Friday, November 08, 2013

What We're Reading: Meet the Author!

Here at the Buena Vista Branch of the Burbank Public Library

7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13
by Jim Steinmeyer

Burbank author Jim Steinmeyer is recognized as a major historian of stage magic and a leading designer of stage illusion. His new book on Bram Stoker and the origins of Stoker's character Dracula has been published to rave reviews. Booklist called it “A work of enthusiastic scholarship and shrewd literary detection that will appeal both to Stoker scholars and garden-variety Dracula fans.” Library Journal said that the results of Steinmeyer’s investigation into the origins of Dracula “deserve to find a wide popular readership, and will engage both critical, scholarly readers…and Twilight fans alike.” Publisher’s Weekly praised Who Was Dracula? as “a well-researched and entertaining take on Dracula’s origin story,” and Kirkus Reviews agreed, noting that Steinmeyer “…does a solid job analyzing the birth and development of Dracula.”

There is much to admire in this book. Steinmeyer’s major achievement is that he convincingly locates the origins of the character of Dracula--not, as recent investigations have proposed, in accounts of the historical Dracula, the 15th-century Wallachian ruler and torturer, Vlad Tepes (he shows that Bram Stoker knew almost nothing about him) but in the social and cultural world of late Victorian England in which Bram Stoker lived and worked. “Dracula,” he argues, “was drawn from a handful of dangerous and damaged personalities. Bram Stoker knew them all.”

Readers may differ on the degree to which they accept Steinmeyer’s more speculative conclusions, or about how directly they feel the evidence in one instance or another connects Dracula to each of Stoker’s various contemporaries (in particular the actor Henry Irving, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde), but the careful argument he makes about where the investigation should center is not likely to leave many doubters. Who Was Dracula? is filled with great lore and anecdotes. The particular attraction of this book, however, is that we are presented with such a wealth of period detail and personalities that there is enough grist here to get the wheels turning in the mind of every reader. Everyone will have a theory. The reader becomes irresistibly engaged, and the impulse is to be part of a conversation on the subject.

Bram Stoker was the “acting manager” of Henry Irving’s famous Lyceum Theatre in London, and my favorite section of Who Was Dracula? is Steinmeyer’s wonderful re-creation of the world of the Lyceum and especially its fabulous production of Faust. Steinmeyer’s enthusiasm for the historical details of period stage productions is evident, and it inspires an engaging narrative. I find Bram Stoker’s letter to Walt Whitman, composed when he was a young man, fabulously revealing, and the fact that he actually sent it to Whitman some years after he wrote it, and eventually met the poet, yet another telling detail. Other readers may latch on to other details--that’s the interest and fun of this book. We will all find clues to which we assign our own measure of significance, and will want to talk to others about them.

So come join the conversation Wednesday night, and take this unique opportunity to meet the author. There will be good company, refreshments, and a chance to win an interesting door prize. We’re also offering the book at a discounted price to those who attend this event, and Steinmeyer will autograph.

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