8.22.2008

I am not the type to faint when things are odd or things are quaint

I have a favorite new author – Connie Willis, who writes SF books, mostly on the soft side of SF. She’s been publishing since the late 1970s, but I barely started reading her books last March. Although it causes me chagrin, it doesn’t really surprise me: I am frequently a bit en retarde when it comes to trying good things. For instance, I didn’t even start watching The X-Files until after season 5.


So, last March I finished reading Doomsday Book. It's about a young historian who goes back in time to the era of the Black Death. Willis compares human traits and responses to disastrous circumstances in the past with those in the "future".



Then it took me about four months to find another one of her books. I don’t like to buy books new unless they actually are new, and even then not in paperback. I might be forced by circumstances to pay $4.49 for a gallon of gas, but I draw the line at paying $6.99 or more for a paperback book. So I had to wait until another one of her books and I came into close proximity. This happened in July when, since we happened to be in Portland, Oregon (on our way home after a family reunion), we decided to take a field trip to Powell’s Books, which boasts of being “the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world”. There’s a really, really huge used bookstore in Long Beach called Acres of Books that’s probably larger, but as far as I recall they sell only used books. Plus they’re going out of business. It always makes me sad to see a bookstore go out of business, especially one that sells used books. I would be even sadder, except they’re having a huge sale and everything is like 75% off. Maybe I should go see if they have any Connie Willis books left, but I doubt they do.


That’s the thing about Connie Willis: either she’s so popular that everyone hoards their copies of her books instead of taking them to the used bookstores to trade or sell, or she’s not very popular so there are very small printings of her books. I really believe it’s the former case. But either way, I'm finding her books difficult to locate. Until we went to Powell’s. They had on their shelves three titles by Willis. One of them was Doomsday Book, which I had already read. Much to my delight, one of the remaining two was To Say Nothing of the Dog, which was what I was really hoping to find. It was $4.99, which to me is like paying $3.89 for gas: it only looks good in comparison to what you have been paying. So I made Gary buy it for me.



To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of the most delightful books I’ve ever read. It's another time travel book, this time dealing with chaos theory and the effectiveness or lack thereof of human effort in making a difference. It's also hilarious. It immediately took its place in my Top Favorites. Of course, the next step after declaring it one my Favorites was to acquire a hardcover first edition copy. In some ways, that’s a little easier than just trying to find any old copy at a used bookstore, especially when humongous used bookstores are going out of business left and right (except Powell’s), because you just go to e-Bay. Of course, going to e-Bay also takes all the fun out of the search. If I had many months or even a year to find the book I wanted, I would avoid e-Bay and extend my search to other towns and other states. But now I was on a schedule . . . for Connie Willis was going to be appearing at Comic-Con in San Diego in a matter of weeks!



If you know anything about comic book conventions, you know they are usually extremely crowded with extremely oddly dressed and sometimes scary people milling about. But I was willing to brave that and more in order to get Connie Willis’ signature on my books.


Buying a hardcover first edition of a popular and award-winning title that was originally published ten years ago means you kind of have to ignore the prices at the pump. It also makes you wish you had been paying more attention to the world around you and not waited until season 7 to start watching Stargate SG-1.


But better late than never, I guess, because I lovingly placed the dust jackets of both Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog in Brodart covers (they look really nice, by the way) and, on the appointed day, bought my train ticket for San Diego.


I decided to go by train instead of by car for three reasons: 1) I knew traffic would be horrendous around the Convention Center. As it turned out, traffic was also horrendous at times on the freeways. I know of one panelist who barely made it in time for his panel after spending seven hours trying to get to San Diego from Los Angeles. 2) I knew there would be no place to park. 3) I wanted to arrive at the Santa Fe station just like Eleanor Parker didn’t.




Taking the train also gives one an opportunity for meeting people and passing the time in pleasant conversation. Well, if you know anything about me, you know that’s usually a massive joke, but I have been known to engage in pleasant conversation when my co-conversationalist is on the garrulous side. I went to the Con on Thursday and Friday, and both times I met interesting people. On the way down on Thursday, I sat next to a young Marine from New Brunswick, Canada. We talked about New Brunswick, since I used to know someone who lives there, and he told me all about young teenage Americans from Maine and environs going across the border to go to pubs or something to get liquor because the legal drinking age in Canada is 14 years old. There’s a golf course there extending to both sides of the border that used to be a big smuggling spot back in the days of Prohibition. So we chatted pleasantly about teenage drunks and illegal alcohol importation for a good part of the time. This young gentleman also told me that his tour of duty was nearly up and next on the agenda for him was Interpol. He had recently been accepted as one of their agents and would soon be going to France for training.


On the way back home on Friday night, I sat across the aisle from a fellow convention attendee. He asked if I’d had a good Con. I told him yes, that I had been able to do everything I wanted. This wasn’t exactly true, because I had missed or had to skip a number of things, but I had achieved my major goals. He asked what it was I had done. I told him I had checked up on the latest in Science Fiction publications. This wasn’t exactly true either, because I had done other things, but that was the last thing I’d done. He said, “Oh, so you go for the scifi books.” “Yes,” I responded. That wasn’t exactly true. I had gone to have Connie Willis sign my copies of Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, and I had also attended a couple of Silver Age Comic Book panels and the panel for Amanda Tapping’s new show Sanctuary. Plus, I had stood in line for a very long time to get Lindsay Wagner’s autograph, only to be disconcerted by how quiet and uncommunicative she was, which I was not expecting and which I thought was a little strange for a celebrity in a public venue. Not that her taciturnity reminded me of myself.


