A couple of weeks ago I was perusing the weekly e-newsletter from one of my favorite indie bookstores, The Mysterious Bookstore (a heaven for any mystery/crime/thriller fan!) when the title of a book caught my eye: PhDeath. As someone who has spent the majority of their life in and around Higher Ed this piqued my interest and I clicked on the link to read the synopsis:
In a famous University, in a famous city by a famous square, the Deans dies in a strange and bizarre way with apparently no killer around. 2 hours before his death, the University community received a puzzle via email, a puzzle that Professor Carmody, renowned scholar of Rhetoric realizes is linked to the murder. Soon more puzzles and more corpses start to appear, the anonymous killer, dubbed 'the puzzler' seams to be leaving a trail that leads to hidden, dark secrets in the University's very fabric.
Universities + Death + Puzzles? Ahmegawdineeddis! I ran (well, took the subway) to the bookstore where I was informed that they did not have the book in store (what!?) but that there would be a launch event next week and that the author would be there and I could possibly get my booked signed. In a huff, I shuffled around the store for half an hour and bought 3 books I was not planning to buy (that'll show them!). I promptly returned on the day of the launch event at 6:00pm (the event started at 6:30pm) this was after spending 45 minutes at a Pret a Manger reading beforehand to kill time so I wouldn't be too weird for showing up super early.
The event space was cozy with a few chairs and sofas set up and grown up refreshments placed on a little table to the side (i.e. wine and cheese and olives) There were one or two people sitting but mostly the shop was empty. Should I sit down? Would I look to eager if I claimed a seat this early? Who was I trying to prove a point to anyways? I decided to browse the bookstore for a bit to look casual. I was done much faster than I expected (the store is only one room) so I ended up sitting down with four books to skim while I waited for the event to start with still plenty of time to spare.
A couple of minutes later, I pulled my eyes away from one of the books and glanced around the room; it was decidedly fuller and my strange irrational fear that I would be the only one to show up and the author would be sad vanished. I also noticed that I was by far the youngest person in the room most people being of the be-spectacled and be-tweed variety (they were mostly colleagues and students of the author/retired emeritus professor later learned). One lady, who appeared to be in her 50's turned in her seat which was a row in front of mine and smiled at me. "So how did you learn about this event?" she asked. I mentioned the newsletter and gushed about being intrigued by the plot. She looked at me like I was a little off in the head (who reads bookstore's newsletters I could imagine was the though running through her head). I looked down at my lap, embarrassed. "So what about you?" I asked after a slightly too-long pause.
"I was his student when I was an undergraduate. I got an email"
Oh, "that's nice" I said with a smile. We chatted a bit about the university before she turned towards a newly arrived group of people all of whom seemed to know each other from back in the good old days.
Eventually, the author showed up. By this point no chairs were empty and people were filling up the aisles. The author was a retired professor of religion at the University after which he had modeled the one in his book. He talked about the inception of the book, his love of puzzles, Greek philosophy and read some of his favorite passages. He spoke in a comfortable and humorous manner, his 30+ years of lecturing experience evident in the way that he held the crowds' attention with witty and thoughtful remarks. It was like watching what I imagined Robert Langdon would be like if he ever got a chance to retire and wasn't offed in one of his crazy adventures.
The author ended with a searing critique of Higher Ed that gave me all the feels and pulled a heavy round of applause from the audience. After a few words from the editor and the publicists the crowd broke off into smaller groups, chatting and getting refreshments. Several people approached the author and started a conversation. I stood around nervously for a while. Could I get my book signed? I wanted him to sign my book but no one had said if we could. Was it ok? I clutched my book tightly with my index finger wedged between the dedication page and the title page in case I had an opportunity of getting it signed. I waited and watched. Someone else had asked for a signature, it was ok! I approached and gave him my name. I made some comment about higher ed and he answered with a non-committal response. Then my brain went dry, I thanked him and fled.
On the subway, I sat there, gripping my newly signed book and hyperventilating. Overall it was a great experience although I wished I could have acted more like a normal human being and less like a nervous wreck. Something about meeting the author of a book reverts me to 15 year old fan girl era. Like that one time I nearly had a mental melt down when Alexander Chee responded to a post I tagged him on in Instagram *swoon*