This is, apparently, my year to go to book signings. Last weekend Neal Stephenson was doing a reading/book signing at the Union Square Barnes and Noble in Manhattan, so Hobgoblin and I made our way there to hear him. I’m not the Stephenson fan in our house; I read the first book in the Baroque Cycle, and it was fine, but I didn’t fall in love and didn’t read any further. Perhaps I should give Cryptonomicon or some other book of his a try? But loving Neal Stephenson’s books was not the point; it was just fun to get out and see someone well-known whom I’ve read.
The reading was subdued. Two of the authors I’ve seen in the last year, Ian Rankin and Joe Hill, were both fabulously entertaining; Rankin told great stories and made us all laugh, and Hill was … wacky. He also told great stories, he had a (grotesquely) funny excerpt from his new book to read, and he performed in a nerdy, enthusiastic, thoroughly-charming way as he read. Stephenson is obviously not nearly as comfortable performing in public as the other two. But that’s okay, of course, because why should writers necessarily be entertainers as well? He started his reading pretty much right away after getting up on stage, and he read for a half hour or so and then took questions. He seemed comfortable answering questions, but you could tell he wasn’t going to mind when it was over. One person who stood up to ask a question offered an interpretation of Stephenson’s work and asked if it was correct, and Stephenson’s answer was basically, “You may be right, but it’s not something I’ve thought about; I prefer to just write and let you all figure out what it means.” I suppose, in a way, that that makes sense — authors write, readers figure out what it means — but it also felt like an odd answer. Doesn’t he think about the ideas he’s working with as he writes? Perhaps he just didn’t want to engage with this particular interpretation. I can understand that.
Then we all lined up to get our books signed. I didn’t say much to Stephenson. I rarely want to say things to authors I meet at book signings because I’m too worried about messing up and saying something dumb, so I don’t try. But I’m realizing now that the last three authors I’ve seen — Rankin, Hill, plus Rosanne Cash, who did a talk/signing of her recent memoir at a nearby school a month or so ago — are all on Twitter, and in each case, Hobgoblin or I or both of us said something about enjoying reading their tweets. To authors out there — being an interesting tweeter can make a difference! We found out about Joe Hill’s reading in London because of Twitter, and Roseanne Cash has been on my radar lately only because I find her tweets amusing.
And speaking of writers who tweet, I may go see Colson Whitehead this weekend, who is doing a book signing at McNally Jackson along with Jonathan Franzen, who does not tweet, unless you count Emperor Franzen. I wonder what Jonathan Franzen would do if I said something about Emperor Franzen while he was signing my copy of Freedom?