Wednesday, May 09, 2012

That Time When I Met That Author

I once met Wade Davis. I had no idea who he was at the time. He was hired by the company I worked for to do a presentation about people in other cultures for a client conference. I thought he was brilliant. I had a schoolgirl crush on him in about 30 seconds. I was so infatuated that I insisted my book club read his Serpents and Rainbows. Then came the disillusion. Everything he'd spoken so eloquently about in his presentation was written almost word-for-word in the book. What seemed to come so naturally to him as a speaker turned into something canned and stale. Color me disappointed.

Recently, my book club read Rules of Civility by Amor Towles because one of our members, JC (not Jesus Christ, he's just lucky enough or unfortunate enough to have those initials), was invited to do a talk for the library on the book as part of its Novel Idea event. JC was asked to compare Rules with The Great Gatsby and that was the lens through which most of our discussion was viewed. That isn't a fair thing to do as evidenced by our discussion. I had wanted to like Rules so badly. So badly. And then I got to This One Part that ruined it for me. I still can't get past it, even knowing now that it's just my issue. And it wasn't just me. I think we picked the story to death. The meaning behind the story. The comparisons with Gatsby. We even questioned whether Amor was his real name or made up.

When Mr. Towles visited Central Oregon to talk about his book, we decided to attend. After our regular meeting about another book. On Cinco de Mayo. Because we're just that kind of crazy cool. JC was invited to the reception prior to the main event and was permitted to bring the rest of us crazy cool people.

I was prepared to not like him. I wasn't going to be disappointed again. Fool me once, brilliant-seeming writer, not again. The best thing about having no (or low) expectations is how delightful the alternate can be if and when it happens. It happened with Mr. Towles. Not at first. He looked so normal. Once JC was able to drag him over to our little group to talk to us, he seemed so normal. So easy to talk to. So easy that I felt completely comfortable actually asking him the actual questions I wanted to ask. What? So forward of me, I know. His answers were unsatisfying and I told him so. Yeah, I'm that kind of bad-ass.

We moved over to the the main event. It turns out that the seats in the front row were reserved for us but we didn't realize this important, ego-boosting tidbit until after the fact. We didn't need them though. Amor (because after my assault on him I think we should be on a first-name basis) mentioned JC twice in his speech and me once! Told you I'm crazy-cool-bad-ass.

Here's the best part. (Or next best. Because the best part is always about me.) Amor was a total super smartypants. We all agreed that he is much smarter than his book. Which just means he needs to write another one. He talked about art. He talked about people. He said the job of a writer is to "show you the universe, as best I can." I love that. I've said it over and over in my head dozens of times. He never answered my question satisfactorily. And that's how I know that it was just my issue. He had nothing to do with it other than showing it to me through the story he told. I think that's what writers do. Yes, they explain the universe to us. But the also show us the world within ourselves. They make us better in this way. They make us think and say "no, that's not how it is" and "no, I won't believe it" but in the end we do. We believe what is true for us. We believe what we didn't know was there, even though it's been there all along.

Afterward, we got to talk to Amor and say thank you and goodbye and I walked away feeling like one of my better selves, one of my smarter selves. The kind of Me that could have a conversation with a best-selling author and not sound like a total goofball. Even if I might have acted a little bit like one.

I found out a couple of days afterward that Amor emailed JC and said he wished that we had all gone out together that night after his talk. Yep. We are that crazy cool. And even if Amor isn't his real name, I'm going to pretend that it is.


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