This is, apparently, my year to go to book signings. Last weekend Neal Stephenson was doing a reading/book signing at the Union Square Barnes and Noble in Manhattan, so Hobgoblin and I made our way there to hear him. I’m not the Stephenson fan in our house; I read the first book in the Baroque Cycle, and it was fine, but I didn’t fall in love and didn’t read any further. Perhaps I should give Cryptonomicon or some other book of his a try? But loving Neal Stephenson’s books was not the point; it was just fun to get out and see someone well-known whom I’ve read.
The reading was subdued. Two of the authors I’ve seen in the last year, Ian Rankin and Joe Hill, were both fabulously entertaining; Rankin told great stories and made us all laugh, and Hill was … wacky. He also told great stories, he had a (grotesquely) funny excerpt from his new book to read, and he performed in a nerdy, enthusiastic, thoroughly-charming way as he read. Stephenson is obviously not nearly as comfortable performing in public as the other two. But that’s okay, of course, because why should writers necessarily be entertainers as well? He started his reading pretty much right away after getting up on stage, and he read for a half hour or so and then took questions. He seemed comfortable answering questions, but you could tell he wasn’t going to mind when it was over. One person who stood up to ask a question offered an interpretation of Stephenson’s work and asked if it was correct, and Stephenson’s answer was basically, “You may be right, but it’s not something I’ve thought about; I prefer to just write and let you all figure out what it means.” I suppose, in a way, that that makes sense — authors write, readers figure out what it means — but it also felt like an odd answer. Doesn’t he think about the ideas he’s working with as he writes? Perhaps he just didn’t want to engage with this particular interpretation. I can understand that.
Then we all lined up to get our books signed. I didn’t say much to Stephenson. I rarely want to say things to authors I meet at book signings because I’m too worried about messing up and saying something dumb, so I don’t try. But I’m realizing now that the last three authors I’ve seen — Rankin, Hill, plus Rosanne Cash, who did a talk/signing of her recent memoir at a nearby school a month or so ago — are all on Twitter, and in each case, Hobgoblin or I or both of us said something about enjoying reading their tweets. To authors out there — being an interesting tweeter can make a difference! We found out about Joe Hill’s reading in London because of Twitter, and Roseanne Cash has been on my radar lately only because I find her tweets amusing.
And speaking of writers who tweet, I may go see Colson Whitehead this weekend, who is doing a book signing at McNally Jackson along with Jonathan Franzen, who does not tweet, unless you count Emperor Franzen. I wonder what Jonathan Franzen would do if I said something about Emperor Franzen while he was signing my copy of Freedom?
7 responses to “Book signings and writers who tweet”
This is so interesting. I’d love to know what you’d consider interesting tweeting. Would you write a post about that?
You’ve touched on a relevant point for today…Tweets can definitely close the gap between the author and the readers. And it’s so interesting to see the effects: that you’re more ready to talk to them in person. The privilege of a big city is to have such an opportunity. I got to see Roger Ebert only because I was in Toronto for TIFF. Seems like you have a few more close encounters coming up. Look forward to your posts!
Cryptonomicon is a fantastic book, long, but it reads fast and doesn’t sag like so many huge books tend to do. Awesome that you got to see him. Bookman and I are totally envious!
I’m so jealous of people who live in or near cities with thriving book communities. I think the last time I went to a book signing in Nashville was over 4 years ago… 😦
I hardly ever go to book signings, despite the fact that Politics and Prose has excellent authors in all the time, and they’re in reasonably easy reach. (Just this past week, they had Stephenson, Sebastian Barry, and Amitav Ghosh.)
Regarding the authors who tweet, I find Joe Hill’s tweets utterly charming and hilarious. He’s such an unabashed geek, and I’m enough of that tribe to enjoy the #geekfights and whatnot. But I follow very few other authors on Twitter. I’m not sure why. Some of it is wanting to preserve some distance, to let the work speak for itself. Some of it is that the first authors I followed weren’t very interesting, which put me off their book, or else I felt they were trying to build relationships that obligated me to like their books, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. And a few put me right off their books with the tone of their tweets. So it’s tricky territory.
Lilian — I’m not sure I’m going to get to a post on the subject, but when it comes to tweeting, I want someone whose personality comes through and who isn’t there just for the sake of book promotion. I prefer funny, witty tweeters, but anybody whose personality comes through in their writing is potentially interesting. It’s hard to create a distinct voice on twitter, but I admire it when people manage it!
Arti — I’ve had so many interesting (very brief) exchanges with writers on twitter this past year, and it’s been fun. It makes me much more likely to read their work and I’m more inclined to like it, or at least to try to like it. It’s cool that you saw Roger Ebert! He’s another tweeter I like. I’m very lucky to live so close to Manhattan, and there are SO many events that I don’t make it to but that look great.
Stefanie — 🙂 When I’m in the mood for a fast-moving long book, I’ll consider Cryptonomicon, then. Hobgoblin will certainly be pleased!
Steph — I’m very lucky, and I hope I appreciate it enough! I certainly could get to the city more than I do, but even when I don’t make it, I’m still grateful that the possibility exists.
Teresa — it’s definitely tricky territory, especially since I’m likely to be turned off by obvious book promotion, although surely that’s a huge part of why writers are there. The promotion part needs to be secondary, or at least to appear that way. There are authors I’ve stopped following because I didn’t get their tweets and wasn’t interested in them, so yes, it’s definitely a risk.
There is a Writers’ series at Butler U, which is close to where I live, so I get to hear a few authors (some fiction writers, some poets) read each year. I try to go to all the ones I can, even if I am unfamiliar with the author. I’ve been introduced to several writers’ works that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. As for the others, well, it’s only a hour or so of my time.
I also never know what to say to the writers in the signing line. And I don’t like to have them inscribe a name, just sign. I’m sure a few have thought “Yep, that’s going on ebay within the hour!.”
Did you go see Franzen? I tried to get tickets to his talk as part of the New Yorker Festival, but was sold out. Thought about going to McNally Jackson for the signing with Colsen Whitehead but didn’t make it there that day. Would have been fun to have run into you & Hobgoblin while I was in town.