The Family Cayenne saw Michael Chabon read from The Yiddish Policemen’s Union last night at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead (Atlanta). I was sad to see that the reading was going to take place in such a “corporate” setting. When we arrived, little about the arrangement made me feel any better about it.
The reading took place in the aisle between the main floor and the childrens book area. There were 35 chairs available for the audience – I counted. We arrived a half hour before the reading, and it was standing room only. I’d estimate that about half of the audience did not have a clear view of Chabon once the reading started. Abysmal. The only good thing about the set up was its proximity to the kids area. L’il Cayenne was able to read books and play, while Mrs. Cayenne looked on from behind the podium as we deployed our “divide and conquer” strategy. For the record, that was not our child who was talking from the back throughout the reading nor the one who yelled “Daddy!” Really.
The scene in the shoe box a half hour before the reading started
I’d always thought of Michael Chabon as a literary rock star, but last night confirmed it. He was escorted into the building by two policemen who hung out for the duration of the reading. Weirdly, there was no author introduction by the book store staff. Chabon was unceremoniously dropped off at the podium. In a particularly strange moment, Chabon asked for some help adjusting the microphone and a cop jumped in to help.
Once the reading started, all of the above went out the window. Chabon spoke briefly to set up the premise of the book and then read from two sections of the book. I still haven’t started it yet, so this was my first exposure to the book. Chabon has a great reading voice, and the selected sections sounded great.
Chabon reads from YPU
The reading was followed up with some Q&A. Someone asked for more details about the contra-history setting in which the book takes place. Chabon apparently only mentions things like the nuclear bomb dropped on Berlin in passing. He replied that the historical setting was used as a backdrop for the story, since that’s what he was more interested in (as opposed to using a story as the framwork for showing off an alternative history). In Chabon’s imagining, the Alaskan resettlement of European Jews precedes the implementation of the Final Solution. Therefore the Nazis were able to spend more of their resources fighting the war since less effort goes into wiping out a generation of Jews. So the war dragged on much longer, which left the Allies with no choice but to nuke Berlin to end the war. Very interesting.
We also learned that the Mysteries of Pittsburgh movie has been completed. Sadly, the Kavalier and Clay movie is dead. He mentioned that it was to star Tobie McGuire and Natalie Portman. It had a director, it had a budget, it had a schedule – it was all ready to go. It was wiped out by one of Hollywood’s inexplicable spasms of project nixing. He had spent over five years working on the screenplay, but he is trying to be philosophical about it.
The last question came from a guy who was jumping out of his seat raising his hand who wanted to know about Chabon’s appearance on The Simpsons. My kind of guy. His appearance on the show seemed to come as a surprise to the majority of the audience. I am so glad that I didn’t yell “Shay-Bone!” from the back of the room. I may have been killed. He loved doing the show, but the show is ruined in some ways for him now. Since he has seen how the show is made, he pictures the actual people who do the voices for the characters when he watches the show. Keep that in mind when you are invited to appear on The Simpsons.
Chabon signing our book.
After the Q&A, the staff brought out a cake. It was Chabon’s birthday, and the crowd sang. That was nice. Then it was off to the signing table. Chabon signed as many books as people brought with them. The signing part of the evening was set up so that you were given a color-coded slip of paper that determined your relative place in line. That led to an unfortunate announcement, “We’re going to start with all of the white people. If you’re not white, we need you to please wait your turn.” Yipes. We were pink people.
Chabon was great. He shook hands and talked with everyone. He tried to engage L’il Cayenne in a conversation about her rain boots. Chabon signed our stack of books and we were on our way. Chabon has long been on my top five authors to see read list, so having him chat with us and take the time to draw a key while signing our copy of Kavalier and Clay was pretty special. It turned out to be a great evening in spite of the B&N setting.