Above: My Jonathan Franzen collection joins my Signed Stuff shelf.*
First off, can I just say that driving to Austin on Friday was CRAZY?
Austin’s a five hour drive away from where I live, so I figured I’d leave by noon, get there around 5-ish, check into a hotel to quickly freshen up, then get to Book People by 6-ish.
Instead, I found myself driving to Austin in nonstop rain. My 5 hour trip turned into 6 hours because of the downpour. As soon as the clouds cleared and I’d bust out my sunglasses, more clouds would come along and bring the rain. This happened the entire duration of my drive. It was so bad at times that I couldn’t even the road or the other cars, even though everyone was driving with their hazard lights on. That bad.
I got to Book People at about 6:15 looking awful. My hair had turned into a knotted, frizzy mess and I looked gross. On the upside, I was able to grab a “seat” (we had to sit on the floor) less than 10 feet from the podium!
Franzen is actually a terrific reader. I’ve seen a few of his interviews, so I was expecting a serious, sort of dry reading. Instead, I was blown away by how funny he is! He read from the “Womanland” section of Freedom, and the crowd was laughing away. When I read the book a few weeks ago, I definitely picked up on its humor, but not in the way Franzen read it. I kind of feel like re-reading it with his voice in my head (I’ll refrain).
He addressed the humor later during the Q & A. Someone mentioned hearing Franzen talking in an interview about how he writes about painful subjects in humorous ways. Franzen mentioned that we wouldn’t want to read his pure pain, and that it’s important to him to first process that pain through some kind of humor.
Two people also asked him about the two elephants in the room: Oprah’s Book Club and #Franzenfreude. About Oprah’s Book Club, he just said that it was still too early to tell what the experience would be like (the OBC announcement had just been made earlier that day), but that if that Q & A was any indication (it was the 7th or 8th question asked, rather than the first), it wouldn’t be a big deal. He called #Franzenfreude more of a warthog in the room, saying that he didn’t think the publishing industry necessarily excluded women, but that the critical establishment did tend to pay overwhelming attention to male writers.
There were also several funny moments during the Q & A. He said that The New York Times made it sound like people no longer read actual books, so in the year leading up to Freedom being published, he honestly thought that people now just read books on “plastic things” for a few minutes at a time. Another of my favorite sound bites from the evening was when he said, “I don’t receive tweets” (I don’t remember what it was that led him to say this, but it cracked people up).
Someone asked if there were any books he’d read as a child that now influenced his work. He said he used to come home from the library with stacks of Dr. Dolittle books when he was a child, but no, he did not aspire to be Hugh Lofting. “The drawings were bad, but the writing was worse!”
When it came time for the signing, I had to wait in line for about an hour. When I finally got to him, I acted weird. I think I was the only person there who handed him every book he’s had published (except How to be Alone, which I’ve heard countless people rave about, but I have yet to buy or read).
Once he realized I had all his books he looked up at me for a long time and smiled, and I said something stupid and unoriginal like, “I love your books.” He stopped signing and shook my hand, and I continued acting weird. I don’t know…I’m socially inept under the best of circumstances, so I was probably acting extra weird AND I had horrendously frizzy hair. No comment.
In my defense, I don’t like trying to start up conversations at signings because the authors always have a billion people to attend to. Unless the author initiates the convo (see: Junot Diaz, James Frey**, Jeffrey Eugenides), I prefer to stick to some variation of, “Hi! Thanks! Bye!”
How about y’all? What kind of book signing etiquette do you adhere to?