This is the One With All the Friends.
Looking out into audience who came for the Fobbit reading at the Barnes and Noble in Edina, Minnesota, I spotted two e-friends I'd known for years but was meeting in person for the first time. And then there were Joe and Pam, real-life friends I hadn't seen in 25 years (but who had been e-friends for years in the interim). While I appreciate each and every person who comes to the readings on this tour, there's a special frisson of delight that fizzes through the veins when you have these unexpected personal connections along the way. So, it was great to see Joe and Pam, and Cindy and her husband Mark and their son Bee, and novelist Peter Geye who made the special trip to Edina on the night before his own novel, The Lighthouse Road, is officially released. (Peter writes about chilly northern winters, Norwegian immigrants, lumberjacks, a boy named Odd, and ship-building. Do yourself a favor: GO GET IT.) Thanks to everyone for coming out to support me!
|Look at all those pens! B&N made sure I didn't run out of ink.|
This is the One With the Tribute to Catch-22.
I began the reading by saying, "Welcome to Banned Books Week." Shortly before I walked over to the Barnes and Noble from my hotel next door, I realized we were at the start of the annual observance of books which have been banned and/or challenged by that small, pale race of creatures known as Those Who Are Afraid of Words. The motto for this week is: "Freadom: Celebrate the Right to Read." Some of our best books have been the victims of the Squelchers--books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Of course, one of my favorite "subversive" novels is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. So, as soon as I arrived at the bookstore, I hunted down a copy of the book and then opened tonight's Fobbit event by reading the first paragraph of Chapter 19:
Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined. He was complacent and insecure, daring in the administrative stratagems he employed to bring himself to the attention of his superiors and craven in his concern that his schemes might all backfire. He was handsome and unattractive, a swashbuckling, beefy, conceited man who was putting on fat and was tormented chronically by prolonged seizures of apprehension. Colonel Cathcart was conceited because he was a full colonel with a combat command at the age of only thirty-six; and Colonel Cathcart was dejected because although he was already thirty-six he was still only a full colonel.Now I ask you, why would anyone want to smother such delicious writing as that?
This is the One With the Banner.
I won't lie: there is something undeniably ego-stroking about seeing your name, face and book cover stretched across the railing above the store's escalators. It's not quite a billboard in Times Square (See Also: Jeffrey Eugenides' Vest), but it's very flattering and red carpet-y for this debut novelist from a small town in Montana. Lin Salisbury and the staff at the Edina B&N went out of their way to make me feel welcome--from the stacks of Fobbits pyramided at the front entrance to the "Attention Barnes and Noble shoppers..." intercom announcements just prior to the reading.
|I know what my wife is thinking:|
"I should have been there to iron his shirt."
Me: "I should have worn a vest."
This is the One With the Pre-Event Jitters Soothed by the Washington Post's Thumbs-Up Review.
It always seems to happen just before I head out the door to a reading/signing: a Google News Alert pops into my inbox, telling me a new review of Fobbit has just been posted to the web somewhere. When I see the email, I tell myself I shouldn't open it, I shouldn't read it just before I step behind the microphone and face another audience, I shouldn't risk the possibility of it being a bad or mixed review which could momentarily derail my mood. (Yes, I'm one of those writers who reads all his reviews, both good and not-so-good; and no, I don't plan to stop...at least not until it gets really bad and unbearable.) I was nervous when I clicked the link for the Washington Post review, fearing the worst. (Yes, I'm a bar-set-low kind of guy who's always listening for the thud of the second shoe to drop.) What a relief, then, to find the Nation's Newspaper liked the book:
Though absurd, these Dickensian characters are all so skillfully wrought that we quickly accept their idiosyncrasies. The language alternates between comic ranting and serious description, especially in the division between Gooding’s inner voice and that of his diary, which contains some of the novel’s most undisguised personal fieldnotes from the author. We know Abrams is speaking to us when Gooding writes, “This time, Don Quixote is in my hands. I’m in the midst of highlighting a passage with a neon-yellow pen — Fictional tales are better and more enjoyable the nearer they approach the truth or the semblance of the truth.”Click here to read the full review
What’s most intriguing about this work is that, at its center, it is both a clever study in anxiety and an unsettling expose of how the military tells its truths. “Fobbit” traces how “the Army story” is crafted, the dead washed of their blood, words scrutinized, and success applied to disasters. “The Fobbits, watching from their sterile distance, struggled to make sense of it,” Abrams writes. “They tried to separate truth from fiction, rumor from confirmed reports.”