Last night, I went to see Sarah Vowell at Borders with Vendela, her friend J, and OC. I gathered that talking to crowds wasn't Sarah's favorite thing. She seemed pretty bored. She read from one of her her op-ed pieces, which are being published just for this month in her hometown newspaper, the New York Times.
I had prepared OC for this by talking about what an author is, and how all the books she has in her room were written by people who were called authors. She was like, "Oh." When we got to the event and were waiting for it to start, Vendela mentioned the movie The Incredibles, in which Sarah did the voice of Violet Incredible. I was all Duh! I could've talked about that, not just the author thing! Thank goodness there are people who think, or OC would be doomed to my boring mommyspeak her whole life. OC recognized Sarah's voice right away as Violet Incredible. She got excited about that for about 8 seconds, then went back to being bored.
Sarah said her readers are more often than not prone to say things like, "I heard what your book was about, and I was like blech, but then I read it, and I liked it". She said that her readers were not likely to have actually read a history book for fun. I'm not sure if this was a condemnation of her readers, her writing style, or the marketing of her books. Or even if it was a condemnation at all.
I was thrilled to meet her. Being a reader of actual history books, I enjoy her books for many reasons. For one thing, they are entertaining. They immerse the reader into history in a casual way. It's history for the layman. It's like sitting and listeneing to people who were there tell the story, with the details that do not accompany actual history books, and with commentary and a perspective from the 21st century. At least, that's what her last two books were about. Take the Cannoli was a book of essays which did not necessarily have to do with history, but which I enjoyed very much.
I can understand her trepidation about gatherings like the one last night. As soon as she opened the forum for questions, the first question was from a wing nut who asked what she thought the difference was between George W, Jim Jones, and Osama. The whole room was thinking, "Duh!" And also, "Shut up, we want to talk about the book, wing nut!" She kind of faltered a bit but the guy kept talking, most of which I couldn't hear. It was such a nutty question, but then she turned it around on the guy by telling him that it sounded like he had the answer already. Next!
Sarah talked about how she liked herself much better edited than live, because she liked taking the time to refine and craft what she really means to say. I feel that way about myself, too. I am much better when edited. I am not like the Irish, who are quick with wit and one-liners. You want a cutting invective? Sure, just give me an hour. Somehow, that just isn't as effective as off-the-cuff witticism.
I was afraid of something happening, and then it did happen. During the portion of the evening known as the book signing, when I got up to the front of the line I suddenly took on the persona of the Effusive Blonde Woman. This is someone who talks without looking you in the eye, and who throws her head back to get the hair out of her face in a manner that can only be described as showy.
I can assure you I didn't mean to be showy at all, I was nervous. It didn't stop there. I was way too smiley and goofy, and did not say at all what I meant to say. What I did say was, "We're planning to visit all the state capitol buildings." To which Sarah gave me a reference to look up and read about a woman who did that, and she thought I might like it. How nice of her. I could've just said, "How nice of you." But no.
I told Sarah we had already visited a few capitols, and that our thing was to take a picture of the entrance, then go inside and take a picture of the ceiling and a picture of the floor, then a picture of the view from the entrance. I wanted to say a lot more, and to even mention that I acknowledged that she was a writer whose books I enjoyed and whatnot. But no, I talked about state capitols, effusively, while showily shaking my hair. Ick. And then Sarah said, "It's an (interesting? I forget what adjective she used) way to frame your life."
I'm still thinking about that. Did she mean, yeah it is interesting to travel with a goal in mind. Or, did she mean that it was totally lame? Maybe she saves her praise for non-effusive non-blonde women. Or maybe I read it wrong, being concerned as I was about being too showy and effusive. I don't know. Either way, I think she is a funny and interesting writer and it was great to meet her. On the way home, I got to think of all the great things I could've said, had I had the chance to edit myself, and not turned into EBW. Those things included:
- Congratulations on your success! It's great you are able to make a living traveling and writing about things that interest you. What has always stuck with me was when you wrote about how your great-grandmother made her living by picking cotton until her fingers bled, and how you always remembered that as you sat at your computer inside your apartment with creature comforts. That is cool.
- I enjoy your work very much. And, I do read actual history books for fun.
- The food allergies you have? I have the same allergies. (intense bonding would ensue...)
See? I had some good stuff there, but it was lost in all the effusiveness.
And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go look through the photo gallery titled, 'Jessica & Nick: The single life' at people.com, because celebrity gossip does wonders to soothe my soul especially now, after I've acted like a jerk....again.