Dear Miss Manners of Literature

Posted on Oct 28, 2011

Miss Manners of Literature

Miss Manners of Literature

Dear Miss Manners of Literature,

I have been a neighbour of one of icons of Canlit for twenty years and went, some years ago, to the IFOA to support her and her work (I did not enjoy her last book, I might add). Dutifully, I waited in a snaking line with her newest endeavour cradled in my hands. She sat—nay perched—frazzle-haired and with an imperial air about her, signing and chatting with those ahead of me. When I finally arrived at the front of the line, some twenty minutes in to the signing, and lay my book down in front, and said my hellos, she had the audacity of asking me, not just my name, but how to spell it. I’m sure you agree this was the height of rudeness.

Signed, North Annex Dweller

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Dear NAD,

I weary at the ink I am about to spill for you. As you state your approximate neighbourhood, I can almost feel the hubris emanating from your person—the reek of it affronts me. It is you who are rude, dear North Annex Dweller, rude to the core. You say, between the lines, that you live comfortably, you say you KNOW FAMOUS PEOPLE, You say you deign to support these poor famous writers, you say you HAD TO WAIT, and as we all know, waiting is for plebians, and then—shock—you are dismayed that your position does not buy you recognition. In spite of all this undertone, I will do my best to set this aright.

Writers are, by and large, introverts. One cannot write a book unless one holes up for a lengthy period of time (say one year at the low end and ten at the high). This forced introversion has the effect of insulating the writer from all manner of petty details—such as whether there ought to be a grain and a veg at dinner, and whether one’s neighbour spells her name with an ‘e’. Writers are focused on their work and their work only, for months and months of their lives. Then, the book is published, after long editorial and long copy-edits (in which the writer gets so close to her work, she merges with the commas, and em-dashes), and the festivals, the launches, the hi-jinks begin. Tens or hundreds of people want a little piece. They want a signature, they want a smile, they want ‘a connection.’ This period lasts—for most authors—about three months. For three months out of 120, they have people surrounding them. This amounts to 100s of names, with hundreds of spellings. On top of this the author is obliged to recall the various and arcane details of how she made the book, why she made it, and what she thinks of global warming and the politics of Libya. She is an expert. And she is very very tired. Do your writer a favour, NAD, be the meak and minor constellation around her momentary and exhausting centrality. Approach with humility. Take her pain away. Unless you are the writer’s mother, introduce yourself, spell your name, or write it down, and don’t act surprised if your writer/neighbour does not recognise you. Trust me, she’s on another planet working on her next book. She’s not REALLY there at all.

Sincerely,

Miss Manners of Literature

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