fights like Anne Rice

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Sunday, May 13, 2007
Since I correctly predicted that I would have a fine and hi-larious time at the Michael Chabon reading, I can only assume this means that I'm now a powerful psychic since I did indeed have a fine and hilarious time! I'm just waiting for my spoon-bending powers to manifest -- once that happens, look out... spoons.

I am so glad that Anonymous T started hassling my sister and I about the Chabon reading two weeks before it happened -- I probably would have forgotten or missed it, and it was clearly meant to be! Evidence: two days before the reading, our local affiliate showed the Simpson's Wordloaf episode (featuring the one of the best cartoon literary fist fights of all time! Franzen v. Chabon -- see video above).

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, it was a gorgeous day on the 8th -- check out the shadows on this picture of the Powell's marquee. (this is above the 11th and Couch Street entrance.) We moseyed on over and got there about 45 minutes before the reading started. I knew this would be too late for seats, but honestly, anything less than two hours before was probably too late for seats.


Bec and I met Anonymous T and her husband Jim (I would call him Anonymous J, but it would just get confusing) upstairs in the Pearl Room. Powell's has a really nice setup for readings in a space that serves as an art gallery the rest of the time. (I didn't get a great look at what was on display due to the throngs of people, although it seemed to be a fun exhibit. They were kind of sweet pictures from far away, but up close everything had tentacles. Alright, probably not everything.) All of this is found on the top floor, (home to books on art, architecture, photography, film, music, television -- it's a good floor). Like I said, I knew that we would probably have to stand, but I don't think I had quite imagined how many would be standing with us. They could have moved the event to a bigger venue (there are a couple of churches nearby that Powell's will sometimes use when they need more space -- like the one I saw Simic in), but I have to say I kind of liked the cozy chaos of the crowd.

hello booklovers

This photo was shortly before the reading started. The chairs had long ago run out, but the atmosphere was one of cheerful bitching. It's hot/ there's nowhere to sit/ that seven foot giant is squatting now, but you know he's going to stand right in front of me as soon as it starts/ if I had a unicorn ring I would poke my eye out with it on accident and you'd be sorry you ever mentioned it. (that last one may have been specific to our little group.)

When Chabon arrived (right on time, although it seemed late because we'd all been standing around forever, and by forever I mean 30 minutes), the crowd burst into applause. It wasn't obnoxious though -- he's just a really affable, likable guy. He was very modest and gracious (the latter unfortunately proven immediately -- as soon as he got to the podium some old guy came and stood RIGHT IN FRONT of his face with a camera and took his sweet time taking a picture without so much as a by your leave. I'm sure his picture turned out better than my blurry ones, but whatever. ) Anyway, he said he'd read from his new book The Yiddish Policeman's Union: A Novel for about 20 minutes, then answer some questions. He said he especially liked answering dating and relationship questions, and to keep that in mind. (it was funny, honest.) He also said that Powell's was his favorite bookstore. Now, usually I take statements like these to be some kind of blatant suckup to the local crowd, but honestly -- Powell's is pretty amazing and I believed his statement to be True and Heartfelt.

He read a section from his book about a meeting between the main detective character and his ex-wife. As he described the marvelous wonders found within the confines of her handbag, (blankets, flashlights, handwipes, whatever you might need) the girl standing in front of us kept turning around to her mother making "Oh My God, that's just like MY purse" noises. She remained silent and front-facing, however, when he read about how they had sex on every flat or cushioned surface in their home, car, or workplace during the 17 years of their marriage.

The seven foot tall guy DID stand up in front of us the entire time, but I forgive him because while he is very tall, life is short. The question and answer session had some predictable questions about the Kavalier & Clay movie (according to him it's still on, although the details were not very ... detailed). Yes, he liked the movie of Wonder Boys, he just wished more people had seen it, and maybe the poster that made Michael Douglas look like Sally Jesse was not the best marketing tool. (I love that movie!) He gave some background on how he came to be thinking about the current book and situation. (in short, that Israel never really caught on and the Jews were settled in Sitka, Alaska. At the time of the novel, the settlement agreement is about to come to an end and the land will revert to the state of Alaska.)

The best moment (for me) of the whole reading came from something that could have gone so very wrong. There was a rather excited/nervous guy in the back who started his question by asking "I read this magazine article in Harpers, maybe. I think it was Harpers.. it was about 10 years ago... do you know it?" nervous, nervous. handwringing. I was cringing on the inside because it was clear he wasn't able to get out what he was meaning to ask. Or so I thought. Chabon knew better than me, though, because he was nodding his head along and said, "I wrote it!" and then went on to talk about how this article (spurred by seeing a booklet titled Say it in Yiddish: a Traveler's Guide) was the seed for the novel. Anyway, it was a lovely moment, and a good reminder for me that there is no shame in asking! He also answered the question "why Alaska?" One of the reasons (and I thought this was so cool) was because of the place names -- there are a lot of Russian place names in Alaska still from when they were part of the Russian Territory. These place names worked well with the invented Eastern European Jewish Yet Alaskan nomenclature he came up with. Once he said that, some of the other stuff clicked into place and it made perfect sense. We'll see if it still does when I read the book!

