Catching Up: A Three-Part Series

In which I cover three book- and/or writing-related things that have been keeping me busy since I last posted.

Part Two: Sara Gruen. My husband gave me tickets to the Denver Pen and Podium series, and Sara Gruen was the author I was most excited to see. I love her book Water for Elephants. She wrote a great article for Writer magazine about the research she did in preparation for writing Water for Elephants. And she’s an animal lover, so I was pretty sure I would enjoy hearing her speak.

She was initially scheduled to speak in November, but had to postpone until February due to illness. At her lecture in February, the person who gave the introduction informed us that Sara Gruen had come down with the flu that morning but was determined to speak that night. Because she was ill though, she wouldn’t be signing books. This was a bit of a bummer, as I’d brought a first edition of Water for Elephants with me and was excited to get it signed, but what can you do, right? And the second she came out and began talking it was clear she was truly ill, and not just staging a diva illness to cut the evening short. (Incidentally, I recently read that she also canceled a March appearance with the Aspen Writers’ Foundation due to illness. Three doozies of a cold or flu in five months’ time is a lot! Wonder if she’s allergic to Colorado? Her next book was scheduled to come out this spring but publication has been postponed, which may or may not have anything to do with this string of illnesses. Kind of makes me worry that she’s seriously ill, but I hope it’s just been a run of bad luck with germs and cooties.)

Her voice was raspy and faint from laryngitis, but she told us many stories about the research involved in Water for Elephants (some of which you can find in that article in Writer magazine—I would provide a link but the website says the article is available to subscribers only. You can find it in your library’s magazine archives or order the back issue from the magazine’s website. I want to say it was February 2007). She told us how, in order to buckle down and finish writing Water for Elephants, her husband set up a desk for her in the closet and she sat in there for hours at a time wearing soundproof headphones and working on an Internet-less computer so she could get completely lost in her fictional world without distractions.

My favorite part was listening to her talk about her latest research with Bonobo apes. Her soon-to-be released book is called Ape House and it’s about Bonobo apes that become part of a reality show. She spoke to us about visiting the Great Ape Trust of Iowa where she befriended two of the Bonobo apes. Apparently there is a bit of a process in order to be allowed to visit the apes, and Ms. Gruen wanted to make sure they would welcome her. So she asked the scientists if she could bring backpacks full of goodies for them, which were a huge hit with the apes. She said when she first arrived, she asked if she would be able to visit with the apes and the scientists—who had previously told the apes about her visit and that she was bringing gifts—said, “Oh, yes. In fact, they are insisting on it!”

It was quite touching and fascinating to hear about how well these apes communicate and understand people. If you’d like to read more about her visit at the Great Ape Trust, there is an article about it here.

One last bit that I thought was funny and sweet: after her visit, Ms. Gruen was worried that the apes might forget her. So as a gift she gave them a subscription to a fruit-of-the-month club so they would get a tasty reminder of her month after month. Wanting to maintain a friendship with apes—that’s my kind of person!

4 Responses to “Catching Up: A Three-Part Series”

  1. Beth Kephart

    She reminds me a bit of Sy Montgomery, my friend the nature writer.

    This is a great, content-rich blog. Thank you for bringing me to it (with your kind words)…


  2. Jennifer Bertman

    Thank you for visiting here, Beth! As you may have gathered, I’m a fan of your blog and writing. I’ll have to look up Sy Montgomery.

  3. readingandrooibos

    Wonderful post. I really enjoyed Water for Elephants a lot and this is the first I've heard about Ape House — exciting! Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing about your to-read box. I *will* get to both Angela's Ashes & Kavalier & Clay this year!