Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 23
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
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Reunion and Book Tour Coincide for Princeton Alum

Ellen Gilbert

Book talks, a weekly (and sometimes twice-weekly) occurrence at Labyrinth Books on Nassau Street, have come to follow a fairly predictable format.

People begin to gather around a basement table laden with cookies, grapes, soda, and (if it’s evening) wine a few minutes before starting time. Depending on the speaker that day, the ages and attire will vary (“Will Close Read for Food,” read the sweatshirt of one young recent attendee). The occasional young child flitting through or nestling next to an adult adds a soupçon of casualness to the proceedings.

As people eventually drift toward their seats, store owner Dorothea von Moltke steps up to the podium and says a few words about the speaker(s) that day. Here similarities end, as each author — who may be an environmentalist, philosopher, literary critic, historian, political scientist, sociologist — steps forward and takes over. (Or doesn’t take over: at one recent presentation the three co-editors of a book sat back and mostly waited for the audience to ask questions.) Many speakers read passages from their books, and many are, at various times, amusing, surprising, pompous, or poignant as they offer up versions of their “back stories.”

Jennifer Kogler’s appearance last Saturday to talk about her new book, The Otherworldlies, was in a different category altogether. Despite her admitted anxiety about arriving at a reading and not having an audience show up, the 26-year-old Princeton alumna, whose earlier book, Ruby Tuesday, originated as her senior thesis, found herself in front of a large, receptive audience that included family and classmates who had returned for reunion weekend.

There was a lot of laughter as Ms. Kogler, class of ’03, regaled listeners with stories like the one about the old man who showed up for a reading with a shopping cart and asked her to marry him (she said no, even though he did have some nice action figures in the shopping cart), and described some fake online reviews she wrote for her new book (“This book is kind of like Harry Potter, but not as good.”).

When a member of the audience insisted on asking serious questions, Ms. Kogler rose to the occasion. Her favorite authors, she said, include Harper Lee, Jane Austen, Nick Hornby, and Charles Dickens. According to press releases, Fern, the heroine of The Otherworldlies, “can communicate with her dog, blisters from just moments in the sun and has correctly predicted the weather every day for more than two years.” She has a twin brother who helps her “gain control of her emerging supernatural powers as she is thrust into the middle of a centuries-old battle between Otherworldly forces which could destroy her and endanger everyone she loves,” so it seemed appropriate to ask whether Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time) was an influence. She was.

Ms. Kogler said that she is “thrilled to be writing for this (young adult) age, because it’s when I fell in love with reading.” Joyce Carol Oates described Ruby Tuesday, Ms. Kogler’s first book, as “Irresistibly readable and wonderfully funny.”

Born and raised in California, Ms. Kogler currently attends Stanford Law School and is working on her third novel.

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