The line to get stuff signed formed right where we were standing, so it took us a few minutes to press against the surge of Signature Wanting humanity to leave. I took this picture before we headed downstairs -- the line snaked back far beyond where you can see here. I wonder if he got a hand cramp?

fiction new arrivals

After the reading we wandered downstairs and did a little browsing/shopping. Anonymous T. bought a pre-autographed copy of Chabon's book rather than wait in the hideous line. Since there was an Actual Disturbance in the Green Room (security was ejecting a man who did not wish to go, something I've never seen happen there before), I felt unusually free to snap photos since the attention was all on Recalcitrant Guy. This shelf of 100 New Arrivals is near the entrance to the Blue Room. (I love how all the rooms are named by color -- it makes me think of the game Clue or the Andrew Lang fairy books.) Anyway -- Chabon reading was a Good One. Next on the agenda is Daniel Handler in conversation with Colin Meloy. I'm sure there will be parts I love and parts so unbearably precious and arch my Rant Mechanism will be triggered for a week. I can hardly wait!
8 comments on "fights like Anne Rice"
  1. Interesting that we had the same reaction to Annoying Photo Man - that M.Chabon was "gracious" - or wait, did we actually talk about that?

  2. I think, Anonymous T, that this means he's empirically gracious! Or maybe we did talk about it. there was so much skull ring/unicorn ring/ OMG TALL GUY/ the sun is shining excitement that it's a blur.

    Thank you so much for letting me be part of your Chabon posse! Do you want to come out to beaverton to see handler/ meloy?

    (p.s. I am sad that I didn't think to call Jim Mr. Anonymous T until just this very moment. We could call him Mr. T for short and he could pity all us fools.)

  3. "Mr. Anonymous T" Ha! I love it! We will have to involve him in some escapade so he can appear here that way.

    When is the Handler/Meloy event?

    I read on Ayelet Waldman's booklog that one night she and he had a crowd of 1900 at a "discussion event" and just a few nights later she had only TWO at her solo reading. She needs to come to Powell's - we could form the Chabon-Waldman posse. Of course, this is only on the condition that no "Mommy/Nanny Mysteries" are being promoted, yes?

  4. Handler/ Meloy = sunday the 20th at 5pm in Beaverton. Yes, Beaverton. sigh.

    I think with Mr. Anonymous T by your side, you can make up any kind of posse that you like! I would happily attend a Waldman event, but must confess that I haven't read any of her stuff other than what she does for Salon. (which I admire for its unpopular but unflinching honesty.) It's those Mommy Track books! I can't stand the series title. (do not get me started on mysteries solved by cats or cupcakes.) I try not to get wound up by just the NAME of something, because yeah, that's pretty stupid, but some words and names are just more than I can take. If I think about it much, everything goes red and I wake up hours later with berserker-rage hangover and mysterious not-my-blood bloodstains that are hard to get out.

  5. Thanks for the report -- further proof that Mr. Chabon is a mensch (I had a similar Good Experience hearing him read many years ago, circa "Wonder Boys" -- and when I e-mailed him congrats on the day he won the Pulitzer for "Kavalier" he ACTUALLY WROTE BACK!!!).

  6. Hearing all this talk of the new Chabon release makes me a little sad…

    A year ago, I would have been thrilled and probably obtained an advanced reading copy and no doubt attended a book signing. He’s been my “favorite” author since I first read his debut novel THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH back in the early 90s.

    But I can no longer support the work of an author who has no regard for the story and characters that put him on the literary map.

    In case you haven’t heard, there’s a film version of MOP coming out later this year… Written and directed by the guy who brought us DODGEBALL, in which he’s CHANGED 85% of Chabon’s original story.

    And the sad part is… Michael Chabon himself APPROVED of the script! WHY would he do this? I can only think of one possible answer: $$

    If you are a Chabon fan, esp MOP, I suggest you do NOT see this movie. You will be sadly disappointed at the COMPLETE removal of the gay character, Arthur Lecomte, and the fabrication of a romantic love triangle between Art Bechstein, Jane Bellwether, and a bi-sexual Cleveland Arning. And really, what is MOP without the presence of Phlox Lombardi? Alas, she’s barely in it.

  7. Um, well, the last entry was pretty heavy but sincere. I would like to say something else...I cried watching The GG's the other night. Not because it was overly sad but because it was the end.

  8. Mernitman, I love that story!

    Franq, it's clear you feel very passionately about the adaptation of Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I haven't read it, but with other book/movie adaptations I've found it best to look at it as a separate entity-- especially with something you love as much as you obviously love MOP. You'll always have the novel, and maybe the movie won't be as bad as you imagine. (although I realize you won't be seeing it.) As for Chabon making some money -- I don't have a problem with that.

    BBD -- ME TOO!


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