The ProsenPeople

Dear Reader, You Are My Precious Object

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 | Permalink

This week, Alicia Oltuski, the author of Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family and a Way of Life blogs for The Postscript on signing books and an author's personal touch. The Postscript series is a special peek "behind the scenes" of a book. It's a juicy little extra something to add to a book club's discussion and a reader's understanding of how the book came together. 

To "host" Alicia at your next book club meeting, request her through JBC Live Chat

I’ve always meant to become the kind of person who writes thoughtful messages in the books I give as gifts. Usually, though, I just end up summarizing these sentiments less eloquently in person. When I started my book tour for Precious Objects two years ago, I inadvertently became an inscriber, because part of touring means signing books. Which I loved. It’s a great way to connect with readers after an appearance; to meet and greet the crowd to whom you chatted about spying on your dad in his workplace.

Honestly, it was one of my favorite parts of the tour. I met some incredible people. As for the signing, I usually went with some combination of “Thanks for coming out tonight!” “Great to meet you!” “Best wishes,” and a wisecrack about my ears. Something short (unlike my ears) and sweet to keep things moving, but also to acknowledge that a human being had taken time out of his/her week to come hear me, and had subsequently taken money out of his/her wallet to purchase my book. I was overcome with gratitude.         
Every once in a while I got requests. People had birthday and Christmas gifts to fulfill for loved ones, places on the title page where they preferred my signature, a predilection for documenting the event’s date (which I sometimes found, after a busy week of touring, I did not know). They wanted a special message for a special someone, and had done me the favor of selecting the exact wording through which to communicate it. 

People got creative. I obliged. 

I’d put some effort into avoiding diamond puns inside my book, but on the Roman numeral pages that precede it they now abound in Sharpie print. It turns out, people adore diamond puns. So over the past few years, I’ve referred to countless men and women—only a fraction of whom I’ve met—as “a diamond in the rough,” “this girl’s best friend,” “flawless,” and “my precious object.”  
 “Would you mind writing the message I put on this Post-it note?” someone in line would say.        
No problem.         
“Dear Marshall,” I wrote, “You are my precious object and the love of my life. Thank you for forty wonderful years.” This was sweet. I looked up at the lady on the other side of the table and asked for her name so that I could attribute the thoughtful sentiment.             

“Oh, just sign your name. He knows mine.”        
Really? Even though she, not I, had been married to Marshall for forty years?      

Fair enough. So I’d sign my name, close the book, and thank Marshall’s lovely wife for joining me at my reading.             
This kind of thing happened with surprising frequency. Dear Joy, You sparkle brighter than any diamond. I love you. Love, Alicia Oltuski. To a gem of a gal: Ashley. You rock. All the best, Alicia Oltuski. Happy diamond anniversary, James and Leigh! Wishing you many precious objects! Alicia Oltuski. 

Somewhere out in the world lives a stash of my books with notes varying from sweet to borderline creepy directed at a group of men and women I’ve never met but to whom I wish only the best—and often more than that. And sometimes also the date.       

Every so often I wonder about these books, whether anyone will find their inscriptions strange; whether one day, years from now, they’ll cause confusion as someone sorts through a loved one’s old things. It’s something I’m willing to risk. 

One of the nicest things about publishing a book is getting the opportunity to thank those who have been good to you—personally, professionally, and often in both capacities. These people (or their loved ones) had been good to me, too. They made sure I didn't read to an empty room. They laughed at my ear jokes. They asked me questions about diamonds and writing and books. They took the time to wait in line so that I could personalize their copies. 

I’m fairly certain I won’t get a letter asking me why I penned a romantic memo to someone’s father or aunt. But if I do, I’ll just explain that this is all a perfectly normal part of book signing. I don’t know, I’m fairly new to this.

To read more from Alicia, see her posts for The Visiting Scribe here

Writers are Readers

Tuesday, March 06, 2012 | Permalink
Alicia Oltuski is the author of Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life. Alicia toured through Jewish Book Council's Jewish Book Network this past year and will be blogging here all week for JBC and MyJewishLearning.

Sometimes, standing in line for airport security toward the beginning of my book tour, I felt I knew what my ancestors experienced on Ellis Island — you know, minus the fumigations and crushing anxieties about how they would ever make it in this country. (I use the term ‘ancestors’ loosely here.) Excepting a supply of what I’d like to think of as shrewdly dispersed contact lenses, I had not packed well.

I’ve always thought of my profession as nothing like my father’s. Throughout much of mychildhood, he earned his living as a traveling diamond merchant. Last summer, though, as I began touring for my first book, Precious Objects, my job began to resemble his just a little bit more.

