A major bookstore event to herald a new publication can be an interesting experience.
I was telling one of the staff members at our largest local bookstore yesterday how much I loved Donna Tartt's new tome The Goldfinch. I had come back to buy her first book, The Secret History, which I'm now reading and also loving. He asked what it's like for me, as an author, to read other people's books, and in the end, he told me that when my new novel series is published, I should launch it at his shop, with a big book signing, and with lots of local publicity. At my last event there, eight years ago, they told me it was the first time in the history of the store that they ever sold out of books in the first hour of an author signing. It was great. I felt like a local version of J.K. Rowling, only male, and a philosopher, and publishing a nonfiction book, except it was indeed about Harry Potter.
But, in retrospect, I couldn't help but think of other book events past, all over the country - some with huge crowds, in places like Manhattan, and Kansas City, and Boca Raton, and others with small and yet very interesting turnouts.
My most embarrassing book signing wasn't the one in Washington, DC, long ago, where only one person showed up, and he told me he was the father of one of my students at Notre Dame, and then asked me for a $20,000 loan. No, that didn't come close. The cosmic nadir, the ultimate bottom of the vortex, was when I was at an independent bookstore somewhere in America, and had spoken to about fifty or so people regarding my newest effort, and had signed books for most of them, and then had talked to the manager of the store for nearly an hour afterwards, standing near the register, and signing lots more books for the shop to keep in stock with those little stickers that say "Autographed By the Author."
Right before I was going to leave, I saw an elderly lady walk up to the cash register and put down a stack of books - bird books, dog books, gardening guides, and … there it was: my new book about philosophy and life. As her other selections were being rung up, she picked mine out of the stack to examine. With a glow of pride, I watched her face as she thumbed through it, starting at the end and flipping backward. She finally got to the first page and stopped in shock. She looked up at the bookstore employee who was ringing up the sale. And, in a voice of supreme irritation, she said, "Some fool has written in this book!"
He stopped and looked at the page she was pointing to and said, "Oh, yes, that's the author's personal signature! You have an autographed copy!"
She contemplated it for a second and looked back up and said, "Well, I don't want a book some fool has written in!"
He got her a clean copy, and I went home, suitably humbled.
But I still sign books when I can, assured by my wife that, surely, it doesn't detract too much from the value of the item.