Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Condalmo is posting today about Radiohead, and though that's not what this post is about, I wish to say that I downloaded (legally!) the new record today, and it's freakin' fantastic. Very intimate and low-key, with a lot of swampy reverb and crazy stereo imaging, and fuzzed-out bass, and string quartets, and super-dry, popcornesque drumming. And yes, the Radiohead model of selling the record (no label, right off of their website, for however much money you feel like paying) is terrific, and I'd love to do it, but you can only get away with it, at least right now, if you're the best band in the world. And I am not the best band in the world, let alone the best novelist.

But it's this post on Margaret Atwood I want to address. Condalmo doesn't like the Long Pen, comparing it to a photocopier. He writes:

I would never in a hundred years line up for a photocopy of a signature from any author. For an author to agree to participation in such a "author appearance" or "book signing" ("event", "reading", "respectful interaction with readers") makes me much less likely to feel any interest in that author's writing.

Like Rhian (see the comments of that thread), I disagree with him here--it's autographs themselves that are something of a scam, not the Long Pen. I'm not a terribly popular writer, and I'm always delighted when somebody actually is interested enough in my stuff to want me to sign it. But I have to say, even then, I don't really like doing it.

Most people ask a writer for an autograph because they liked the reading or book, and want to commemorate their having talked with the author. I've asked for lots of autographs this way, and people generally seem happy to to provide them and say hello.

But every medium-sized city on up has at least one Weird Dude (always a dude) who has like multiple copies of your book, with acrylic wrappers on the dust jackets, and wants you to sign them all. "Just your name," they say, with a tiny bit of desperation. As if, should you write, "To Weird Dude, good luck with your search for a girlfriend! Best wishes, J. Robert Lennon," you would ruin everything.

And you would, because they are not trying to commemorate a pleasant human interaction. They don't give a crap about your book. They barely look at you, in fact! No, they're squirreling away your stuff in the unlikely event you become super famous, and then they'll get to make a huge profit selling the signed editions on eBay.

The Weird Dude really brings to light the whole problem with autographs...the fact that a story is ephemeral, and takes a different shape in every reader's mind, and that this is the entire point. That a story is a seed for the individual imagination. That the physical book is not the important thing--let alone one's contact with the author.

Now, I don't mean to demean every autograph seeker, here--most people just like the book and think it's fun to meet the author. I'm one of those people. But I don't really ask for autographs anymore (the last one I asked for, and probably the last I will ever ask for, was Alice Munro's, beside the buffet table in the green room at the Toronto International Book Festival, because hell!, Alice Munro!!), because they seem a little bit gross to me now. The story should be enough. The story is enough. In fact, it's more than I have any right to ask for, and yet I get to have it anyway.

It isn't that Condalmo's wrong, per se, but he is missing the point that author autographs overall are just kind of pointless. And if you're as famous as Margaret Atwood, you could spend your whole damned life sitting at a pressboard buffet table gazing up in exhaustion at the Weird Dude, and why not make something that can obliterate that experience from your life?


bigscarygiraffe said...

I'm judging the book by the cover, and I already love In Rainbows (which, was pre-reviewed on my ever protean blog).

The only autograph I have is of Tommy DiPaulo (which, sadly or not, I just spent 5 minutes looking up on google, and it's actually Tomie dePaola, and I can't believe I forgot he wrote Strega Nona). I didn't ask for the autograph, I think he came to our elementary school, signed some books, read some stories. I remember it being mostly too sweaty to really enjoy anything, but the adults seemed excited, and that's contagious. I brought the signed book home, showed it off to my punk little sister, only to spill soup all over it. I remember being upset, but not so much because of the lost autograph, but because of the lost book. The words and illustrations were chicken and noodled out. I stealthily hid it in my room. What an awesome thing that dried out book was, to have an aged artifact, and a runny signature that looked like something out of a museum. That's what I believe the experience of autographing should be...just the joy of the book and the love of the author who enraptures.

Matthew "LongBlog" Tiffany said...

I'm going to say that engaging in LongPen tomfoolery is the same as watching a Radiohead concert on pay-per-view instead of actually going to the venue. Ha!

Then, I'm going to go back to my own site and write something that (maybe) doesn't involve shaky metaphors.

moonlight ambulette said...

I think the real reason why one waits in line for an autograph at, say, a book reading, is because one feels some (tenuous! dubious! probably mistaken!) connection with a writer one admires, and is looking for an excuse to have some small interaction with said writer. Some excuse to awkwardly say, "Ilikedyourbook!" You know? I know that's why I've done it before.

I know, the point is Weird Dude, which indeed sounds weird. But still.

ed said...

Tomie dePaola came to my elementary school too, in the late 70s, and he taught us how to draw Strega Nona's head, which remains in my doodling repertoire.

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