Friday, April 09, 2010


Last night, I went to a reading by one of my favorite authors of all time (and this includes the dead ones). He's someone I wrote part of my dissertation on, someone I teach rather frequently, and someone I have been calling "My (insert ethnicity here) boyfriend" on Facebook in the run-up to his talk. The more that I anticipated seeing him up close and personal, however (and the more that I indulged in fantasies of him picking me out of the crowd and sweeping me away to his private love nest in New Jersey), the more uneasy I began to feel. What if he proved, in person, to be so much more disappointing than the man-myth I'd built him up to be?

I think this fear is based on at least two crushing experiences I've had with living artists. The first, and less devastating, was hearing a Fresh Air interview with a pre-Hulk Edward Norton. Remember when people thought EN was going to be the next DeNiro? He was writing, directing, dating strong (semi-crazy) women like Salma Hayek and Courtney Love. All of this worked to build up the closest thing I'd had to an actor crush since Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank ("my psych profile fit a certain...moral flexibility"). In the interview, he talks intelligently about working in Fight Club, about being related to one of the first American city planners. So everything is well and good until Terry asks EN what his favorite book is. Wait for it. Catcher in the Rye. CATCHER IN THE RYE? What are you, sixteen?! (Look, I've got no beef with CitR, but I don't think you can be an adult and claim it as your favorite book. If you have to go Salinger, than at the very least go with Franny and Zooey. Better yet, don't go with Salinger at all. And CERTAINLY, Big Ed, don't start talking about your affinity with Holden Caufield.)

Game over.

Later, I had the opportunity to hear a famous lyrical novelist read his work and answer questions. Loved him. Wanted to have his babies. Hot Sri Lankan man who had a way with words and a deep baritone voice? Sign me up! During the Q&A, being the nerdy little graduate student that I am, I asked him about a pet theory of mine: that his first novel, an invented biography of a jazz legend, was in fact structured like jazz music---seemingly improvisational, variations on a central melody, etc. The answer? "I'm a poet and it was my first novel. I just couldn't hold the structure together."

I hate everyone, and particularly authors who are incapable of judging their own works.

I spent the entirety of the Q&A last night waiting for My (insert ethnicity here) boyfriend to tell some inane or horrifying anecdote about his process, or his reading list, or his unselfconsciousness of his own work. Thankfully, none came. He was articulate and charming, and lovely; neither solipsistic nor incapable of self-questioning. Whew. The crowd was small, and I could have easily waited in the short line to talk with him and get a book signed. I dallied for a minute considering the option, but headed to my car instead. I was too afraid to ruin it.

It occurs to me that I really should stop working on living writers, if I have to live in fear that their work is so much less impressive than they are as people. Is it unfair to ask artists to be as smart in person as they are on the page or screen? Would I be willing to hold myself to this same standard?



Blogger Frenchie Foo said...

Am so glad he didn't disappoint, and I completely understand your fear. Like you, I have had similar let downs. You should've risked the book signing, though!

Monday, April 12, 2010 10:34:00 AM  

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