Monday, March 16, 2009

Say what you mean, mean what you say

Here's a hypothetical situation for you:

Let's say that I read a book, love it, and write a review of it on this blog, as I sometimes do. Let's also say that the author of the book reads my review and writes an email to me, as sometimes happens. I'm flattered to hear personally from the author of a book I liked so much, and I am glad he realizes that my review of it was essentially positive, even if I did mention one or two shortcomings.

Then, a few months later, I attend a book fair; say, the Tucson Festival of Books, and the author is presenting there. I go to his lecture, he recognizes me from my blog, we get a chance to chat, and he calls me out on the negative things I said about his book in my (otherwise positive) review. And I get to have the lovely experience of telling an author to his face what I didn't like about his book, and why, and defending my position.

Well, folks, this isn't hypothetical. That's right - it actually happened to me, yesterday.

The book is The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire. I wrote about it back in September, and almost immediately closed the comment section because I felt the subject matter of the book was so volatile and I didn't want anyone to feel like they had to defend themselves (to me personally, anyway). The author is Tom Zoellner, and he presented at the Tucson Festival of Books yesterday (along with fellow author Bill Carter).

In case you didn't already realize what a nerd I am, let me tell you that I was so excited to go to the Festival of Books. Jeremy took some time off from working on his dissertation, which is kind of a big deal, and we even paid someone to watch our kids so we could go to Zoellner's presentation.

Fortunately, neither our effort nor our money was wasted. The discussion on the authors' experiences of being international journalists was riveting, the moderator's mispronunciation of "Bono" notwithstanding (he kept saying it "Bow-no," which was inexplicably hilarious to Jeremy and me). It was even more fascinating because although Zoellner and Carter write within roughly the same genre, they operate and present themselves very differently. You wouldn't guess from hearing him speak that Carter is an accomplished author; with Zoellner, you could guess it almost immediately. The guy used words in casual speech that I'd really only seen written on the page before, like "scurrilous."

Which made it all the more intimidating later on, when I was sheepishly defending my criticism of his book to him, in person. I don't know if Mr. Zoellner's new-found knowledge that the f-bomb offends my Mormon sensibilities will have any effect on his future writings, but at least he knows for sure now how I feel about it.

Here we are. This picture was taken after our chat, which shows that everything was all very amicable.

So there you have it. Posting book reviews on your blog might help guide the reading choices of others, or perhaps even lead you to meet famous authors. Just be sure that you mean what you write, and be prepared to defend it.


Amanda said...

How exciting! You hobnobber, you. I wanted to go to the festival, but somehow, I couldn't justify leaving my husband to move us all by himself.

Liz Johnson said...

Holy crap, are you kidding me?! That's awesome. Way to stand up for yourself.

Question - did he clarify the whole big vs. little diamond thing? Is a diamond more bloody the bigger it gets? I've been wondering about that since I read your review.

Jeanerbee said...

How cool is that??!

Jeremy Palmer said...

Mr. Zoellner is very well spoken and most kind. I wish we would have had more time to chat about his work and experiences.

JackJen said...

I probably would have done one of two things:

1. Cried like a small child
2. Thrown up

And neither of those would have involved any sort of articulate conversation whatsoever.

Bravo to you, Bridget!

Tom Zoellner said...

My two pence: Bridget and Jeremy were delightful in person, and exactly the kind of readers that every author secretly hopes will read their work -- i.e., smart, thoughtful, engaged with the subject and critical about what they don't necessarily agree with. It was a privilege to spend time with them.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

What an interesting experience. I have occasionally wanted to discuss an author's book w/ them and have even written a few, but have never received a response.

The Georges said...

You never cease to amaze me Bridget! I'll refrain from self depricating talk now. It goes unsaid that you are a lot smarter than me... thanks for still being my friend!

Sarah Rose Evans said...

Did he mention anything about what you'd said about "sexing up" his book? I'm curious how one would respond to that . . . it comes with the subject? My editor wanted it? You have a funny idea of sexy?

Getting to meet him and discuss his book sounds like a cool experience.

My favorite author interaction: Jane Smiley inviting an antagonistic questioner up to the front to discuss HIS works of fiction, and they asking: Do you want to hear this guy, or me?

Crys said...

That is very funny, but what is the deal with the meet the author pic? Awkward :)

Kristen said...

Oh man. I have recently been wondering about my dumb little American Idol posts...and how I would feel if one of them or a family member read it and posted a comment. I am not a mean person! But I can be critical when I'm analyzing performances. This is a great story, and it's clear from Mr. Zoellner's comment here that he is intelligent enough not to be offended.

Britney said...


Susanne said...

How cool is that. You have the most amazing experiences!!!

Love the picture! The hand-on-the-hip pose makes it appear you were triumphant. ;-)


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