the book reading

So as I said, I’ve been in a weird place with my moods. And while last Friday was my every-other-Friday-off, I spent most of it being quiet — because C had a migraine all day — and a little mopey. But I really wanted to go see Ursula K Le Guin read, so I gave C a kiss on the forehead and went downtown.

For a change of pace (and because I thought it might be too cold to ride) I walked. Got there just in time, too. A local bookstore was selling paperbacks of Wizard of Earthsea, and hardcovers of her new book Lavinia. I’m trying to avoid buying paperbacks, so I decided to buy Lavinia. I didn’t have enough cash, so they held the last copy for me while I dashed over to an ATM and back. As it turns out, I think it was a damaged copy; there was blue tape across the bottom of several pages, although it didn’t obscure the text.

The event was at the Washington Center; I don’t think I’ve ever been there before. The floor level was full, the balcony where I sat was mostly full, and I swear there was a balcony above that even with some folks. I got a great spot, kinda floating out above the crowd at the edge of the balcony. Perfect unobstructed view.

Of course it started off with introductions from people from the library; I was bored enough that I started scribbling in my tiny notebook. Apparently the whole thing was funded by a grant, and for some reason this meant spouting off stats about how people don’t read any more. (My notes say “OMG NOBODY HAZ TEH READING!” Also a comment about a “sing-song librarian voice”; so sue me.)

Then finally finally finally to Ursula, to wild cheering from the audience. She read a few sections from Wizard of Earthsea, with a great reading aloud voice, enchanting enough that I may have to go track down a copy of the book & finish it, since it’s been so long that I honestly don’t remember how it goes.

Then there was lots of time for questions, and I took more notes, little fragmenty bits. Among other things — before I left the house, C asked me what my favorite book of hers was, and I realized that the one that had stuck with me most was one whose name I couldn’t remember. It was a paperback that I imagine got donated or sold at some point during the 10-moves-in-10-years era, as I described it to C, a weird anthropology mix of stories of a fantasy California maybe in the future. It has, in that mangled mental form, stuck with me since high school. And during the Q&A, it came up twice. First when someone asked about the influence of her parents, and again when someone asked if there was a book she wished had gotten more notice. (The title, BTW, is Always Coming Home. I definitely want to track down a copy.)

Other things I noted: a comment before the Q&A got started, where she expressed some frustration about people looking for “messages” in books, which she blamed in part on the education system: “the less explicit the messages are, the more powerful the meaning” was what I wrote down. A question about her childhood writing elicited a memory of a story about evil elves tormenting a poor man…who was writing a book about evil elves. 🙂

And someone asked about writing prompts (I wanted to find that someone and tell her about Steering the Craft), which got an answer that she doesn’t much use them, and figures if she can’t write, then she doesn’t have anything to say, or more lyrically: “your job is to wait in patience and to listen.” I actually have the start of a poem off of that, about trying to write and being stuck. Hm.

The whole Q&A thing was awesome, with pretty good questions, and she is so clear and simple and funny. Then there was the book signing.

I got in line with my copy of Lavinia, and I was feeling awkward and lonely because the hall was full of loud happy people in clusters, revved up from the talk, and chatting together, and I was by myself. But I did finally strike up a bit of conversation with the two people behind me: a woman who also had Lavinia, and a guy who had an older book he’d brought from home. We both talked about having almost not gone; they both had colds.

On a somewhat random whim, I went to turn on my phone and saw that I had a message. It was from Kat, who just wanted to talk. And then I had that sinking feeling that oh, I should’ve called Kat earlier and invited her down. Backtracking a bit: I have a copy of Steering the Craft, and when I first heard about this event, I thought goody! I’ll get that signed. But when I opened it up, it was already signed. 10 years ago. When Kat & I went to the Bookfest in Seattle. Kat’s actually probably read way more of her stuff than I have.

I started talking about it with my line-mates, and we all agreed that I should get the program signed for Kat. But by the time we got to the front, I was told in no uncertain terms that she could only sign one thing. Which of course had to be my new book, Kat or no Kat.

And the signing was cool; she noticed the blue tape as well, the bookstore lady looked mildly mortified, then said brightly “maybe it’s worth more!” which was followed by me and Le Guin saying in unison “like one of those upside-down stamps!” 🙂 But I was still feeling mopey.

And then…the guy behind me grabbed the slip of paper with Kat’s name on it, pulled the post-it with his name off of his book, and handed book & paper together to Le Guin. Then he gave it to me and said that this was for my friend. I almost burst into tears right there, I felt jumbled and overwhelmed, and grateful, because I’d been feeling so isolated. Guilty at the same time, too, because he was doing this nice thing because I’d been forgetful of my best friend. Whew.

So mostly I just said thank you and thank you and thank you. I got the guy’s phone number, and I’m going to take them out for coffee or something. (Assuming, of course, that I can get over my SEVERE phone phobia long enough to actually call.) Then I put on my hat and jacket, called C to let him know I was on my way, and started walking home…and meanwhile called Kat, and we had one of our usual weird rambly conversations as I went up the hill under the oaks of Legion Way.

Now I need to figure out when I’m going to see her next! As it is, I go up and visit about twice a year, and she never comes to Olympia. (No car.) The whole thing was a great bright spot in the last little stretch, definitely something to remember.