Last night I did my first author reading in a bookstore. I read at my hometown bookstore, the Elliott Bay Book Company
, a store that I started shopping at in 1974, just after it opened. In those days, just shopping there made me feel very grown up — very in the know, if you will.
Somehow during the past 35 years, I only attended one author reading anywhere, and it was at Elliott Bay Books. I wandered into a reading by Witold Rybczynski. I believe that I had just read Home or The Most Beautiful House in the World and I remember quite enjoying the books. I felt compelled to wander into the downstairs room to hear Rybcynski speak.
I never went to another reading. One was enough. Although I had loved reading the books, I was quite confused by the man standing at the podium reading from my favorite book of the time. The voice that I had given him was completely different. I preferred my vision of the author.
Growing up, I had few friends, but I did have many books. Lying on my bed, poring over the latest book from the library, I could be somewhere else. I could experience New York City or London or life a hundred, two hundred years earlier. The relationship, however, was between myself and the printed word. The author never really entered into the equation for me.
For me, books had always been exotic. They told me of places I had never been and places that I never expected to ever go to, except while reading their stories. My knowledge of the Metropolitan Museum I discovered with the help of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. To this day I have no idea who wrote this lovely tale of New York City — the author never mattered to me.
There was one exception, however. I grew up near the University of Washington and as it happened, I lived very near to the home of Angelo Pellegrini. The author of Lean Years, Happy Years, among other books, Pellegrini had been a professor of English at the University and therefore lived close by. The idea that an author, an actual bona fide published author, lived in my neighborhood was an overwhelming one to me as a young boy. I was not entirely sure where authors should live, but I was certain that they lived in more exciting locales that Seattle.
Standing in front of a packed room at Elliott Bay last night, I discovered that the author does have a part in a book. People are intrigued by who writes the book, by who they are, and what they have to say. My only hope is that I can live up to the readers' expectations. As I will be reading at Powell's next week, I have a chance to charm the readers of Portland, beyond the written words in Growing a Farmer. I look forward to it.