I'm full of the pithy advice these days, it seems. Barbara warned me about this, saying it's only a matter of time before I start acting like a diva and telling everyone what to do. I surely hope that's not true.
Last week I went to see a well known food writer speak and sign his new book. I own four of this guy's cookbooks, and I have always enjoyed his column, which struck me as smart and wry and entertaining, and even reasonably attainable if you're the sort to get your kicks in the kitchen. I invited one of my favorite friends, who had to travel a considerable distance to join me, and I even put makeup on and hiked to the Fairmont (that's the hill the tourists always ascend in the cable car).
The event was hosted by the Commonwealth Club, and tickets cost anywhere from $15 to several times that. I'd guess about 150 folks came, many of them shelling out for the $12 cash bar wine and buying books in hopes of getting them signed afterward. A local celeb chef moderated, and the young emcee practically tripped over herself in fetchingly bubbly adulation during her introduction.
And then the guy proceeded, for the better part of an hour, to treat the audience with disdain and contempt. Now, this guy is neither trained chef nor dietician nor nutritionist nor physician, and his book makes some pretty fantastical and unsupported claims about the benefits of a dubious diet. I knew that going in and I didn't much care, because - well, I write fiction and so I don't hold fellow authors to a high standard of veracity, I suppose, but also because I just wanted to see the guy talk. Get a feel for who he is, so to speak, so that forever after, when I open the Sunday paper, I could be all "ah, let's see what my old pal X is up to today!" I guess I wanted to make a tiny connection, and was willing to part with my time and money to do so.
That's what every reader who comes to our events is looking for, I'd wager, and I guess I'd be hard pressed to deny them that. I'm shy and awkward, and my readings don't exactly light fires, but I do give them my best effort. I try to answer every question as respectfully and thoughtfully as I can. And I'm still a little bit awestruck every time someone asks me to sign a book for them, astonished they were interested enough to buy it.
Not our pal X. "This is day five of my tour," he explained after one especially nasty comment. As the hapless moderator put forth question after question from the audience, X sneeringly declined to answer them. "I'm not going there," he said. Or "No - just no." Or "Really? It's that question?"
It is true that there are certain questions that nearly every author will be asked at nearly every reading. I won't list them, because frankly I think the people who ask them genuinely care about the answer and therefore it doesn't matter if I've answered it a dozen times before: it's still new to them. And they're the boss. Or are they? X, it seems, doesn't think so. "'What is my favorite indulgence to cook?'" he asked in mock despair. "The indulgence question?" He also refused to name his favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Eventually, the moderator sort of gave up and the evening ended with X bitching out the poor person tasked with holding up the time cards while he was escorted to the signing table.
I've thought of a suitable payback. I think that for the next 150 weeks, one for every person in the audience, X should have to fork over a crisp new $20 and show up at the home of an audience member where he'll take an uncomfortable seat in the corner of the family kitchen. Then he'll be required to interview the person for an hour about how his week went, feigning fascination with every detail, large or small, of his or her job and relationships and the contents of the fridge and medical problems and political views and television habits.
Maybe then he'd learn some HB6. (hint: the H is for humility.)