Posts Tagged ‘After-Words’
First, a bit of self-promotion: I’m going to be reading tonight at After-Words bookstore on 23 East Illinois Street in Chicago. If you’re in town, you should definitely drop by, if only because this is a truly beautiful bookshop, with a thoughtfully curated selection of new releases on the upper level and a large, brightly lit basement of gently used books. I’ll be there starting at 6:30 pm, talking a bit about Duchamp and the mystery of Étant Donnés before reading a selection from The Icon Thief, followed by questions and a wine reception. Beverly Dvorkin, the owner of After-Words, has been incredibly helpful since the book’s release, and I’m truly grateful for her support. Because among other things, this is my first reading as a novelist, and I’m genuinely curious to see how it goes.
I’ve always been amused by the fact that soon after completing a novel, a writer is suddenly compelled to develop a set of skills that are the exact opposite of those required to write a novel in the first place. Writing a novel requires long hours of daily, solitary work: it’s introspective, introverted, and rewards those who can shut out the rest of the world to focus on a highly personal project. Once a novel is published, however, an author is expected to become a completely different person overnight: extroverted, out in the world, and willing to promote himself and his work to anyone who cares to listen. Very occasionally, you find a writer in whom both aspects seem to comfortably coexist—Norman Mailer comes to mind, although the king of public performance was apparently Dickens—but it’s not surprising that many novelists regard the whole process with ambivalence, if not outright disdain.
I fall somewhere between those two extremes. I have no trouble talking to the press, but given the choice, I’d prefer to write all day without worrying about other responsibilities, promotional or otherwise. Yet I also crave spending time with other people, both in person and online. This is a solitary life, by definition, and I’ll often go an entire day without talking to anyone but my wife. It’s a necessary state of affairs, but also dangerous. Despite a few recent attempts to speak up for introversion, it seems clear that creativity arises largely from collaboration and interaction with those who care about the same things (or care with equal passion about something else). For an author, readings are an essential way of connecting with those who matter most, which is why they’ve always been part of a writer’s life for reasons that have nothing to do with current trends in book promotion.
When I head over to the bookstore tonight, then, I’ll think back to some of the best readings I’ve attended, when both author and audience just seemed to be having a good time: I have fond memories of readings by writers like Audrey Niffenegger, Nick Hornby, Joshua Ferris, and even Mailer himself, whom I saw speak in New York a few years before his death, to my everlasting gratitude. I can’t hope to match masters like this, but I expect it will still be fun. And hopefully I’ll come away with some of the satisfaction that Thomas Mann describes of his own readings: “What has been carefully forged in the course of long mornings is poured out over the listeners in a rapid hour of reading; the illusion of improvisation, of polished extemporization, intensifies the impression; and when others are stirred to marvel, we for our part believe that everything is fine.”
So what do you do when you’re a debut novelist and your book has finally been published? If you’re me, you spent most of the release date wandering around Chicago, popping randomly into bookstores to make sure that your novel was really on shelves. I ended up visiting three stores altogether, and yes, it was actually there. After politely harassing the helpful staff at the customer service desk, I was even able to sign a few books. So if you’re in the Chicago area and at all interested, you should be able to pick up autographed copies of The Icon Thief at the Barnes & Noble stores at 1 East Jackson and 1130 North State Street; at Unabridged Books in Lakeview; and at the Book Table here in Oak Park. You can also buy copies at a discount from the Book Table online, and I strongly encourage you to support these independent bookstores—they’re some of my favorite places in the city.
In particular, you should drop by the lovely After-Words bookstore at 23 East Illinois St., where I’m going to be reading from The Icon Thief and signing a few copies starting at 6:30 pm on March 29. It’s my first reading for this novel, or any novel, so please stay tuned for more details. Beverly, the very cool owner of After-Words, was also kind enough to help sell a few copies at my launch party last night at Hubbard Inn, which was a blast: I had the chance to see a lot of old friends, meet some new ones, and thank everyone for their support. This has been a strange, amazing week without much occasion for savoring the moment—on Wednesday morning, I started writing the first draft of The Scythian—but last night, for a few hours, I was able to enjoy it. More than three years after I wrote the first chapter, the book is out in stores. It feels good. Now it’s time to get back to work.