"Oh my God, are you okay?!" I yell into the speaker.
At first, everything is silent. Then there's a strange rustling sound on the other end of the line, and in the background I think I hear screaming. My heart is jumping rope, the hair on my knuckles standing straight up. It's after three in the morning, and I almost slept through this call. Once I saw the time, though, I knew it must be an emergency.
"Don! Don! Are you alright?"
Again the rustling sound, and then everything gets much louder. I nearly drop the phone.
"Ah! Sorry about that! I was trying to figure out how to put you on speakerphone. Listen, I'm at a party and I told everyone about your book. One of my friends wants to talk to you. Can you tell him what it was like reading with your dad?"
My muscles release their tension, and my head hits the pillow with a flop. Don is one of my best friends, but, since he is a year younger, and I only graduated six months ago, still very much a college student. He's brilliant and lots of fun, so he's mastered two subjects I never really came to appreciate: math and partying. And because he parties with other brilliant people, I suppose, he's discussing books.
"Well," I begin, trying to sort reality from the strange dream I was having before the phone rang. Yes, someone is really calling from a college party to ask about my book. No, I am not hiding from a giant ladybug in a closet full of marshmallows.
When my father and I began what we called The Streak, I was nine years old. We pledged to read together ? that is him reading to me and me listening intently ? for 100 days, then 1,000. We ended up reading together for 3,218 consecutive nights; The Streak ended on my first day of college. Someone at my university got wind of this and contacted the New York Times. They ran an article; I got some phone calls from agents and publishers; and I ended up writing a book. It's a remarkable turn of events to happen to anyone, but it's even stranger when you're 22.
In fact, I was barely 22 when I made the deal. I agreed to work with my publisher, Grand Central, eight days after the article appeared and three weeks after my 22nd birthday. I knew I was lucky ? phenomenally, absurdly lucky ? but I was unprepared for my two lives to collide.
The woman who would eventually become my agent first contacted me on my dorm room phone. I was avoiding all calls, as my phone had not stopped ringing since the article, and my throat was sore and cracking. But as a Resident Assistant for my dorm, I was required to pick up my room phone every time it rang.
Jen (she introduced herself as Jennifer Gates of the Zachary Schuster Harmsworth Literary Agency when we first spoke but is now known affectionately by everyone in my family as just Jen) asked me to come up to New York and meet with her. I was in the middle of midterms and could not get away. She offered to come to my school and take me out to my favorite restaurant. That just so happened to be a diner where two eggs, pancakes, and potatoes are under five dollars ? I don't think she's had many business lunches like it before or since. I had to squeeze her in between classes, club meetings, and studying, so we met at 10:30 on a Thursday morning. I'd started taking Nyquil to help me sleep between all the calls, and I had so much left of it in my system she had to take me back to my dorm before our food came. I signed with her, and when we went to New York to meet publishers the next day, I took the bus and crashed on a friend's couch. The day I signed my book deal, I called my father excitedly but had to hang up in a hurry. I was running late to class.
Nothing about my life smacked of authordom, and that's not because I was boring, or lower-middle-class, or obsessed with my cats (though all three applied), but because I was a college student at a state school, and things like that don't happen. But it did happen.
Even once I graduated and turned 23 things didn't really change. I live with two roommates my own age, one of whom is a hot-dog-microwaving, sweatpants-wearing college student, and that feels right to me. Wherever I go, I am the youngest person in the room, sometimes including interns. I have taken to responding to all questions with my age, which is surprisingly well-tolerated by the people around me. At conventions, fancy dinners, and important meetings, there are always reasons to trot out this phrase.
"I am really looking forward to reading this to my kids. Do you have children of your own?"
"Is this your first time recording an audio book?"
"We got some complaints from another author staying down the hall. Were you jumping on your bed last night?"
I'm releasing a memoir that will be translated into Korean, and I can't even get a rental car without a surcharge.
And that suits me just fine.
Though it's unquestionably strange to speak on things like family values and raising children when I only recently learned how to use a can-opener (they really are much more difficult than they look), my age gives me a sense of relief. Speaking at the American Library Association conference in January, every woman in the room seemed to want to mother me. I reminded them of their daughters or granddaughters, they told me as they lined up to get my signature on advance copies. Would I like them to hold off the line so I could run to the bathroom, they asked me? I was a snappy dresser, they told me. And I am not a snappy dresser.
I don't think my peers ? and by that I mean people even roughly my own age ? are going to read my book. I wrote it in my own young voice with hopes that they might, but I am not overly optimistic. I know that my audience will mostly consist of parents who read to their children or people old enough to get nostalgic when remembering reading with their parents. Of course there will be some outliers, some close friends and some people who love books about books, perhaps, but, overall, I have my doubts. I know that to my age group, I am an anomaly. Not better than them, not necessarily worse (though decidedly cornier) ? just abundantly strange. To them, I've been told, I am "Book Girl." The title doesn't come with a cape, and I doubt it comes with readership.
But sometimes they will call me, excited and maybe a little drunk from college parties, because there is something rather thrilling about being strange. And I will answer, because I am one of them.