Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kind: Toni Morrison in NYC May 14, 2012

Toni Morrison signed copies of her new novel Home (Knopf, 2012) at Barnes and Noble in Union Square, in New York City. Note the UK edition of this book was out about a week before the US was released, similar to Morrison's last book, A Mercy, making the UK (on right) likely the true first.


The signing was mediocre to disappointing. Morrison decided to reward (some pretty rabid sounding) fans who waited up to two hours to see her by canceling the Q&A and refusing to sign back titles. She also seemingly saw fit to humiliate a cameraman during the talk for some reason, which was both odd and a little disconcerting. The book itself sounded ok, but the reading didn't really grab my fancy. Despite Morrison's enjoyable and mellifluous voice, the reading was a bit flat. (Stung over the signing restrictions, I couldn't help wondering if it isn't a bit arrogant to name your book after Marilynne Robinson's award winning and highly praised 2008 novel.) Morrison had not seen the UK cover in its full color before, so we had a pleasant exchange about that.

A half hour before the signing, a representative from Barnes and Noble announced that Morrison would only be signing the new book, because of the size of the crowd. However, the rep continued, Morrison would be happy to sign as many copies of the new book as necessary. So apparently it wasn't really about time or volume. The message I took, as I tucked my sad, naked copy of Beloved back into my bag, was that the Nobel laureate had time only to push new product. This kind of churlish and transparent behavior, luckily, is rare on the signing circuit, but is an affectation of the "superstar" writers in my experience.

When older, accomplished writers decide they can dictate their terms in this way, I wonder if they think of how they got where they are--the readers. In my opinion, it is remarkably disrespectful of the audience of readers and book buyers. These people waiting with books are the people who made you rich and famous, folks, or at least notable and wealthy.

It is one thing to limit the number of books per customer, a disappointing but defensible policy (so everyone gets a chance to see the author). Similarly, if an author has a medical condition, like John Irving, that prevents them from signing comfortably for an adoring audience of fans, then fine (note:I'm not entirely convinced of Irving's excuse since he is able to sign copious numbers of books and bookplates in private on location, and he is kind of pompous and self- regarding). I will have more to say about the politics of book signings in some future post. Here are some signatures:

The American edition. Authenticity 10. You can compare this recent signature to an earlier autograph at the excellent Pulitzer Prize First Edition site, PPrize.com.

Below, the UK first (10):


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