Here in the South, we read…a lot. No, probably not more than most, but we talk about it an awful lot.
For instance, just after the obligatory question about your friend’s or acquaintance’s family (“asking after your family”), we Southerners ask about what you are reading. What someone is reading tells a lot about who someone is. As Southerners, we take pride in being the culture that brought about Mark Twain, Pat Conroy, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and so many others. Book Clubs are as much social events as they are discussions about books. Writers write about the South longingly and unashamedly. We are characters, here in the South, and we LOVE our books.
You see, I was read to, but also, read in front of. My grandmothers read when I was around, my mother was a voracious reader, and I would consider myself a huge book GEEK. I read all of the time, and I cannot go to sleep without reading. I’ve been this way since I could read at the age of 3. The Kid has inherited my love of books, maybe even more so.
The Kid is, what old Southern folklorists would call, charmed. I don’t just say that because I am her parent, it’s simply the truth. Others see it, maybe even more clearly than myself. Authors, well, they say her excitement for books is contagious, and author signings have become her concerts.
I took her to see Neil Gaiman in the summer of 2013 at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. Originally, I planned to go alone, but as she accompanied me to gather my ticket, she asked if she could go. Of course, it was sold out and I explained that there was very little chance I could get another ticket. The cashier at the bookstore where I picked up my ticket explained there was a Haiku contest on Twitter that allowed the winner to get a ticket. Of course, I didn’t think anything would come of it, but of course, a few days after tweeting her Haiku on my Twitter account, we found out she had won. Not only did she win a ticket, but she won VIP passes for seating. See, it’s the charmed thing.
After finding out that she won a ticket, she went into overdrive. She wanted to give Mr. Gaiman a picture, and she asked me many questions about him, the books she had and hadn’t read of his, and what his life as an author was like. After the millionth question, we went on the Interwebz and found out all kinds of information, but she latched on to the fact that a cat and dog of Mr. Gaiman’s had recently passed away. Cheery, huh? So, she drew him a picture of himself outside with his dog and cat. I thought it was sweet, but with his popularity, I didn’t think he would take much notice of a little girl’s picture. Boy, was I wrong.
After sitting for about 5 hours in the blazing, summer sun, we were finally able to get into the auditorium to get ready to listen to the reading of Ocean at the End of the Lane. The Kid found out we could sit in the front row, and sit in the front row we did. She was enchanted by the reading, and so excited to see the hub-bub surrounding a writer of Mr. Gaiman’s caliber and popularity. Not long after the reading, Mr. Gaiman was set up to sign the thousands of books people had bought and brought with them. I gave her a copy of Coraline for an early birthday present since I was unsure she could read his new book immediately. I read most, if not all, of her books prior to letting her read them. Not to censor them, but to ensure I have answers prepared if she has questions.
As we stood in line, I tried to explain that this was going to be really quick. He would sign, say thanks for coming, and we would go on our way. She said she understood and wouldn’t be disappointed. She loves Coraline and The Graveyard Book, so she really didn’t care. She said she just wanted to thank him for his books. When we finally got to our turn, I let her go first. You see, I LOVE Neil Gaiman’s books, and I’ve read them all. BUT, this was her first author signing, and I wanted it to be memorable for her.
She went up with this huge smile on her face, and introduced herself. As she started to talk to him, she told him how much she loved reading his books, and that she was so excited to be meeting him. I’m pretty confident that he’s heard all of these things a million times before, and will a million times in the future. She told him that she drew him a picture. He was very sweet, and he took a close look at it. He recognized himself in the picture. She explained that I told her about his pets’ passings, and that’s why she included them in the picture. He just sat there, and looked at her for a good few seconds. Then, he told her that he needed a hug from her. After she hugged him and said thank you, she turned around with tears in her eyes. She told me she realized that this was a special moment for her. I wish I captured that moment with my camera. I was so bewildered I think I just stood there in awe.
She rode home in silence that evening and was completely exhausted by the day. She still remembers how she made a famous author stop and give her a hug. This was a defining moment for her, and now she thinks that authors are like rock stars. There are worse things, I guess. We are going to another author signing tomorrow. It’s becoming a habit.