Conventions and Exhibitions
Erica Jong, Jung Chang, and William Shawcross chat with each one of their fans. So what do you say when you meet a world famous author whose books you’ve never read? This piece was originally published on 22 July 2013.
Autograph sessions with famous authors don’t usually work like this. At least not the few that I’ve been to.
Usually you wait in a long line, which moves rather quickly. When your turn comes, you hand over your copy of the book. The author usually asks your name and scribbles a personal greeting to you followed by his or her signature.
Sometimes they actually ask you what you would like them to write. When they finish, they hand you your book back and wait for the next person in line.
Open Pubilc Forum
This is NOT what happened at the autograph sesson following the Public Open Forum moderated by Sir David Tang at the Hong Kong Book Fair last Friday 19 July 2013 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The authors were seated at tables.
Most autograph seekers brought copies of books they wanted signed. Tables were also set up where you could buy books at prices that seemed a bit more reasonable than what you would usually pay in Hong Kong.
Fear of Flying
As I waited in line to have my copy of Fear of Flying signed, I realized that this was more than a simple book signing exercise. Actual conversations were taking place! Some of them were actually lasting several minutes!
“What in the world am I going to say when my turn comes?” I heard myself thinking. “I’ve never read any of her books. I don’t really know anything about her except that she wrote a very famous book, and it caused quite a stir when it was published …”
When my turn came, I plopped my book down and said, “It’s such a pleasure to meet you!”
Erica looked at me, smiled warmly, and – much to my surprise – asked if I lived in Hong Kong.
“Yes, I do,” I said as Erica ostentatiously signed my copy of “Fear of Flying”.
She was about to ask a follow-up question when a woman in line called out, “Excuse me, but would you like me to take a picture of you with Ms Jong?”
“Oh, yes!” I said, handing over my camera.
I made my way to the other side of the table and squatted down for the photo shoot (see photo above).
I got my book, I got my signature, I got my picture taken with Erica Jong. And I’ll never know what Erica Jong’s next question was going to be.
The Queen Mother
I decided to buy a copy of the biography of The Queen Mother: The Official Biography (Vintage) and have it signed, as well. When my turn came, William asked me what I did – I really wasn’t expecting this question, either.
“I’m a writer,” I said. This stopped William in his tracks. He looked up expectantly. I’m sure he was expecting to see someone famous – a kindred spirt.
“But I’m not an author,” I said. “I write non-fiction. I’m a travel writer.”
“Oh, really?” William said with what appeared to be genuine interest. “Have you been any place interesting recently?”
“Well, my favourite country is Vietnam,” I said.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to go to Vietnam,” William said. “Let me give you my email address. Let’s keep in touch. My wife and I are planning a trip there. I’d love to hear your suggestions.”
Mao: the Untold Story
The line to meet Jung Chang was rather long, and I hadn’t brought along my copy of Mao: The Unknown Story.
Somewhat ironic. I’ve had a life-long interest in Modern Chinese History. I’ve read countless books on the topic. Jung Chang was the only one of the three authors that I might have been able to have a somewhat intelligent conversation with.
And I left her book at home …
Oh, well … Next year I’ll try to read up on the authors – and read at least one of their books – before I attend the Open Public Forum at the Hong Kong Book Fair.
Sir David Tang
And one last comment. The Open Public Forum was HUGELY entertaining. Sir David Tang really IS an EXCELLENT moderator!
I think it was William Shawcross who asked halfway through, “Have you ever seen a more entertaining – or aggressive – moderator?”
To which Erica Jong replied, “Author’s Forums are usually so boring!”