You’ve seen her name in these pages as the interviewer of Levenger Press collaborators. What you probably don’t know is that Mim Harrison has made a specialty of introducing authors. In fact, she has raised author introductions to an art form.
Authors have been known to be so stunned with what they hear from Mim that they are momentarily speechless. When they can talk again, they ask for copies—“to show my mother” (and, I’m guessing, to read to themselves in moments of doubt). Madeleine Albright just wanted a copy for herself; might she have one? Indeed she might.
I’ve come to asking Mim for copies of her intros so I can put them inside the dust jackets of my copies of the book. Her passion for author intros is akin to a great chef’s passion for appetizers.
The Great Introductress is what I call her.
From the heart–and from memory
What makes Mim’s intros an art form is not just the writing, a curious mix of mini-storytelling and wit, but also that she recites them. This passionista of the written word dispenses with the written page when introducing writers.
She credits years of memorizing in Catholic grade school for this inclination, and ignores the puzzled looks of fellow drivers as she rehearses in her car. (This being South Florida, a woman talking to herself behind the wheel is one of the tamer sights.)
So imagine how distraught she was when her back acted up on the eve of the Miami Book Fair last month and she was forced to retreat to her bed. The day before she was to introduce that sagacious sibling act known as Steven Pinker and Susan Pinker, she phoned me, the pain evident in her voice, and said, “Will you stand in for me?”
After a pause I said, “Yes—but don’t expect me to memorize your introductions.”
And so I read them, word for word. Well, except for one slip-up that caused me to blush.
And I never blush.
Read Mim’s introductions below and then I’ll divulge my mistake:
Some of you might remember the TV show from a few years ago called “Brothers & Sisters.” Well, this is the Canadian version of it. Susan Pinker and Steven Pinker are brother and sister. They just don’t have all the drama that those other siblings did. They’re Canadian. They’re far too well-adjusted.
Susan Pinker is a leading developmental psychologist who has practiced psychology, taught it at McGill University (her alma mater), written about it for longtime newspaper and radio columns, and had her ideas talked about in some of the most talked-about venues—everything from the Today Show and Oprah’s magazine, to The Economist and the BBC.
All this, in addition to being a best-selling author. Her first book, The Sexual Paradox, was published in 17 countries and won the William James Book Award from the American Psychological Association. Her new book, The Village Effect, puts forth a radical premise for our digital age: that nothing trumps face-to-face communication. (Kind of like coming to a book fair...to meet authors face to face.)
The New York Times calls Susan’s book “surprising, entertaining and persuasive.” Publishers Weekly calls it “a hopeful, warm guide to living more intimately in a disconnected era.”
We might call it…reassuring.
Steven Pinker is considered a world authority on language and the mind. When he’s not teaching at Harvard, which he currently is, you’ll most likely find him at M-I-T, where he has also taught. His new book, The Sense of Style, might be called a mindful assessment of the English language. It’s already made a very good writer of the English language jealous. This is what Charles McGrath wrote in the New York Times a few weeks ago:
“Steven Pinker is one of that new breed of top-flight scientists and teachers who also write uncommonly well. To those of us who try to write for a living and couldn’t pass a science course, let alone teach one, such people…are a little annoying.”
This “annoying” book is Steven’s sixth. He has twice been a finalist for a Pulitzer, once for his book How the Mind Works and again for The Blank Slate. And—sorry, Charles McGrath—but in 2012, Steven was named one of the Fifty Best Science Writers of All Time.
John McWhorter calls The Sense of Style “a graceful and clear smackdown to the notion that English is going to the proverbial dogs.”
Please welcome…Steven Pinker and Susan Pinker.
So what was my mistake? Instead of saying “Her first book, The Sexual Paradox,” I said, “Her first book, The Sexual Paradise...”
My embarrassment was evident to the audience of 150, all the more so after I clumsily backed up and said her book title correctly. This made it a double laugh.
Fortunately, Mim is making a fine recovery, so we all hope (and no one more than me) that I won’t have to stand in for The Great Introductress again.
For those of you who didn’t make it to this year’s Miami Book Fair, enjoy some highlights here: http://miamibookfair.com/. And plan to do the real thing next year. It’s a Paradise for book lovers.