About five years ago, I attended an Elizabeth Kostova reading/signing at an indie bookstore in Milwaukee. Riding a wave of Dan Brown-inspired hysteria, Kostova's historical thriller, The Historian, for which she'd received a much-publicized seven-figure advance, was poised to be the next big literary thing.
During the Q&A, I asked her what she thought of all the comparisons to The Da Vinci Code. She paused for a second, glanced at the ceiling, and then answered that she was flattered by any comparison to a book that has sold as well as Dan Brown's, but at the end of the day, her book was pretty different so she wasn't sure the comparisons were completely accurate. Later, when I made it up to her table to have my book signed, she recognized me and said "Hey, good question." I smiled and said "Thanks, good answer." She smiled too — both of us recognizing the real subtext to her answer was that she hated The Da Vinci Code comparisons and was dying to say that, but couldn't. She had to be diplomatic.
Such personal interaction is one of the many reasons why novelist readings/signings are so awesome! You just can't get the same level of insight by reading reviews or watching the newfangled "book trailers" that seem to be gaining popularity. I absolutely love the author signing/readings, and since I'm headed to a Joshua Ferris (The Unnamed) reading/signing tonight, I figured I'd spend a post telling you about some of my favorites.
Jonathan Safran Foer — Dude is just awesome; very articulate and very funny. I mentioned in a previous post how the event was the literary equivalent of an 'NSYNC concert, but the best part about the signing was when he explained the most difficult "piece of writing" he'd ever done: Naming his first child. That damn near brought the house down.
Zadie Smith — I posted before about how much I loved her answer to the question about whether critics create art, but what struck me most about Smith is that for someone with such an awe-inspiring intellect, she was incredibly down-to-earth and normal and COOL. She explained that there seems to be a perception about writers that they lead some kind of charmed celebrity life, but really, with only a few exceptions, her day-to-day life is very tame. She and her husband do their daily work (her husband is a poet) and then convene at night to "order a pizza for dinner and watch a movie." Also, she seemed genuinely happy to be there talking to us, quite the contrast to many writers on these book tours who are only doing it to fulfill a contract requirement from their publisher. (By the way, just a teaser: On Thursday I'll post a review of Smith's collection of essays titled Changing My Mind....AND, that book will be the prize for my first ever blog giveaway.)
Richard Russo — I got to meet Russo at a reading/signing at my alma mater, Marquette University. At an alums-only, pre-reading reception, he talked about how different screenwriting is from novel-writing and how difficult it was to adapt his own novel Empire Falls for an HBO mini-series. He also talked about his friendship with Paul Newman, who plays Sully in the movie-ization of his novel Nobody's Fool. If you haven't read and/or seen the movie Nobody's Fool, do yourself a favor, and get on that as soon as humanly possible!
Ken Follett — I got to see Follett on his book tour for World Without End, the sequel to the much ballyhooed Pillars of the Earth. It was fascinating to hear Follett talk about the sea change in mindset it took for him to move from his thriller-writing comfort zone to researching and writing massive historical novels.
Jeff Shaara — I caught Mr. Shaara on his tour for his World War I novel, To The Last Man. Shaara wrote the first and third novels of the Civil War trilogy his father Michael began with The Killer Angels — often regarded as one of the greatest historical novels of all time. It was interesting hearing him talk about how he tried to match his father's style, after he'd passed away, to complete the trilogy.
Jon Fasman — I'm guessing not many of you have heard of Mr. Fasman, or his novel The Geographer's Library. Apparently, that was also the case at the time of the reading/signing. There were only FIVE people in attendance. I felt so terrible for the guy, but less so after reading the book, which wasn't particularly enjoyable.
What are some of your favorite author reading/signings? What about the novelist made them memorable?