friedman. Every month, Maury would share with me a few of the emails he received about his column. Sometimes, the same person would email Maury month after month. Everyone’s message was always the same: “Great column this month. I love reading what you write. You make me laugh.”

Sally’s crowd is a little different. They don’t necessarily email. They stop her whenever they see her, and their intention is to talk for a while. They feel they know her intimately, because they have read − and understood − all her touching, deeply felt columns.

With all this in mind, I had the idea to publish our columns in one book. Not the easiest thing to do, especially since we have years and years of columns, and we could only publish 40 per person. But we sat down and each re-read all our columns. For Maury and Sally, that was 15 years of columns. At least for me, it was only 10 years worth. I got off easy.

We also decided to write added commentary for some columns – behind-the-scenes notes about what we had written. In one, I point out my all-time favorite sentence I’ve written. (I’m not giving it away; you have to read the book. But it’s about the mafia and nuns.) Maury describes some Facebook messages he’s received from high school friends after he mentioned them in a column, and one of Sally’s notes tells the reactions of her daughters after they read some of her columns.

The book took a full year to take from pages in the magazine to the finished piece. It was super exciting to have the books delivered to the office. It’s funny – we have boxes of magazines arrive at the office every month, but I guess we’ve become numb to that, especially when you consider that when the December issue is dropped off to us, we’ve been working on January and February for a few weeks.

But the books were different. We held them up, then oohed and aahed. We put a picture of me happily holding the book on Facebook. We were book publishers now, and it’s actually a nice book to look at and even better to read. It was very exciting.

Last month, Maury, Sally and I appeared at the Katz JCC Festival of Arts, Books and Culture to talk on stage about “Worth Repeating.” More than 100 people came out to hear us talk about our writing. Afterward, we signed books and got to meet some of our wonderful readers.

At one point while we were signing books, Maury turned to me and said, “This is pretty cool.” It really was.

December 2015
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