Tuesday, April 29, 2003

2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winners & Finalists


Winner: Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 3 (Alfred A. Knopf)


Gioconda Belli, The Country under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War (Alfred A. Knopf)

Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking)

T.J. Stiles, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf)

Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (Alfred A. Knopf)


Winner: Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (University of Minnesota Press)


Timothy Ferris, Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril (Simon & Schuster)

Nicolaus Mills and Kira Brunner (editors), The New Killing Fields: Massacre and the Politics of Intervention (Basic Books)

Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (Broadway Books)

Samantha Power, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books)


Winner: Ian McEwan, Atonement: A Novel (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)


Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)

Kate Jennings, Moral Hazard: A Novel (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins)

Joanna Scott, Tourmaline: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)


Winner: Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Oxford University Press)


Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America (Random House)

Robert Harms, The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (Basic Books)

Gregg Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller (A John Macrae Book/Henry Holt)

Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (Alfred A. Knopf)


Winner: George P. Pelecanos, Hell to Pay: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)


Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park (Alfred A. Knopf)

Tod Goldberg, Living Dead Girl: A Novel (Soho Press)

Henning Mankell, One Step Behind [translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg] (The New Press)

Scott Turow, Reversible Errors (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Winner: Cynthia Zarin, The Watercourse: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)


Terrance Hayes, Hip Logic (Penguin Books)

John Koethe, North Point North: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers)

J.D. McClatchy, Hazmat: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)

Harryette Mullen, Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press)


Winner: Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (HarperCollins Publishers)


Deborah Blum, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection (Perseus Publishing)

Judith Hooper, Of Moths and Men: An Evolutionary Tale, the Untold Story of Science and the Peppered Moth (W.W. Norton)

Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Walker and Company)

Richard Preston, The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story (Random House)


Winner: M.T. Anderson, Feed (Candlewick Press)


Kate Banks, Dillon Dillon (Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Sarah Dessen, This Lullaby: A Novel (Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group)

E.R. Frank, America: A Novel (A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

Joyce Carol Oates, Big Mouth & Ugly Girl (HarperTempest/HarperCollins)


Winner: Arthur Phillips, Prague: A Novel (Random House)


Jay Basu, The Stars Can Wait: A Novel (Henry Holt and Company)

Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel (Houghton Mifflin Company)

Nicole Krauss, Man Walks into a Room (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)

Hari Kunzru, The Impressionist (Dutton/Penguin Group (USA))

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Jane Juska is my hero...

April 27, 2003
Sex and the Single Senior

People smile at Jane Juska. There she is, on a rainy afternoon at the Gramercy Tavern in her cheerful red jacket, white hair tucked behind her ears, blue eyes bright behind her bifocals. "I'm agog at the forsythia," she exclaimed, marveling at the enormous arrangements. At 70, she seems to be what she is, a proud new grandma enjoying a day on the town. Though she clutched her lower back periodically — arthritis? — she ordered some wine and chatted happily about her writing. Here's a sample:

"Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me."

And how. Ms. Juska placed this personal ad in The New York Review of Books in the fall of 1999. Over the course of a month, she received 63 responses and spent the better part of a year following them up, an experience she recounts in her first book, "A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance" (Villard). It turns out that Ms. Juska did indeed have a lot of sex with a lot of men she liked, and still does, having seen one of them as recently as that morning. He's 35. Which might explain the lower-back problem.

"I didn't want to think, `What if I never had sex with a man again?' " Ms. Juska recalled of her decision to place the ad. "I didn't want to just sit there and think, `Wouldn't it be nice, if?' "

Ms. Juska, a retired high school English teacher (round-heeled is an antiquated slang expression for a promiscuous woman), was moved to action after seeing Eric Rohmer's film "Autumn Tale." Its plot involves a woman placing a personal ad in a newspaper on her middle-age friend's behalf.

"Before I got home I had written my ad in my head," Ms. Juska said. "But I did think, as if I were teaching a class and would ask my students, `What harm might this decision cause other people?' The only person that would be is my son. So I asked him, and he said: `Go get 'em, Mom. It's your turn.' The night I sent the ad in I felt so great."

Feeling great has become a new hobby for Ms. Juska in the 10 years since her retirement. She now lives in Berkeley and has lived in the Bay Area since the mid-1950's. After her divorce in 1972, she raised her son, Andy, now 38, as a single mother with no help from his father, she said. "My ex-husband wanted me to just collapse intellectually," she recalled. "Whether the topic was the weather, politics or rent increases, he was always argumentative."

She went through a bleak period during which she gained 70 pounds, drank heavily and lived in constant turmoil when her son dropped out of school and ran away from home. It took years of psychoanalysis, dieting and exercise to take control of herself again, shaking off the lingering effects of a Puritanical small-town Ohio childhood in the process.

For 27 years, she dated only sporadically. "Except for a couple of unhappy skirmishes, my relationship with men was nonexistent," she said. "I had enough trouble making a living, bringing up a son. Romantic trouble? That was too much."

Her work, she said, was her salvation. "Teaching was a passion for me," Ms. Juska said. "And when I left it, I just wasn't tired enough." She smiled. "My grandmother used to say, `Don't borrow trouble,' but I think borrowing trouble is a good idea. If you live your life staying safe you're going to lose."

She ate her lunch with great appetite — beet salad, lamb shank, sorbet — and finished every bite. She needed to keep up her strength; after lunch she was headed to New England to meet another gentleman friend she met through the ad.