When I was young, my family ascribed a sense of solemnity to travel. Baggage claim was something grave and sobering. The women would step aside and wait for my father and grandfather to push through the throngs and tug at our suitcases, sometimes faltering and being pulled along the conveyer belt for one terrifying moment before they got the better of gravity and lifted the mammoth thing from the belt. I watched as they threw their weight into it, like a sport.

Our job (my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my sisters’, and mine) was to try and spot our bags, which we did by looking for black, nondescript suitcases with ribbons my grandmother had tied around the handle, as had every other traveler. Our other job (my mother’s, my sisters’ and mine) was to prevent my four-foot ten-inch grandmother from crossing the line from waiters to luggers to try and help with the heavy lifting.

I myself am actually a relaxed traveler. Having spent a few years commuting for work and school, I’m used it. And now, after more than thirty events in about twenty cities, I’m even more used it. I’m so used to it that when I had a late-night layover in a time zone different from both my departure and arrival cities, which coincided with a run of three different events in three different states, I didn’t tell everyone about it. Only the lady at the boarding counter. She clearly cared a lot.

Since that first tour stop, I’ve also managed to pick up on a host of traveling tricks—for example, that the C-line on Southwest is something like the lowest level of the Titanic. (This is actually not true; the C-line has landed me in a seat between two of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and who were more than generous vis-à-vis armrests.)

I learned that when you travel a lot your hair smells like a different flower in every city, owing to the array of hotel bath products.

I learned that after a full week of consecutive travel, I do not look like my author photo.

I learned that no one does not have an iPad.

But most importantly, I learned that everywhere, in every city, there are readers.

Passionate, enthusiastic, razor-sharp readers. I feel hugely grateful to the Jewish Book Council and to everyone who’s been having me over at their community centers, book stores, libraries, and clubs for allowing me to meet an incredible and eclectic sample of bibliophiles. This is amazingly heartening for a writer, and not just because it implies the possibility of an audience, but much more so, because writers love readers. Writers are readers.

My favorite thing to think about every time I get on a plane is that all over the country, there are millions of people who read in between job shifts, who get together to talk about books; people who can’t help themselves, people don’t want to help themselves. And I love them for it.

Alicia Oltuski's Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life is now available.

January Twitter Book Club: Alicia Oltuski

Thursday, December 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Sharon Bruce

In the middle of New York City lies a neighborhood where all secrets are valuable, all assets are liquid, and all deals are sealed with a blessing rather than a contract. Welcome to the Diamond District. Ninety percent of all diamonds that enter America pass through these few blocks, but the inner workings of this mysterious world are known only to the people who inhabit it.

In her first book, Precious Objects, twenty-six-year-old journalist Alicia Oltuski, the daughter and granddaughter of diamond dealers, seamlessly blends family narrative with literary reportage to reveal the fascinating secrets of the diamond industry and its madcap characters: an Elvis-impersonating dealer, a duo of diamond detective brothers, and her own eccentric and sometimes suspicious father.

With insight and drama, Oltuski limns her family’s diamond paved move from Communist Siberia to a Displaced Persons Camp in post World War II Germany, to New York’s diamond district, exploring the connection between Jews and the industry, the gem and its lore, and the exotic citizens of this secluded world.

Entertaining and illuminating, Precious Objects offers an insider’s look at the history, business, and society behind one of the world’s most coveted natural resources, providing an unforgettable backstage pass to an extraordinary and timeless show.

We are excited to announce Alicia Oltuski as January's featured Twitter Book Club author!

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Alicia Oltuski to discuss Precious Objects on Wednesday, January 18th from 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm EST, and keep an eye out on Twitter for our next giveaway– a signed copy of the novel!

The How-To, In Case You’re New:

What is a Twitter Book Club?
A twitter book club provides the opportunity for twitter users to engage in real time conversation about a particular, predetermined book. JBC’s book club aims to provide readers with an opportunity to discuss Jewish interest titles with other interested readers electronically.

To participate…

If you aren’t already a Twitter user, please join twitter here. (Confused about Twitter all together? Visit the twitter twitorial. Follow the Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook). During the designated time and date of the book club follow the conversation by searching for #JBCBooks. If you would like to actively participate, please include #JBCBooks at the end of any comments or questions you wish to contribute.

(Note: New twitter users may have to wait up to a week before their tweets get saved in hashtag searches. Open a twitter account at least a week and a half before this discussion in order to join us!)

We hope you’ll join and enjoy the conversation! If you have something to say or a question to ask, feel free to jump in, and don’t forget to include #JBCBooks at the end of any tweet so that other participants can engage with you.