Would you believe it if I told you that last night I stood in a deserted alley like road, making small talk with Toni Morrison whille she puffed away on a quick cigarette and waited for her car to turn up?
Well it's true. After taking over £1250 in about 45 minutes, and desperately trying to satisfy the whims of overzealous publishers, eager customers, and a Nobel Prize winning author with a plane to catch, the above scene really took place. AND, whisper this for you will not here it anywhere else, she used our toilet.
Oh yes, so while we all waited for the car and Toni Morrison smoked a roll-up, my colleague gushed intelligently about her new book and I tried to look impressive in front of her publicist who I worked with at Random House in July. Don't ask me why, but seeing someone I know (no matter how incredibly slightly!) made me self conscious and nervous. I puffed up like an absurd peacock in display, and tried to pretend I was doing well with my life.
I think we carried it off, and a good evening was had by all. We now have only 3 copies of A Mercy left, having sold 79 in the last two days. And I can understand why. Not only is she the star of all American Studies students this side of the Atlantic, but her talk and reading were good. She even broke with all conventions and culminated the interview by reading the last two pages of A Mercy. Now we had to leave by this time, to set up back at the shop, so I took a moment to read this last passage aloud to my colleagues, and I have to say, it is a beautiful, moving passage. I had read the first 40 pages already, and now to come to this end, reading aloud in an empty shop, well, it brought a lump to my throat and the prickle of a tear to my eye.
I will finish the book this weekend, and hopefully the end will be as powerful the second time.
So it was another great evening in my life as a bookseller, and the third Nobel winning author we have hosted in the last 12 months. How many other booksellers can say that?
But just one word of grievance. What is it with overprotective, grumpy, prissy, editors? One of the two ladies who accompanied Toni last night, was one of those women who don't look like they have smiled in their entire lives. She acted like book signings were somehow the most infuriating job she does, and booksellers a bunch of irrelevent menial idiots who don't warrant her manners. She grumbled a greeting, constantly demanded things throughout the signing, and then refused to let Toni sign my proof copy of A Mercy! As if I was going to sell it on eBay.
Don't these people realise that books are not some pointless product to be bought and sold in cold cash, but a living experience in which a signature acts like a small reminder of a nice evening. How does it devalue the product if I take out my proof in 10 years time, open it to the title page, and smile as I see Toni Morrison's signature on it? I was disappointed. I was infurated. I wish it was different. But nevermind. Maybe the customers themselves, and our booksellers too, will have happier memories of the evening. And that is the main thing.