Unrecorded and Unplugged
One of my favorite times on the Well Read set is something viewers never see – it’s the few moments when I get to hang out in the green room, hearing authors talk about things that don’t ever make it on camera.
What is a “green room”? The term is showbiz parlance for the place where guests park on a cozy couch, prepare and compose themselves before they appear on a show (I do not know where this term came from, but I intend to investigate).
Authors in the green room are generally: A) happy to have a place to sit and relax, and B) excited about being on the show (a few workaholics have asked for a plug for their laptop, but that’s another story). I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of authors in my work as book editor at The Seattle Times, but they always know they are going to be quoted in the newspaper, and their responses are measured and filtered in some way. Both parties, the interviewer and the interviewee, know their words will be exposed to hundreds of thousands of readers.
The green room is different. We’re just talking. Sometimes we’re speculating, sometimes we’re exclaiming and sometimes we are gossiping, but it is always fun.
So it was with Richard Ford. I grew up in Arkansas, where Ford spent his summers staying at the hotel his grandfather managed in Little Rock, the state capital. This hotel, as hotels in state capitals often are, was a local headquarters for political shenanigans, hard drinking and other dubious behavior. I was raised by strict Methodists, and may I just say that during those long hot summers, Richard Ford saw a side of life my parents fervently hoped I would never hear about, never mind participate in.
Ford told me my sleepy home town, east of Little Rock near Memphis, was well-known as a center for illegal gambling! I had no idea. I sat there enthralled, spellbound by this master storyteller’s melodious Southern accent and his inside scoop on my own local history.
Then there was Peter Coyote. After I complimented him for his explanations of Zen Buddhism in his memoir The Rain Man’s Third Cure, he and I talked about Zen. He spoke in that velvet voice of his about his dedication to it, and how he thought Zen leaders in America make the religion way too complicated. He was a Zen evangelist. I was ready to sign up.
William Gibson and I talked about the mysteries of Amazon – about how the bookselling behemoth sends long out review copies to selected anonymous reviewers, and how they can set the pace for a book’s sales before the book is ever published. So mysterious. Like something out of a William Gibson novel.
The interlude ends all too soon, and the authors go to be interviewed by Terry Tazioli, the host. But I treasure those moments in the green room – it’s my own brush with genius ~ unrecorded and unplugged.
Terry’s thoughts on our latest Book Club selection — “The Peripheral” by William Gibson
True confessions of a sort. I am a sci-fi nut. I love the genre. Okay, I love lots of genres, but anything in future time is up there, circling in the top section of things I can’t do without.
So there I was, about 100 pages into “The Peripheral,” William Gibson’s latest, with him just a week or so away from an appearance on “Well Read.” I was lost.
I had no idea what he was writing about or where he was going. I couldn’t envision the scene. I couldn’t figure out the characters. I was struggling. And in something of a panic.
Perhaps you get the picture. The book must be finished; research on Gibson needs to be done; questions need to be formed; too late to say, “I have what I’m sure will be a two-month-long migraine and won’t be able to do the show.”
The guy is a genius. And I was just going to sit there. An android whose internal workings had been zapped.
I plunged on. And I got it. I have no idea what happened. I just got it. Suddenly I was into the book, understood where he had taken me so far and couldn’t wait to see how this world worked out – or didn’t.
Came the day of the taping with William Gibson. You can’t help but like the guy right off the bat. Personable, sharp, funny, leaning into the conversation and talking and talking. I was entranced – I admit it. More than anything I wanted to tell him what had happened, at the same time wondering whether that would be completely uncool. How do you appear uncool in the eyes of William Gibson.
I risked uncool. I told him. His eyes lit up. “You are my perfect reader!” he said.
I just stared at him. ME?!
“You kept going. You didn’t stop,” he said.
It’s what he likes in a reader. Someone who just keeps going, works at getting into his world, works at figuring it out, seeing things.
I have to tell you, that was one of the happiest moments of my book-reading life. He likes me!
I’ll calm down now.