Last night, I had the honor of seeing Nadia Bolz-Weber give a lecture in Richmond. She was funny and challenging and downright beautiful in body and language. Her new book is coming out in September, and I will be making the rare choice to pre-order this one.
I was really excited to see her speak last night because her book Pastrix came to me in the recent spat of dark days I’ve had of late, and it gave me light in just the shadows I needed illuminated. She was all I hoped and more. . . she read from her new book, and her words brought tears to my eyes because she is honest and profound and gifted with the kind of bare language I love so much. When she answered an audience question about the atonement and dissected the horrible way I had been taught that our wrong-doings pile up against us and how we can then only be loved by God after Jesus dies to remind me that God came to carry the hardstuff and give us back grace, I felt myself crack open. By the end of the night, I had come to decide I needed to go back to church, a decision I have not felt called to consider for almost 3 years now. It was a big night for me.
When my dad’s beautiful friend Jenni had slid my copy of Pastrix to me at dinner before the talk, I thought about getting it signed. I tucked it into my purse and though, “Well, maybe. . . ” But when the talk was done, I took the book out and moved it down the balcony rail back to Jenni’s hands so she could finish reading it. “I’m not going to get it signed,” I said.
That’s my typical choice, in fact. I almost never get books signed, even though I truly love the opportunity to sign my book for other people. I love writers. I love talking with writers. I love drinking with writers. I love hearing writers. I don’t love their signatures as much. It’s just true.
Here’s why I don’t usually get author autographs:
1. I don’t like crowds. In fact, more than anything else in the physical world, crowds make my nervous. I can’t see well, and I get jostled, and there are so many people to attend to, people I don’t want to butt in front of or disregard that just being in a crowd for a few minutes can make me exhausted. Last night, several hundred people headed to the reception to buy books and get Pastor Nadia’s signature. It just wasn’t worth it to me.
2. I don’t do small talk well, and really, the only thing that’s appropriate in a book signing line is small talk. When I meet a writer whose work has changed my heart, I want to talk with them, sit down, hear them really share themselves, and have the chance to share a real bit of me. Sometimes, people try to do that in book-signing lines, but really, that’s not fair to the writer – there’s a line, for one, and two, the writer doesn’t know us . . . so for me, the brief chance to meet someone is usually disappointing.
I’m not an extrovert, so what I write and what I am able to communicate as a speaker is all I have to give folks who are not my parishioners, family or personal friends. That used to feel selfish but now it feels sane. – Nadia Bolz-Weber
3. I remember that it’s the writer’s work – not necessarily the writer – that I love. Sure, I hope that a writer’s persona on the page of her nonfiction work is similar to her actual personality, but I know – because I do this for a living – that a book is a crafted piece of art – it is not the writer. In fact, if done well, it is a carefully chosen representation of life – maybe the writer’s life in some way – but life, not the human being who penned the words. So I know that meeting the writer will not be the same – in any way – as reading the book.
4. I know what it’s like to give a presentation and then do a signing. Like I said, I REALLY LOVE book signings. They make me feel good about my work, and they allow me the wonderful opportunity to meet new people, people with whom I have a natural affinity since they care about some of the same things I do. But book signings are also exhausting, so since I don’t really get a great deal personally out of a signing, I try to spare the writer a few minutes of time by not putting myself in that line.
5. I cannot delude myself enough to think that the writer is actually caring about my inscription. I’ve had people ask me for some pretty intimate inscriptions – “To my dearest —– with all my thanks for the love and support,” and I gladly sign that way because it’s not skin off my back if that’s meaningful to someone. But of course, I don’t mean it – not in the personal way that the kind soul holding out my book means it. Sure, I care about my readers, absolutely, but not in a personal friend kind of way. So when I go to book signings for other writers, I expect they feel the same, so even if I was to want to ask them for an inscription, I know it’s not really as meaningful as some of us might want it to be. . . unless maybe David Sedaris is signing; he seems to really care about the people whose book he signs.
6. I once passed up a (potential) chance to have drinks with Sherman Alexie after a book signing. A few years ago, I went to hear Alexie read at The Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. He was, as usual, funny and smart and wise in the most endearing way, and I wanted to meet him. So I stood and waited until I could get in the back of the line (because in the back of the line, I don’t feel so bad if I actually try to have a conversation with a writer; I’m not making a slew of people wait for me.). When it was my turn, he signed my book, and I opened my mouth to say, “David Ulin said to tell you hello,” echoing the comment my MFA mentor had relayed through me, but instead I said, “Thank you,” blushed profoundly, and left the room.
I have replayed that scene over and over again, wondering what might have happened if I had told Alexie that we shared a common person. In my most extravagant dreams, he invites me out for drinks with his friends, and I get to listen to him tell stories all night. Then, at conferences and book signings, I hang around and chat with him a bit after his talk. We become casual friends, in other words. But in all likelihood, he would have said, “Tell David I said Hi,” and I would have blushed profoundly and left the room.
Still, a girl can dream . . and imagine every book signing as the time I didn’t become friends with Sherman Alexie or Nadia Bolz-Weber. Just another reason to not subject myself to the crowds or the small talk.
How do you feel about author autographs? Do you treasure them? Dismiss them? Only seek certain ones?