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Friday, October 19 News

Woog’s World / Love of Beatles inspires new anthology

A great anthology should include a broad range of writing styles and tones. There should be a variety of perspectives. The stories should not be redundant or monotonous.

Andrew Blauner has edited seven anthologies. His subjects include athletic coaches, brothers, Central Park, Boston, baseball and the Bible.

When he finished that last one, “The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages,” the Westporter was sure it was his last.

Then the Beatles called to him.

Blauner has a long history with the Fab Four. He was “in my mother’s womb when they first landed at JFK,” he said. “She probably watched them a few days later on ‘Ed Sullivan.’ ”

His older brother managed a punk rock group. But he — and all the Blauners, including the parents — loved the British band. Today, Blauner said, his 3-year-old son recognizes Beatles music.

This summer, Blauner is renting a home on Bluewater Hill. It’s a few doors down from the one legendary disc jockey, and self-described “Fifth Beatle,” Murray the K rented more than half a century ago. There’s an urban (OK, suburban) myth since then that the Beatles visited there, and hung out on Compo Beach.

Blauner does not know if that’s true. But his affection for both the Beatles and Westport is strong and deep.

Born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he spent many summers at his aunt and uncle — Arthur and Marilyn Levitt’s — country home here. Blauner recalls this as a “beautiful” town. But to him, Westport was always a “summer place.”

After graduating from Brown University, he began a career in publishing. He founded Blauner Books, a literary agency. His books are New York Times bestsellers, and have won the Pulitzer Prize.

In his mid-40s Blauner grew tired of New York. He moved to Pound Ridge, N.Y., to see if the suburbs would work. They did. In 2009, he moved again, to a “less sleepy” town: Westport. He loved his rental by Compo, and the “vibrancy” other suburbs lacked. But in 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit. He evacuated, and the house became uninhabitable.

He married a Broadway producer, lived in New York and lobbied for another summer in Westport. That’s how they’re here. And they love it.

“The quality of life is easy, especially compared to the city,” Blauner says. “It’s beautiful. The water is so appealing. And it’s so quiet. I get off the train, and I literally exhale. That feeling of ‘aaah’ is visceral and intense.”

When Blauner first rented near Compo, he had no family. Life was “blissful” — yet as he went to Joey’s by himself, and saw the nearby playground and basketball courts, he wondered what life with a family would be like.

Family has always been important to him. Blauner has two older brothers, two younger half-brothers, and multiple stepbrothers. His “Brothers: 26 Stories of Love and Rivalry” anthology examines the complex relationships between male siblings.

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Like many anthologies, he said, it was a hard sell. Publishers told him that men don’t express feelings and that most book-buyers are women. But Blauner persevered. He found great contributors, including David Sedaris, Tobias Wolff and Dominick Dunne. Frank McCourt wrote the forward.

Last year, Blauner published his Bible stories anthologies. Now despite his belief he’d never edit another anthology, “In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs” is on the shelves.

The subject matter pulled him in. The Beatles have been written about extensively, so Blauner did not want another “Why I love the Beatles” book. He “atomized” the subject. He asked a range of writers to choose one favorite song, then drill down into it.

So Rosanne Cash reflects on “No Reply.” Pico Iyer discusses “Yesterday.” John Hockenberry offers insights into “Let It Be.” Paul McCartney — a friend of a friend — contributed a brief note.

“In Their Lives” is a riff on the title of one of the Beatles’ most beloved songs, “In My Life.” That song was played at Blauner’s wedding.

The writing in this new anthology is incisive and thought-provoking. (It’s also clever. Copyright restrictions prevent extensive lyrics quotes. Every contributor had to work around that constraint.)

“ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ is a concept album. This is a concept book,” Blauner said. “I feel very lucky to be able to do it.”

Almost as lucky as he feels spending this summer back in Westport. He had no idea when he visited here as a child that — in the words of Shawn Colvin’s Beatles anthology contribution — “I’ll Be Back.”

Andrew Blauner and his brother Peter, a contributor to “In Their Lives,” will discuss the book at Barnes & Noble in Westport at 7 p.m. on Aug. 16.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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