Barb wrote about seeing John Irving–both onstage and then at the bathroom–so naturally I wanted to chime in with my own in-person author stories and an interesting sociological experiment.
So, until recently I lived near Ann Arbor. At one point, I went to Nicola’s to see Bonnie Jo Campbell speak. She’s a Michigan-based National Book Award finalist and a really strong writer capturing a strong picture of rural life in a sort of Hillbilly Elegy way.
So, her reading was fine. She’s interesting and very down to earth. The trouble started with the question and answer session which turned into an insufferable period when members of the audience tried to show smart and literary they were. It was painful. Nobody, people, came to see you.
I saw David Mitchell, too, and he was good and the questions were ok. That time, it was a UM professor/novelist who felt compelled to compete with Mitchell for attention. (I’ll call him Fred, though his name is Peter Ho Davies.) Fred asked long complicated questions designed to show his command of literary theory…so long that it was a miracle if David Mitchell could remember the questions Fred asked. Fred also talked a lot about his own work. And Fred’s enthnic heritage. Etc.
Despite all this, I was very excited to hear that Amor Towles was coming to Toledo…the Maumee Public Library to be specific. I’m a fan, to say the least. Loved Rules of Civility and A Gentlemen in Moscow even more. Just great books that you are sorry to see end.
It was similar to Barb’s story, in that I nearly had an unknowing run-in with the author. I got to the library early, with the idea of walking down to a downtown bar (Dale’s, if you must know) for a couple beers before the speech. There was a man in a suit walking around the library. It didn’t register with me–mostly because I’m not that sharp–but it was him.
I walked downtown and when I turned the corner onto the main street, he was there again. I 100% wish I had asked him to go for a beer, but he looked different from his dust jacket photo, so it didn’t link up. Also, I kind of pictured someone from the library picked him up at his hotel and driving him over there like right before the thing started.
Anyway, he gave a great talk about the research he did into Russia for the book. How he had been to the hotel in question once. He talked about his process (note: one year of outlining). Told very amusing stories about his family. Talked about cooking. (Note: if you have read the book, you know about the Latvian Stew recipe. I made it and it was really good.)
It was a delightful evening. The audience asked great questions. Questions based on their love of books and reading. Questions based on how cool it was to be listening to the writer of such great works. What a privilege it was. And it was.
So, that’s my author speech story.
One last thing. Towles is interesting to me as an author because he was an English major in college, but then worked in a regular professional job for a significant period of time before returning to writing, which is something I can identify with. Book lovers are everywhere, sometimes wearing suits and working in business.
One last thing…if you’re good someday I will tell you about the time John Sandford made fun of my name.