Note: Michael Chabon is the author of Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and many other books.
Writers, despite what the public likes to believe, lead lives that are more mundane, prosaic and ordinary than we can imagine. For some odd reason, we tend to picture literary writers as people who meditate in the mountains six months out of a year, or go in and out of mental institutions, or do hard drugs dusk to dawn, or spend all of their time talking philosophy and politics in European cafes. Rarely do movies, tv shows, or even books feature authors as people more or less like the rest of us. We rarely get books about the portraits of authors watching sitcoms. A few examples: Winter Passing–Ed Harris plays a bedraggled writer living in a delipadated house, shaking like a leaf in every scene. Finding Forester: Really, Sean Connery as a masterful writer living in a tiny apartment, offering sagely advice to strangers, all the while pining for the old country? Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, on the other hand, is just about the only book (and movie) I can think of offhand that presents the lives of writers as at least half-way ordinary.
Certainly, Gary Tripp, the protagonist, is eccentric. He wears a pink bathrobe, shuns computer word processors, smokes pot, and has an affair with the Dean of Students’ wife from the college he receives a paycheck from. Beyond that though, he’s a perfectly sane individual, just a little lost during the events of the story. He’s no raving mystic, antisocial recluse, or incredible super-genius.
You’d think then that since I’m well aware authors are fairly ordinary (and I’m an author now too) I still find myself freezing up in their presence. I met the science writer Michio Kaku, who wrote a great biography called Einstein’s Cosmos, and couldn’t say anything. I met Jonathan Lethem whose work I’ve read for years, and could only stand there awkwardly while he signed my copy of Omega: The Unknown. The worst case of debilitating shyness though came when I met Michael Chabon.
Michael Chabon has been my idol ever since I read Wonder Boys in high school. I’ve read his book The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay twice (and it’s a thick book!). I’ve read most of his comic series The Escapist. Yet when I met him at a book signing, I completely clammed up and said next to nothing (some vague utterance might have left my lips, but it was little more than half-intelligible). What made my failure more pronounced is that Chabon was surprisingly inviting to conversation. He shook my hand and everything. He signed every book I brought (and I brought a big bundle).
Here I was, acting like a prophet with a tablet here to tell the masses that authors are quite the same as the rest of us, and yet meeting one I greatly revered, I relinquished all claims and principles. Honestly, I’ve had longer conversations with cable guys. John Updike writes somewhere of having the privilege to meet T.S. Eliot for lunch outside of a college. Updike wrote that their time together was fairly mundane and even a little boring, basically like having lunch with anyone else. At least Updike spoke to Eliot.
If you live in the Portland/Vancouver area and want to see how you fare in front of your literary favorites, check back at the Powells events page frequently.
Have you had an experience similar to mine of meeting Michael Chabon?