Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Crime Against the Seward Park NYPL Branch

Date: March 15, 2010
Author: David Rakoff
Venue: KGB
Neighborhood: East Village
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- yes
UE Check Number -- 890765

(David Rakoff died in August 2012)

 As my readings project went on, I got more and more broke. In 2008 when I was still relatively flush, I sometimes bought authors' hardcover books. I couldn't get them all because I was going to three or four readings a week, but sometimes, I splurged. When I did buy a hardcover, I sometimes got the author to sign it.
When my re-entry into the job market didn't happen, I switched to buying galleys. Galleys are like pre-books that publishers put out in advance of the real book's publication so reviewers and others can sample them. They fit nicely with my readings project because their distribution and readings are both usually part of a book's launch. I found that by knowing which authors were scheduled to read at local venues, I could often pick up their galleys at the Housing Works bookstore or the Strand in advance of their readings.

At first I was a little hesitant about asking authors to sign their galleys. An author could look at it like I'd gypped them out of some of their income by buying a three-dollar galley instead of a full-price hardback. One author, Brando Skyhorse, who I'd gotten to know a little, signed the galley of his brilliant book "The Madonnas of Echo Park" "To Brent, quit being a cheap bastard." I think he was joking.
What I did next with David Rakoff really pushed the boundaries of author-event propriety. I asked him to sign one of the New York Public Library’s copies of his latest book, the Thurber Prize winning “Half-Empty.” I had seen the copy of "Half-Empty" in the Seward Park branch on the day I was planning to go to Rakoff's reading. I checked it out. As I did, I thought that unless I chickened out, I could ask him to sign the library copy.

It always amazes me how much chance and the layout of a room can affect who you meet at readings. I had the Seward Park branch's copy of "Half-Empty" with me, but if somebody other than Sarah had been sitting next to me at the bar, I might not have pulled off the sign the library book move. Sarah, affectionately nicknamed "Blind Justice," at the bar because she is legally blind and is a lawyer, was sitting to my right at the bar during Rakoff's reading. After he finished, she told me she was a big fan of his and said she'd love to meet him.
I said, "Oh, I'll introduce you to him."

As we made our way through the crowd toward Rakoff, she asked me, "Do you know him?"
I said, "Well, not personally."

Fortunately, and again this is the kind of thing that depends totally on luck, Rakoff was between well-wishers when we reached him. After double checking that Sarah's name was Sarah, I introduced her to Rakoff. Then I introduced myself. I might have been chicken to thrust myself on Rakoff alone, but under the guise of doing Sarah a favor, it worked.

Toward the end of our conversation with Rakoff, I told him that I wanted to make a slight addition to literary history by having him sign a library copy of his book. He hesitated and said, "But won't you get in trouble?" I said, "No, it will be OK, because I've taped an index card into the front of the book. I'll just take it out when I return it."
Rakoff was game and he signed my copy of his book, adding, "Good Luck. Brent." I took the book back when it was due after I peeled the index card out of it. If you check the right copy the book out, you’ll notice the slight mark left by the scotch tape.

When I talked to Rakoff about this at a later reading, he said he didn't remember anything that happened the night he read at KGB because he'd had an MRI earlier that day. Apparently, they'd given him a drug that caused him to not be able to remember what happened the evening of the procedure.
But after I filled him in on his part in my project he said the signing of library books thing sounded like familiar. He asked me if I knew who Joe Orton was?

I replied, "The British playwright?" He said, "Yeah," and told me that Orton and his lover had gotten a first brush of public notice when they were arrested for defacing library books.