Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Book Signing: Hezada! I Miss You at Auntie's Bookstore

For the first time since The Floating Order, I'll be doing a book-signing event. That is, an event at which I will not read aloud but will sit alone at a table with my books in order to greet book-reading strangers who accidentally stumble upon me in their bookstore. Usually, the people are unsure what to do with me, a book-writing stranger in their space: a quiet but inviting bookstore. Or, rather, I'm unsure what to do with them because I fear they didn't expect me to appear on their way to another aisle.

I think that a book-signing event, when you're Erin Pringle, and not Stephen King, is closer in genre to encountering the person offering samples of cheese, crackers, little smokies in the grocery store. 

Photo by glindsay65
(used under CC license)
There you were, pushing your cart alone, trying to remember to return to produce to get bananas when all of a sudden there's a polite person at a folding table. 

If you're like me, were raised like me, the best thing to do is avoid eye contact and hurry by. Because what if you take a sample?

Well, then you have to buy the whole box, don't you? 

And then where does it end? 

Will you be adding this to your grocery list for the rest of your life? How will this change your kitchen, your family's expectations, your understanding of food?

Better to push on by, and if you happen to make eye contact, a quick smile and no thank you is better than the slippery-slope of taking free samples and then ending the relationship by not then taking the offered coupon, the recipe, the product. 

Similarly, there you were, driving/bicycling/walking to the bookstore, your weekend sanctuary. A place where writers usually stay inside their author photos, have no feelings, do not mind if you set them back down on the shelf. You might stay the whole morning, the whole afternoon, moving through the sections. Maybe you'll find yourself in Poetry. In War History. You don't know, but it won't upset you to find yourself opening a book on Northwest Birds or Impressionists. Maybe you'll even sit in a corner, disappear into a book until no one sees you. You know, that Heaven. And this is what you're expecting, this is what you woke to looking forward to, this is why you won't be meeting your friends or having a pedicure. Because you. are. going. to. the. bookstore. 

You push open the lovely, old wooden doors of Auntie's Bookstore, closer to meditation than you've been all day, in months, maybe years.

Auntie's Bookstore Entrance
(photo from here)
And there I am.
Sitting at a folding table.
With nary a sample of cheese.

Worse, I am sitting with a stack of a book I wrote.
You don't know me.
You don't know this book.
You don't even read books like mine, whatever my book is. 

Or maybe the book signing is a cross between grocery sampling and art fairs. If you go into the artist's tent--if you talk to the artist--Jesus, if you dare compliment the work aloud . . . well, you're going home with a garden sculpture or handmade leather wallet. 

Perhaps this doesn't bother you. Perhaps you're fine with the terms. Perhaps you can walk out without a sculpture and without any feeling of impropriety for doing so. Maybe you even take samples at grocery stores with an adventurous spirit--perhaps excited that you might have stumbled into an opportunity to expand your palette.

Surely there are people who think like this. A sample's a sample. An artist talks about her paintings in a tent in the middle of the park--of course. A bookstore may hold a writer signing her name in books that she herself wrote.

I mean, sure. Maybe.

But when you grow up with little money like I did. You were warned all of your childhood: 
If you touch the comic book, you have to buy it, and we're not buying one today. 
If you break it, you buy it, and we can't afford to buy it.

Or maybe had conversations like these:
Mom, why is your underwear so thin?
Because, daughter, there are more important things to buy than underwear.

Or maybe you watched your mother at the counter after your pediatrician's visit:
Secretary: Do you have insurance?
Mother: Yes, but it's not good, so I'll be paying in full. 

Or maybe you heard the story of your father, how when he was a boy he fell through a floor and into glass--how the glass stuck into his back--how he shuffled to the roadside--how someone finally picked him up and drove him back to the village--and when he finally got home, got to the doctor, his mother (your grandmother) would not pay for anesthetic. You've always imagined her standing with the doctor, holding her purse with both hands as she stares down at her child on the table--his bare, bloody back. How much would it cost? she says. The doctor gives her the number. Not today, she says. Jimmy, you're a tough bird. Maybe she pats his foot before leaving the room so the doctor can tweeze each shard of glass from the boy's back--your father's back who holds all the scars and you will examine as a child as he sits on the edge of his bed playing clarinet. Maybe it was the lack of money, but then again, maybe it was something darker, worse that even as an adult, you haven't had the stomach to dwell on.

And so you brake hard when money is on the line.
And when you see people trying to encourage you to spend money, you've basically encountered the wolf of fairy tales. That sweet-talking wolf. And you know that not every version ends with someone cutting you out of its belly. Not every version ends with the wolf filled with stones and running nowhere but to its death.

Oh, Erin. A book signing should not be so complicated.
I know, I know.


Oh, Erin. Is this your way of encouraging people to go to your book signing? Really, Erin?

I know, I know.

But here's my plan, and you can tell me if it's a good idea: over the course of writing Hezada! I acquired two circus posters, very large. Also, a book of circus photos. Glossy pamphlets sold by the circus at performances. And the last time I was in my hometown, I took many pictures. So, I thought, I'd have all these at the table. In this way, I could talk to people about those things. Should they ask what my book is about, I can point to what I learned. I can point to the picture of the road I walked most every day of my childhood to age 18 and then on visits, even though they've been few and far between. In this way, I can just be a regular person who somehow landed in the bookstore at a folding table. And everyone else can be regular people, too.

If you know any regular people in Spokane, send them my way this Saturday, February 15. I'd love to talk to them about the rural Midwest, the spectacle of poverty and the circus, of loss by suicide, and this strange society we're caught inside--all the while pretending we aren't caught because that's part of it, too.

Also, I can sign Hezada! I Miss You, since it will be there, too, with me. And while it's no sample of grape jelly on a cracker unlike any cracker you've ever tasted, I think it's pretty good.

Erin Pringle signing Hezada! I Miss You
(photo by Kayle Larkin)