Squirreled away at training for most of 2010, I have a hole in my experience of popular culture—kind of like the year we lived in England left a 1987-sized gap that seems mostly My-Two-Dads in nature.
I missed out on a lot. I did not see the A-Team reboot in theaters. I didn’t see the LOST finale with the rest of the world. And I didn’t know that one of my favorite writers had a new book out.
Despite my wild digging of him, David Rakoff has never made my Klosterman Index—and I just figured out why. There are writers I love, who I don’t read. Not with my eyes, anyway. He is one of the writers who I will only consume if they’re reading their words to me themselves.
It’s not read-cheating by audiobook. (Nicholas Sparks, however, would be.) No, in this group, it’s as if their creations demand their own cadence in order to be consumed, the stress intended added quite deliberately and accurately by their own performance.
Chuck Klosterman is usually one of these, though not entirely as strictly. Sarah Vowell is another. David Sedaris for sure. And David Rakoff is the King of the List. I own everything he’s written. And not a single page of it. So without visual reference, he slipped my mind during the last ranking of the Index.
I will withhold my own review until I’m done listening, but I’m four months behind. When it dropped, the New York Times reviewer tucked this notion in the middle of his piece on it, “You wonder how many of these selections would be better said than read.”
Well, duh. Of course you do. “Reading Rakoff”: UR DOIN IT WRONG.
I’m a groupie. A stalker. An über-fan. Not a band, an actor, a politician—I rabidly attend author readings. I study listings and signs, showing up at random bookstores to sit in folding chairs set up by the periodicals and listen to writers read their own words. I wait in line to get my copy signed, the only kind of autograph I collect. I rehearse how I’m going to tell them their talent touched me.
The only time I have EVER been starstruck and had my composure stolen was at just such an event. Deep in the San Francisco suburbs, Peter Mayle was going to be signing his baking book, lo a handful of falls ago. I was first in line.
After the reading and Q&A, he mingled with the various wealthy certain-agers, as dapper, silver-haired and humbly-tongued as you’d imagine. He patiently stood by and looked at vacation photos of Mitsy’s trip to Provence, charm never flagging. I watched the scene from the fringes, indignantly thinking “I bet she’s never even read Up the Agency. Bah.” When the crowd cleared, I gathered my nerve. (Honestly. This NEVER happens, not in interviews, not ever.)
“I just wanted to let you know that your books are so perfectly crafted that I’ve read them all dozens of times, and I often just open them to any page and start reading from there—and am instantly transported.”
I was blushing as I said this. (NEVER.) He was a perfect gentleman, and I’d like to think, pleased I had no vacation shots for him to peer at through his half-glasses.
In any event, it’s always dicey to meet a hero. They really aren’t always who you imagine and wish them to be. It complicates your fandom a little bit. Let’s just say, once I went to a Sarah Vowell reading. It did not go as well as the Peter Mayle one.
Still. I can’t deny it: Sarah Vowell is the man. New. Getting.
(Ahem. I have apparently been a Mayle fan for longer than I thought. The book “What’s Happening to Me?” checked out of the library and giggled over in the mid-80s? OMGS. He wrote it.)
Sarah Vowell: When I first went there it was just to see Pearl Harbor. But while I was there I got sucked into the specifics of the place itself, how it was this monarchy that Americans sort of wrenched into statehood. I started wanting to write about it, because I’ve become so fascinated with the year 1898, when America became a world power in, like, a summer.