Saturday, October 25, 2008

DAY THREE: Francine, Ildefonso and Me

So, I arrived at the author's dinner last night (there are free dinners for the authors every night, by the way... last night was at Il Fornello... I know, I know... a hard life) only to find one open seat at the long main table. I immediately knew why no one is sitting in it. In the next seat over sat Ildefonso Falcones, the bestselling Spanish novelist who, uncomfortably, knows very little English. He was perched on the end of the table and no one was talking to him.

I have seen him a number of times over the last few days, and he has always been alone and seemingly lonely. So I sat down next to him. He smiled and shook my hand. Then we proceeded to speak not a word for the next hour or so.

The reason Ildefonso and I spoke not a word is because the next person to introduce herself was Francine Prose. I almost burst out laughing when she said her name. Back when I was anxiously waiting to hear back from publishers about my first book, I worked at a small bookstore called Another Story in west Toronto. Every time a wanna-be author came into the store (and this was Roncesvalles, so there were at least three a day), I would force them to buy Prose's gorgeous little book Reading Like a Writer. I must have sold 50 copies the first month it came out (this was a small indie bookstore, so 50 sales is a lot). And when no one was in the store (again, this happened on occasion), I would pick the book up and reverently leaf through it.

I am a massive fan of Prose's non-fiction, a lot of which appears regularly in Harper's, and the fact that I was about to have dinner with her and talk, perhaps, of politics and writing and life, was thrilling to me. Local author Nathan Whitlock was directly across from me, and I could tell he was thrilled as well (keep in mind, Francine was sitting next to beloved-by-Oprah Anita Shreve, and on my other side sat Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo... the company was, well, very good).

So we talked. Francine spoke of ridiculous American high-school reading lists, her gynocologist's son who is a budding novelist, visiting the White House two weeks ago and confronting Laura Bush. And the whole time, Ildefonso sat there silently beside me - my subconscious Catalan, fomenting rebellion at the edge of the table - as I struggled to hold up my end of the conversation. The more wine I drank, the more relaxed I became. But then I made the mistake of actually turning to look at Ildefonso. He smiled at me wisely, deeply, a Barcelonan gargoyle, ridiculing me with his silent gaze, cursing me for thinking I could ever speak the same language as Francine Prose.

I became tongue-tied. I watched Francine pick the pepperoni off her pizza while Whitlock spoke elegantly about activism, young readers, old books. Dessert arrived and I picked around the edges. I ordered a cappucino. I refilled my wine glass. And then Francine, Anita, Richard and Nathan were whisked off to their event, and the table was empty except for me and Ildefonso.

I turned to him and tried to smile. And surprise of surprises, he laughed, clapped me on the back, and pointed to the gorgeous blonde-haired waitress who was circling the room.

"Now there is a half-finished novel," he said quietly.

We spent the next half-hour talking about everything from fine wine to Barcelona F.C., and the real reasons Ronaldinho lost his edge on the pitch ("too much money, of course... too much money will ruin anyone"). Ildefonso Falcones is one of the friendliest souls I've met so far at IFOA. I am now off to buy his book.


A fantastic moment, following closely by a terrible one:
Saw my book in the festival bookstore! First time I've ever seen it on the shelf! And then some mere citizen picked up the book beside it, rested this lesser book atop mine, and begin reading! Ugh. A knife to the chest. A kick to the *@#%. I'm staying away from the bookstore from now on.

Quotes of Day Three:
"I had a Laura Bush moment two weeks ago."
- Francine Prose
"I'm so happy to see you care so much for America's children. If only you cared as much for the children of Iraq."
- what Francine Prose said to Laura Bush two weeks ago at the White House.
"He's my gynocologist's son. Isn't that a conflict of interest?"
- yup, you guessed it.

No comments: