It occurred to me, standing in a crowd of people in Greenlight Bookstore, all clutching our pristine hardcover copies of Telegraph Avenue, that perhaps Michael Chabon is the closest thing to a rock star that the literary world has.
Of course, I know that’s not true. There’s Franzen, and Safran Foer, and Lethem (the Jonathan club?), and Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Margaret Atwood, and then, of course, the fallen–David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut. I guess it would be more apt to say: for a small, devoted group of readers, writers are our rock stars.
There was an anticipatory buzz as we stood in a cluster at the front of the store, a devotion almost Bieber fan-like evident. I was alone, so I was able to eavesdrop to the conversations around me to my heart’s content. “Which one’s your favorite?” strangers asked each other, as though they were discussing a preferred Beatles album or Lady Gaga song. “Oh you have to read Manhood for Amateurs. It’s so great.” “What do you think about his nonfiction?” “Did you read that essay he wrote for The New Yorker, the one about comic books?” Instead of screaming, there was a kind of respectful, awed lull in conversation when the man himself appeared in the store, about an hour before the reading was scheduled to start (yes, the crowd had started assembling more than an hour before the reading). His hair was a little grayer than in his author photos, but no less leonine. His beard was fuller, but neat, and he was wearing glasses. He was wearing a tweedy two-piece suit with a red cowboy-like shirt underneath. He is just as magnetic as you would hope.
Hoards of readers soon filled the store, though everyone was pretty respectful about space. Chabon read from a makeshift podium at the front of the store, seemingly oblivious to the gawking passersby snapping photos of him through the large front windows as they strolled by on Fulton Avenue. He read from the new novel, his voice precise and almost quiet, carefully enunciating the words as he read.
It’s always an interesting experience to see a writer read their work to an audience. In some cases, you can be disappointed, and in others, delighted. I almost didn’t want to go to this reading because I love Chabon’s work so much that I didn’t want my image of him to be ruined by reality. But I’m happy I went because he was charming and warm and had an easy way with the crowd. Most of all, hearing him breathe such life into the sentences was great–it changes everything to hear them read aloud, with just the right inflections and stresses, the ones the author intended us to hear in our heads. He even did different voices for the characters, and stopped to tell us little facts about the characters or the scene.
Following the reading, Chabon signed books for the crowd. Greenlight had the prescience to plan ahead, and offered anyone who bought the book at their store priority in the signing line. The sooner you bought the book, the higher priority you got in line. The system worked really well, and though I was in one of the last groups in line, I didn’t need to wait for too long. Of course, I never know what to say at these types of events, beyond gushing about how much I love their work, but I was prepared this time–I told him I was displaying The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay at the head table at my wedding on Saturday. He looked genuinely surprised, and said “Why?” I explained that our tables are titles of books, and that one is my favorite. He smiled, said “mazel tov” and shook my hand. Then he signed my book and shook my hand again, and I went on my merry starstruck way.
Though we all had to stand for a good two hours, and the store was stuffy, and I didn’t have time for a proper dinner, I got to meet one of my favorite writers, and for me, it was as good as meeting a rock star.
Have you been to any great readings or met favorite authors? Ever been disappointed?