Thursday, May 17, 2007

In Search of Chuck

I am a die-hard Chuck Palahniuk fan. The guy is a genius. He writes the kinds of books I wish I could create. Unfortunately, it seems that thousands of Chicagoans feel the same way. When I heard that he was going to be at the Borders downtown, I anticipated a large turnout and left two hours early, but that still wasn't enough time to beat the traffic. By the time I got there, they weren't letting anyone else into the presentation and the line to get books signed was weaving throughout the store. Frustrated and disappointed, I went to the back of the line and had a seat. I was going to be there for a while.

After finishing the novel I had brought to read, chatting with the weirdo teenagers standing behind me, and perusing the merchandise in the aisle where I was waiting (I happened to be stationed in the Contemporary Christian section and it truly scared me how big the section was), I was beginning to get bored. The reading started at 7pm. It was 10pm and the line had barely moved. Over the loud speaker, the Borders employee announced that Chuck was willing to stay until way after midnight so everyone could get a book signed. While that demonstrated dedication to his fans, I had no intention of standing in line way past midnight, so in an effort to make his night shorter (and mine) I left without getting my book signed and meeting my true literary hero.

Even though it was an ultimately disappointing evening, it was sort of eye opening as well. I have gone to hundreds of signings and author appearances and none had a crowd like this one. First of all, I think I may have been the oldest in the room. Second, I was the most normal looking. Yes, me with the piercings and tattoos felt like a total straight edge. And last, the crowd was rowdier here than any signing I had ever been too, maybe even rowdier than some rock concerts. One guy actually got kicked out for being drunk and had to be escorted out of the store by an elderly Borders manager.
But probably the most surprising thing, was that the crowd disproved many of my stereotypes about the average reader. When I told people at my job, most of whom are around my age, I was going to see Chuck Palahniuk, they responded with blank stares and confused expressions. When I told them that he wrote Fight Club, there was immediate recognition along with the expected, "I love that movie." I always assumed that readers were a minority in my generation, that we are a group which thrives on instant gratification through movies and television. But here were these high school and college age students with stacks of books in hand, willing to wait hours and hours just to meet the author they admire. It was extremely reassuring.
Of course, this is not the norm. Most of the signings I've been to were only attended by a small handful of people. And although every author dreams of being in a situation like Palahniuk, in a way, that is the way I like it. Authors are accessible people. You can see them, talk to them, unlike celebrities in the film and music industries. I can go up to them, shake their hand, and tell them how much I enjoy their writing. Once, I wanted to get Michael Chabon to sign a first edition I bought for Nicole, so I just e-mailed him and he told me to send it over and he'd be happy to sign it. I've met Dennis Lehane at a couple of events and we had a drink and talked about writing. This is a large part of the reason my passion for fiction is so much stronger than my love of movies or music. There is a person behind each word, each page, and after I read a book, I can meet that person face to face and see who it was that told me such a wonderful story.
I have two favorite authors: Chuck Palaniuk and Kurt Vonnegut. I never had the chance to meet Vonnegut. I'm not going to make the same mistake with Chuck. So next time, I'll arrive four hours early and wait with the dyed hair, black make-up wearing freaks. And in a weird, sick way, the wait will be worth it.

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