Friday, August 5, 2011

Norman Juster

With my parents owning a publishing company, as a kid I was dragged to many a book signing. Mainly for books I would never read or want too, especially when I was 10. I do remember being excited about a book of cows, but that's the only one that sticks out, plus I just sold it the other day. There are pictures of me at signings, usually just my hand, because my brother being littler was always being carried so I had a tendency to be cropped out, as it where. The first talk/signing I can remember choosing to go to was Norman Juster. If I where to base my experience on this talk, I would probably never have gone to another. No two book signings are alike, and you really need to keep this in mind. Even the same author can give different levels of performance at different locations. Author tours are grueling, a new city everyday and having to (hopefully) perform in front of a large number of people is draining, as is the jet lag.

So, back to Norman Juster. Back in the 90s (yes, it was that long ago), Norman went on a book tour to celebrate the 35th anniversary of his seminal children's classic, The Phantom Tollbooth. The year being 1996, I had yet to have a drivers license and therefore had to rely on others, ie the parents, for transport. This is really where things went wrong. Later, after certain lessons where learned, I would always arrive early and not be worried about being the first person to step up to the signing line. As it happened, we arrived well before Norman talked, just not early enough to get a seat, or even get a clear view of him. This was at our original Borders, the one I have fond memories of before they decided to get two stories instead of the one and then promptly went out of business. Problem was, the didn't have a speaking/signing area. He was jammed up against the windows between history and the beginning of fiction. I was on the other side of a wall in the children's section with it's garish clown theme trying to listen to the crackly intercom that was attempting to broadcast his reading.

At this point I should mention that my ride, ie mother, had some school party she had to go to, so I was also hoping that the reading wouldn't go on long, otherwise I would not get my book signed. These where also the barter days. I had a very elaborate barter system in place, instead of cash, I found people where more likely to pay up if it was something cheaper (in their eyes) than cash. I'd do house chores for Red Dwarf tapes, and I was able to get the 35th Anniversary copy of The Phantom Tollbooth by giving my old copy to my mom's library at the school I used to go to. So, score for me, new copy, hardcover, and signed... but at the rate the event was going, I was worried the signed part wasn't going to happen. It did happen, just not with me there. Before he had even finished reading it was time to depart, and I was really sad, but also, pretty pissed. Here's this author talking all about his world and how much he loves The Wizard of Oz, as did I, and where was I? Getting in a car to be dropped off at home. As luck would have it, my mother knew one of the eager children whose parents didn't have to depart early for cake, so he got me the signature. So, I have the book, but I didn't really have the best experience... it was an experience, I'll grant you that, just not the one I was hoping for. The next year I entered undergrad and my life as I knew it was gone... or should I say my free time? I quite literally did not go to another book signing till the year I graduated, but those stories are yet to come.


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