Tonight is the eve of Passover, and as my husband and I Zoom our seder with our eldest son, our youngest son and his fiancé, and my brother, we’ll ask the question: why is this night different from every other night?
And the answer will be much more profound this year than the usual rote response. It will be different because of the pandemic, because we could easily add one more plague to the list of plagues we’ll recite, pouring off some wine with each one.
Yesterday was my long-awaited book publication date. My historical novel, Beyond the Ghetto Gates, tells the story of 18th Century Italian Jews who are walled up in their ghettos from sundown to sunrise each day. As COVID-19 spread, I realized the irony – I had written about people who were perpetually locked inside and was releasing the novel to the world at a time when we are all, in fact, locked inside.
When my other two books published, I got to celebrate with people in the same room. There were hugs, and food and wine, and I touched every single book I signed.
This year, we are all walled off from each other. Perhaps there isn’t a physical ironwork gate at the entrance of our homes, locked by a heavy padlock, as in the novel – but our isolation is as palpable and as difficult to endure.
My actual launch parties, planned for later in April – one in New Jersey and one in New York – were, of course postponed. But I had planned a smaller celebration to be held on the actual launch date itself, which I billed as my “Appreciation Party” – a chance to thank everyone who had contributed to the novel in some way.
Because so often, the actual launch date is anticlimactic. Writers will trudge off to their local bookstores to sign stock. If they’re lucky, there are stacks of books to sign; if not, perhaps they haven’t been received yet, or the store has ordered just one or two. Of course, in the advent of social media, the writer will be flooded by congratulations from friends and family – something that I didn’t fully experience when my first two books published more than a decade ago. And then, there will be the constant check of Amazon numbers.
But this year, a year unlike any other, the year of coronavirus, was explicitly different. Yes, social media was a huge factor. In fact, I stayed online for most of the day, turning away only for short breaks, to keep up with the gratifying torrent of congratulations. My endorphins were in full bloom, learning who had ordered the book, who had actually started reading, and oh, the lovely comments on that exquisite book cover!
I never checked my Amazon numbers. I had encouraged people to order through independent bookstores to help local booksellers overcome their own pandemic-based troubles – or at least to use indiebound.org or the brand new bookshop.org. And Amazon, several people told me, wasn’t delivering on my publication date, because they had deprioritized books to focus on critical deliveries. While I can’t really blame them in this crisis, several people cancelled their Amazon orders and went local to get their books faster. And frankly, I was happy to hear that, no matter what it would do to my Amazon numbers. So I didn’t bother checking them.
But I wanted to hold my Appreciation party – the one I had envisioned at my home, which I’d planned to fill with flowers as I offered my guests cake and Proseco, giving me the chance to thank everyone. So I asked them to attend via Zoom. And I sent out a small package ahead of time – with the Revolutionary tricolor cockade, gold wrapped star chocolates, and some book-related swag. I wrote to my guests to have something to toast with, to wear the cockade, that I’d explain about the chocolates.
And lo and behold, their smiling faces appeared on my screen. I read a little bit from the novel, toasted them as I thanked each one for what they had done for the novel, and listened, red-faced (but perhaps it didn’t show up in my little postage-stamp image) as they offered their own congratulations. It was certainly not the party I had planned, but it was lovely nonetheless.
So, my book birthday wasn’t what I’d anticipated all those months as I waited for Beyond the Ghetto Gates to be born. But I’m grateful for the technology that keeps us together in these hard times and was happy to be able to share my celebration despite the pandemic. I hope my guests felt the same.
And tonight – our virtual seder. This night will be different from all other nights, indeed!