“So,” I said, feeling that it was my turn to help the conversation along, “what did you go for?”


“Oh, I go for the artwork,” he said. “Fantasy artwork.” And he spent the next fifteen minutes showing me all the artwork he had purchased. They were mostly 11”x14” or larger color prints of very toned and muscular and heavily endowed warrior women wearing next to nothing and swinging dangerous looking weapons while small stars or some other combustible entities explode behind them. I’ve always wondered why women like that are willing to engage in combat with such sharp instruments of death and yet wear no protective clothing. It perplexes me.


One item that was different from the others in his collection was a portrait of a head that was half warrior woman and half lion. He asked me if I liked it. I got the feeling he was going to make a gift of it, so I said, “I think it’s weird.” That was exactly true. I think my honesty bothered him, though, because he got really silent after that, and five minutes later was talking to someone behind him. I traveled in silence the rest of the way.


But the main event for me was Connie Willis. She participated in two panels, one with four or five other authors on why SF writers who write about time (either time travel or alternate realities) make the choices they do. I thought the panel was silly. Well, what I mean is I thought the moderator was silly, and I wasn’t really interested in what half of the panelists had to say. One guy, who had written a time travel novel involving William Shakespeare and some pot-smoking college dropout, started off by saying something like, “We don’t know much about Shakespeare except that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, that he was forced into a shotgun wedding when he was 18, and that he showed up in London ten years later as an established playwright.” I wanted to say, “We know nothing of the kind!” meaning the nonsense about it being a “shotgun” wedding. And we know a bit more than that, by the way. Anyhow, he just annoyed me.


The second panel was just Connie Willis.



She talked a bit about herself and her work, why she chose some of the topics that she did, and what she had forthcoming. She was very funny and it was very interesting. She went on a bit about her belief of what happens to us when we die (someone had asked a question about her book Passage, which is about a couple of doctors trying to find out the causes of near-death experiences).



I wish I could’ve asked her a few clarifying questions about that, because I think I totally disagree with her, but it would have led to tangents unwelcome to the rest of the audience.


She also did a book signing, so I stood in line for a very long time to get my two books signed. The wait gave me ample time to plan what I was going to say. I wasn’t going to lose my wits and my nerve like I have in the past. When I finally got up to the signing table, I told her, in a very articulate manner, that I didn’t know what had taken me so long but that I had recently started reading her books and was really enjoying them. She responded by saying thank you and then telling me I had to turn my ID badge around so that she’d know what my name was to put on the books. I told her that didn’t matter. She didn’t argue with me. It was very refreshing.


While she signed the books, she talked a bit about how exciting it is to find a new author. She mentioned that she had recently started reading E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books and tried to pace herself (there are six of them), but ended up reading right through them. All in all, she made me feel very much at ease, which I really appreciated. I hate feeling like a fan, even though I am one.


Not long after the convention, we went to Utah to see my new granddaughter and to help celebrate my grandson’s 2nd birthday.



While I'm in Utah, one of my favorite things to do is go to bookstores. So Gary and I took Nathan to Barnes & Noble to buy him a book. He wasn’t really interested in anything (except racing around in the aisles) until he saw an oversized copy of Goodnight, Moon on the shelf. Gary thought he didn’t need it since he already had three (smaller) copies at home, but as soon as Gary put it back on the shelf, Nathan cried out, “My my moom!” (Which I took to mean either “Goodnight Moon!” or “Give me that now!”) So I bought it for him. At full service, premium price.


I also went to Deseret Industries, one of my favorite places for book shopping. I was scanning the shelves, thinking to myself that, as usual, I wouldn’t find any Connie Willis books, when I stopped suddenly and backtracked a few titles to see Passage! Oh what rapture filled my bosom. So I read that most of the time I was in Utah and just finished it a few days ago.


Babies and books and Connie Willis.


It’s been a lovely summer.

5 comments:

jared & megan said...

pink elephants! I was very excited to see you'd finally written another blog. I didn't know you'd talked to anyone on the train or that Connie Willis (Conni? Connie?) had actually put you at ease and that you spoke with her when she signed your books. But now I do. Oh, and as a little side note (or antidote... or something.) Nathan has started calling it "me me moon". I'm not sure if this is an improvement, other than his saying "moon" instead of "moom", but it's still funny. He's still very attached to all his copies. He needs to take them downstairs every morning and have them with him when he goes to bed for his nap in the afternoon.

jared & megan said...

I just now saw the link to "show original post" so I could have checked the spelling for Connie Willis' name. Oh well. Learn something every day. :S

Shannie said...

thou dost make me laff.
and i'm glad thou didst talk to people on the train even if the guy was offended by your common sense :D

adrien & eric said...

i'm also glad you got to talk to people on the train. and i think you should have taken the warrior woman lion picture. then you could have posted a picture of it...and put it up in the garage right above dad's engraving machine!! he would have looooved it.

oh, and i told lindsay that you went to powell's and she was glad. she thought that you would think it was like the mecca. i agreed. were we right?

Janeite42 said...

In one sense, yes, it is the mecca. Like if you're looking for a book, you're pretty sure to find it. In the sense that you hope to find a bargain, not so much.

It's a great store, though, and I'd like to go back because I didn't get to see the whole thing. For instance, I merely breezed through the Blue Room (Lit, Poetry, etc) on my way to look for Connie Willis books (in the Gold Room), and the rare book room (in the corner of the Pearl Room) had closed just before we got there.

Maybe someday...