...just because some watery tart threw a sword at you

Last week I went to a book signing for R A Salvatore, author of many popular novels - among them those featuring the beloved character from The Forgotten Realms, the dark elf Drizzt Do'urden - as well as a couple of Star Wars books, including Vector Prime, in which Chewbacca is killed off.

I had an enjoyable time at the signing. Mr Salvatore is a very engaging speaker, funny and gracious, and he seemed genuinely interested in what his fans had to say. He was friendly and approachable during the hour or so he spent actually signing books, and never looked at his watch (maybe because he wasn't wearing one) or wondered how many books a person had left to sign.

R A Salvatore

During his talk, he said a number of things that I found quite interesting. First, I learned how to pronounce "Drizzt Do'urden", which had been puzzling me for some time.

Second, he talked a lot about the difference between the writing business and the publishing business, a significant difference that many would-be writers fail to appreciate. He also talked about how the various editions of the related RPG affect the direction the books take. Since I'm not a gamer, I hadn't realized they weren't independent products.

Third, he talked a bit about writing the death of Chewbacca. (Did you know he got threatening letters from distraught - or should I say deranged - Star Wars fans for killing off Chewbacca, even though it was George Lucas's decision, not his?) He mentioned that some people are still in denial about the death. He said he didn't understand how there could be any question because basically he dropped a moon on Chewbacca and everything was vaporized. "But they didn't find his body!" the fans will point out. He also said that, if he was faced with the decision to kill off Chewbacca nowadays, he wouldn't do it.

Fourth, he said that when he was 29 years old he thought he knew everything, and his job as a writer was to tell everyone what they needed to know. Now (he said) he's 50 and he doesn't know anything about anything, and all he does is ask questions so that people can answer those questions themselves. I liked that. I know how he feels.

The most intriguing thing he said, though, was during a discussion of other authors. I can't remember if someone asked him what authors he liked, or who influenced him, or maybe what were his favorite books, but among others he mentioned Mary Stewart and said her Arthur books (he means her Merlin trilogy) were "outstanding".

I meant to ask him more about this when I was having my books signed. I brought it up and said that Mary Stewart was one of my favorite authors, and he said something again about how good those books were, but then his wife, who was helping facilitate the signing process, asked if I'd read Bernard Cornwell's books about Arthur, and we got into a short discussion about those, which somehow evolved into a discussion of energy bars (which Mr Salvatore insisted all tasted like dirt), and we never got back to Mary Stewart.

I think it's fascinating how Mary Stewart, who is sometimes dismissed by the ignorant as a women's author of Gothic romances, has had a profound effect on some people. I'm not saying her effect on Mr Salvatore was profound, but he obviously was quite impressed by her trilogy.

I remember once, about 15 years ago, going into a little strip mall bookstore when I was out scouting one morning, and being approached by the owner, a short, white-haired, pot-bellied old man. He asked if I was looking for anything in particular, and I told him I was interested in Mary Stewart first editions. He led me to a small collection of her books and then, in the course of conversation, mentioned that Mary Stewart was responsible for his opening the bookstore. In response to my "How so?" he said he had read the Merlin trilogy and was so impressed by it that he began seeking out other books about King Arthur and that era. He started collecting books, both fictional and historical, and, as he branched out more and more, his collection grew and grew. Not long passed before he had thousands of books. Finally, his wife said "Enough" and told him he either had to toss the books or sell them, but that either way the books had to go. With that ultimatum, he decided the best and kindest thing to do would be to sell the books, so he opened a bookstore and called it "Camelot Books". It was pretty much a general kind of used bookstore, full of the usual stuff with here and there a hidden treasure, but he had a special section of several shelves devoted to books on the legends of King Arthur.

When Mr Salvatore said Mary Stewart's trilogy was outstanding, it would've been interesting to hear his response to the question "How so?"

Incidentally, there were other interesting comments to be heard that evening. One of the more entertaining things about going to signings or book sales or whatever is overhearing other people's conversations while waiting for the event to begin. So, as we all sat there in anticipation, I heard this exchange between two young men so stereotypically geeky in appearance I thought they must have been role-playing:

Geek 1: Hey, you saw Twilight once, didn't you?

Geek 2 (after a short pause): No.

Geek 1: You liar!

Geek 2: I'm not a liar. I said I didn't see it once.

General laughter.

P.S. I'm glad Chewbacca's dead.


Guilty of sowing confusion, upsetting an alphabet cart...

It's happened again.

I was volunteering at the Bottom Shelf again, and overheard one of the other volunteers talking to a customer. She asked the customer if he'd read a particular book, and he said no, have you? She said she had. Then he asked if she'd read another book. She said she had. She mentioned that she'd read all the books by that particular author.

"Wow, you must read a lot," said the customer, duly impressed.

"I have something to read with me all the time," said the volunteer. "I'm never without a book."

"Really?" said the customer.

"Oh yeah, I read 10 or 15 books a week," said the volunteer.

How do people do this? How can they read so much in such a short time? I was soon to get a hint.

"Ten to 15 books a week!" said the customer. "That's a lot!"

"When I say all the time, I mean all the time," said the volunteer. "When I'm watching tv, I have a book open on my lap."

Okay, wait. The way I see it, either you're watching tv or you're reading a book.

But the customer is always right: 10 to 15 books a week is a lot. I'm lucky if I manage one.

I thought about having something to read with me all the time. I keep several books on my nightstand, and several more in the living room, and a book on the kitchen table, and one in the bathroom, and one next to my car keys in case I want to take a book with me where I'm going, like if I think the destination is going to be boring or something. I've given it a lot of thought, and I just can't think of any other places to keep a book so that I can read while I'm doing something else. (When I watch tv, I actually watch tv.) I mean, I had some sort of crazy and silly ideas like having text scroll down your car window, like a teleprompter, but then you might not pay attention to traffic conditions. And I thought about eating your words, like having toasted text. Or texted toast. But like I said, those ideas are silly.

It reminds me, though, of when I was a kid and we used to eat things like Alpha-Bits and alphabet soup, and try to find messages in our meals. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Sometimes what came up in your spoon was gibberish:

Sometimes it wasn't even English:

Sometimes it had nothing to do with your current situation (at least, you hoped not):

But sometimes your food could deliver pertinent messages and timely warnings:

But can you really count the 10 or 15 spoonfuls of communicative food as having something to read with you all the time? I suppose I could try to discipline myself like I did when I was in school, and have a specific time set aside that I devote entirely to reading. But that sort of takes the fun out of it. If I wanted to be disciplined about reading, I'd go back to school.

I've said it before, but what I really wish is that I could read faster whenever I wanted to. That way, I could zoom through stuff that is only mildly interesting, or that is something I'd like to know but don't want to spend a lot of time learning, and then slow down a bit and savor the really good stuff.

Incidentally, Alpha-Bits was taken off the market in 2006, I guess because of waning sales. Although it came back in 2008, I couldn't find any at our local market. I take it as a sign of the decline of literacy in our town.