“Nothing happens!” my mother cries whenever I tell her The English Patient is my favorite book. Of course, she’s only seen the movie. Our debate usually ends when I tell her to read the book and she walks away. Imagine her extreme jealousy at the thought that I had an opportunity to meet the author of her “favorite” piece. She was practically green with envy, I think. Or was that a stomach virus? No matter. I, at least, was excited.Let’s go back to a few days prior, to a normal Tuesday morning at Between the Covers. I was left to my cataloging, blithefully entering books and listening to the new Tori Amos album when I chanced to answer the phone.
It was a man who had inquired about a Michael Ondaatje item the day before and had decided that he must have it. I, being the cheerful, personable gal I am, mentioned that the purchase was brilliant, as I myself happened to love Ondaatje. This is when the interesting thing happened. The customer said that Ondaatje was on a book tour for his new book. Transaction over I wished him good day and proceeded to hunt for dates in my area. What luck! New York on Thursday!
I should preface this by saying that I am not generally very spontaneous, my anxiety just doesn’t allow for it. While I know going up two hours to Union Square for a book reading is hardly like planning a safari in Africa, it does require some planning and I like to have these things figured out well in advance. Social phobia and my fear of not getting to places on time aside, I decided to find an accomplice and venture north. Thankfully my friend Danielle was free and I could steal her for the night. Nothing was gonna stop me.
On Thursday, November 17th I left work early to begin my drive to pick up my partner in crime at the North Jersey prison where she works – not as an inmate, usually. I made amazing time and we were in Hoboken boarding the Path train well ahead of schedule, take that anxiety! First stop was a visit with Cynthia Gibson at the original Barnes and Noble to see the infamous basement. Ms. Gibson was charming as always and kind enough to walk with us the block over to the event where Norman Graubart, NYU scholar and former BTC intern, came over to hang out with us before the talk.
The New York company was lovely and if I had had more planning time perhaps it could have lasted longer, but alas ‘twas not to be. We were early, I know right? So we did what any other self-respecting Barnes and Noble patron would do while waiting, we got cupcakes and cookies at the café. If something contains eggs, milk, and butter it totally counts as dinner.
You could practically feel the adrenaline in the air. I mean, what’s more exciting than a 68-year-old Canadian? The thrill was probably all being generated by my insane fangirlness. Sitting in the reference section waiting for the reading to begin I felt like a 13-year-old meeting Justin Bieber, minus the screaming. Well, maybe I whimpered a little. After a nice introduction from an event coordinator a stately older man walked up to the podium and thanked us for coming.
Reading from his newest novel, The Cat’s Table, Ondaatje entranced his audience. I wanted him to read everything I own: the classics, haikus, the back of the toothpaste tube. His voice is exactly what you want from a writer; he could have made the ingredients to Pop Tarts sound enchanting. I was then overcome with the urge to have Michael Ondaatje be my writer-grandfather and read me bedtime stories. My actual grandfather was the strong silent type, being a New Jersey State Trooper. Do people adopt 25 year olds? Of course when I went to get my copy of The English Patient inscribed I decided not to mention all of my daydreaming; I may be crazy but I try to keep that to myself, oh, and of course to the three readers of this blog.
Ondaatje was a gracious signer and very lovely, even as I gushed at him. Danielle (who had never read him before but had been made a fan by the experience) and I were happy we had decided to venture out on a Thursday night. With one look back over my shoulder and a huge smile on my face I said goodbye to my favorite Sri-Lankan/Canadian.