Eat, Drink & Be Literary – Min Jin Lee

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This is the fourth year that I’ve attended Brooklyn Academy of Music’s series “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” (“EDBL” from here on) and the 15th year since it began, and I hope to attend many more.  This year, I was in the presence of Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko.

As in years past, the staff at BAMcafé was on top of everything, making sure the guests were taken care of at all times.  They are always so friendly, courteous and efficient, taking care of guests with the professionalism repeat attendees have grown accustomed to.  The meal had already begun when I walked in so I found a seat, dropped my bags and made a beeline to the buffet.  The food has never been a disappointment and this year kept that streak alive.

This year’s menu consisted of Country Elote Salad, Country-Style Chopped Greek Salad, Char Grilled Carrots, Three Bean Salad, Patatas Bravas and Pan Seared Salmon.  I had a little of everything and, as always, the food was delicious  The dessert offering was a Banoffee Chocolate Cup, which was caramelized bananas and toffee mouse in a mini chocolate cup.  It was like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, only better.  The dessert was tiny but decadent and I had an entire plate of it to myself.  But I showed (some) restraint and kept the gluttony to a minimum.  This year’s wine choices were a 2015 Arneis and 2014 Barbera, both from the Seghesio Family Vineyards.  I had the Barbera and can confirm that this choice was an excellent one.

During dinner, guests were treated to the music of 1in2, a violin-piano duet featuring Blanca Cecilia González (violin) and Jesse Elder (piano).  Their style was a combination of classical and jazz, which brought an eclectic mix to the event.  And hearing them play the Game of Thrones theme song only enhanced their appeal.

When I was done with my meal, I walked over to the Greenlight Bookstore kiosk to see what was on display.  I thought I would be able to keep my wallet in check, but who was I kidding?  I walked away with a copy of Ms. Lee’s first book, Free Food for Millionaires, Understanding Mass Incarceration by James Kilgore and a big smile on my face.

Once dinner was over, Deborah Treisman, the Fiction Editor at one of my favorite magazines, The New Yorker was introduced.  Ms. Treisman then introduced Ms. Lee, who had us all laughing almost immediately.  She talked about the first time she attended EDBL and was in awe of Zadie Smith, who was the guest author that evening.  Ms. Lee was in shock that she was in the same room as Ms. Smith, but also couldn’t get over her amazing cheekbones.  I can attest to that same feeling, as I saw Zadie Smith at EDBL (possibly on the same night) and could not believe we were in the same room (read my post about that amazing experience here).  Ms. Lee then read a chapter from her latest book, Pachinko and I was so moved by what I heard.  I have a copy of Pachinko that I purchased last year, but have not had the chance to read it.  Once I’m done with N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy, Pachinko will be my next read.  Her writing is rich and detailed, and I fell right into her work.

After the reading, Ms. Treisman and Ms. Lee sat down for a very lively discussion full of laughs and Ms. Lee provided guests with so many thought-provoking answers to the questions posed to her.  At one point, Ms. Lee said that after doing all of her research for Pachinko, she realized that she didn’t know anything about the people.  It took her 30 YEARS to write that book, which was never intended to be an historical novel.  Ms. Lee is currently working on her third novel, which she said will be about hogwans (private tutoring centers in South Korea) and the amount of debt parents get into so their children can succeed.

Afterwards, there was a Q&A session, which gave guests a chance to ask their burning questions.  I’m always amazed at this part of the event, because the guests usually have such thought-provoking questions.  The authors seem to love this part of the session as well and get a real kick out of engaging with the guests.  One guest asked Ms. Lee about her theme of luxury in her first book.  The author answered that when she was doing research for that book she visited a popular luxury discount mall called Woodbury Commons.  While there, she was astounded at the number of Asians who were shopping.  She said that in Asian culture, it is encouraged to acquire items of worth after doing great work, meaning that they will work extremely hard and then reward themselves with something of value.  Ms. Lee also said that she wanted to write about debt and people who buy things they can’t afford, but wanted to write about those themes with compassion.  After the Q&A, Ms. Lee made her way over to the Greenlight Bookstore kiosk area to sign copies of her books.

And before you knew it, the end of this year’s Eat, Drink & Be Literary had come.  Myself and the other attendees left with full bellies, a book or two, big smiles and the anticipation of attending next year’s event.  Keep your eyes peeled for news of 2020’s EDBL, which I’ll pass on to you fine folks as soon as it is announced.

Until next year!

Photos courtesy of NayMarie Photography.

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