Well, let's get down to basics. Some postmenopausal women feel a lessening of sexual desire, or at least are said to. That was apparently not her experience. "No," she said firmly. "I was probably even more interested because I wasn't as afraid as when I was younger, of not doing it right or, well, being thought randy."

But even women who are 20 years her junior might not feel keen to take off their clothes in front of men they don't know. And Ms. Juska describes her own imperfect body in exacting detail in her book. Was she not at all self-conscious?

She smiled, sort of. "Men didn't mind," she said. "It was always me pulling up the sheet and turning out the light. I never met a man who was afraid to take his clothes off. That's healthy, I think. They've forgiven themselves for sagging here and there." She took a deep breath. "The other day, my publisher sent me for media coaching, where they tape you so you learn how to speak on television," she said. "I don't feel 70, but I look it. Television does not lie. I went home after that and cried."

She cried over a few of the men, too, one in particular, with whom she fell in love. "In the end, he was just lonely and wanted a friend," she said. "So he strung me along, and I let him, I guess." Some of the others weren't too swell, either; one stole her underwear. And her Champagne flutes. But she seems remarkably sanguine about the entire endeavor. There is so much of the teacher about her, you can practically see her internal filing system for categorizing learning experiences.

Her humor, however, helps lighten the load. When asked whether she practiced safe sex, she said: "Well, not getting pregnant was part of my popularity," though she added: "Yes, we took the precautions we thought we needed to. After all, these men didn't know where I had been, either."

Although Ms. Juska has never published a book before, she has published articles on teaching, and for 20 years has been part of a writing group that meets monthly to read each other's work. It was when she was making piles of "yes," "no" and "maybe" with the responses to her ad that the idea of writing about it came to her. "I thought: `Jane, you don't want to forget this. It's too good to keep to yourself.' " she said. "I thought I'd write it as a novel because nobody would believe it. I took some vignettes to my group, and after I read them they were silent. I was terribly uncomfortable. Finally, there was a comment: `You changed point of view on Page 3.' They were just fumbling for things to say."

One of the men Ms. Juska met through the ad asked to see her pages. (In the book, all the men's names, occupations and home cities were changed to protect their identities, which Ms. Juska still refuses to divulge). She recalled: "After he read what I had written, he said, `There are two things you must do. Get out of that writing group and write it as nonfiction.' He gave me permission just to go."

Without any connections in publishing, Ms. Juska sent out the manuscript on her own. At the William Morris Agency, Elyse Green, a 26-year-old assistant, fell in love with it. "I didn't know agents had slush piles but they do," Ms. Juska said. Ms. Green passed the book to Virginia Barber, who became Ms. Juska's agent.

Ms. Juska sent her son the chapter she had written about his troubled youth and told him he could change his name if he wanted anonymity. He is now a forester, and though he eventually returned to school he has never shared his mother's love of words. "He said, `I would be proud if you used my real name,' " Ms. Juska said. But wasn't she worried about his reaction to the rest of the book? She laughed. "He said, `Oh, this is just another book I'm not going to read,' so I'm safe."

She finished her second glass of sauvignon blanc. "The best part of all this is that I have a writing life now," she said. She is working on a second book, about teaching. "The other huge surprise," she said, "was finding intellectual partners, which is almost as exciting as the sex, in some cases more. To be able to talk to a really smart man, who says, `I would value your opinion on this.' Where I grew up you had to bow and scrape to the nearest man and keep your mouth shut."

But it has been women, not men, whose responses to Ms. Juska's adventure have been the most harsh. "I did a reading in Berkeley for mostly women," Ms. Juska said. "I said that the age range of the men in the book went from 84 to 32. And one woman said about the 32-year-old, `He must have been short and ugly.' I said, `Actually, he's tall and handsome.' Another said, `Then what would he want with you?' She shrugged. "When women in particular hear about what I've done, the question which unbidden comes to them is, `What have I done with my life?' " she continued. "And lots of people at my age don't want to go back and look at it. That's why they're so nuts about their grandchildren. It keeps the focus off them."

Ms. Juska said she knows other women her age or older who have tried their luck online, at match.com. "One woman I know is just infuriated because she met this very nice man online who turned out to be 84 and he hadn't told her. I said she was ageist and she said she was only mad that he lied. And I said, `Come on now.' But most of the women insist on asking me, `Didn't you really do this because you wanted to get married?' Ms. Juska shook her head. "The institution of marriage does not interest me," she said firmly. "I did get a marriage proposal, but I said no. I'd have to give up the others, then. I'd have to give up too much."

Still, due to the luck of the draw, most of the men who interested Ms. Juska did not live in Berkeley or anywhere nearby. When she first placed the ad, she was so busy — teaching writing to prisoners at San Quentin, teaching an education seminar at a local college, volunteering at Planned Parenthood, hiking, singing in a chorale — it seemed incredible she had time or energy for anything else. But, as she writes, by 7 each evening she was home alone. "Yes, I was busy, but there's nobody touching you," she said. "People don't pay attention to that part."

And that lack of local company persists. For all her enterprise, on most days she still lives a solitary life. So does she feel cheated by her search, in the end? She hooted her no.

"I had no hope of it turning out to be anything like this," she said. "I expected to be murdered, or made sad at the very least. But I never expected to have intimate friendships with extraordinary men. True, I've met some men who are not kind or thoughtful, but I've also met men who are kind and thoughtful and funny and true." Her smile was wry. "Which is to say, I guess I found out that men are people."

She leaned over then to pick up her napkin and said something that was muffled. What was that? She sat up straight and spoke quite clearly. "They're just the kind of people I like better naked," she said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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