Stupidity in the presence of greatness

The university at which I studied abroad hosted, during my time there, a lecture series featuring some of the finest contemporary novelists of the day – Julian Barnes, A.S. Byatt, William Golding, Joyce Carol Oates, Iris Murdoch. I learned more from those six or eight lectures than I did from either of the professors I had that semester. What did I learn? Well, I’ve forgotten, but it was awesome to be in the presence of these writers nonetheless.

Each writer stayed to sign books following their lectures. The only eligible book in my possession was The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch – I would’ve loved to have Julian Barnes sign a copy of Talking It Over, or Byatt a copy of Possession, as those were then and remain now two of my very favorite books, but alas, I did not own copies then and books were really expensive in England. But I did have the Murdoch book, so I stood in line for ages in the university bookstore, and it was only when I reached the table and handed the book to her that I realized that I was going to have to speak to Iris Murdoch.

I found myself unequal to the task. She smiled at me and asked who to make the book for. “Um. Krista,” I said. “Ah, Krista. Sanskrit?” she asked. “Um, I, I think my parents just liked it?” I said, in the form of a question, and I forgive myself this part because that was a weird thing for her to say. Krista is a German name. And I don’t look remotely Sanskrit. (If it's even possible to look Sanskrit. I confess I don't know.)

She signed, and handed the book back to me. I screwed up my courage. “This was really good I hope to write one of my own someday,” I mumbled, and stumbled away, my face afire. Nothing like being inarticulate in front of someone who’s won the Booker Prize, after all.

Why am I reliving this obviously painful memory? Well, because tonight I’m going to a reading by another favorite author of mine, and I’m going to buy her brand new book (in hardcover! Even in these trying economic times), and I may get it signed. (It depends on the crowd and the length of the line – I feel bad staying gone too long tonight since I didn’t see my kids very much yesterday). So I need to think of something clever to say. Actually it doesn’t even have to be clever, it just has to be non-humiliating. The pressure!

(The author, by the way, is Haven Kimmel, and you should read her books right away. Her memoirs, A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch, are amazing and hilarious, and her first novel, The Solace of Leaving Early, is simply wonderful – as soon as I finished it the first time, I turned right back to the first page and read it all over again.)

Wish me luck!


aimee said...

Good luck! I hope you find something wonderfully clever to say but if not that is okay too. :)

Anonymous said...

May your brain be afire and your tongue untied!