Confession time: Sometimes I realize what a massive nerd I really am, and I revel in it.
When I was 15, my friend Garrett told me about a book. Well, he told me about a lot of books. And movies. Garrett was the guy I went to for that sort of thing. But this one book in particular stuck with me. We were hanging out at his house one day and he said, “Hey, you know what you need to read? House of Leaves.”
I’d tell you what it’s about, but the best way I can describe it is by saying that at the reading I went to last night, Mark Danielewski said, “It’s a book about a movie,” and the audience cracked up. I mean, sure. But it’s about more than that.
All of this is to say that last night I headed off to Blackwell’s to listen to him read and I had major butterflies. I’ve been reading his work (what little of it is out there, the man has a long and intense creative process) since I was 15. House of Leaves is, to this day, the only book to scare me so badly I still get chills when I think about it. He takes on simple moment – a book falling off a bookshelf – and makes it so scary I am freaking out a little right now just because I thought about it.
One of the things he was talking about last night was the way he wants his work to really play with media and form, how he wants it to exist in the space between image and text, the way he wants to challenge the basic idea of what can be done with text. His work is often called experimental, but he really sees himself as part of a longer tradition of writers who seek to use visual cues to clarify and intensify the reading experience (including the likes of Faulkner, before anybody thinks he’s only referencing obscure, avant garde writers).
And this is where I get to the part about me being a massive nerd. When I go to readings (and I’ve been trying to go to as many as I can lately – that’s one amazing thing about Edinburgh, there are readings just about every week), there is always a question and answer period that I do not participate in. You see, for as extroverted and social as I am, inside I’m the nervous little girl who got picked on in school. I worry that I’ll say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, ask the stupid question, and so I let this weird pressure from 12 year olds that only exist in my memory anymore stop me from asking a question I find interesting. Last week I heard Eleanor Catton read from The Luminaries and refused to ask anything because I was so nervous I’d be judged for asking a simple question, rather than something literary and complex. I just wanted to know how she handled her process – the book is meticulously plotted, the structure is intense, so was there room for surprise? Did anything in the book happen before she realized what was going on, and did it make her worry about the structure at all?
But this time I refused to be nervous. Okay, that’s a lie. This time, I refused to let my nervousness keep me from asking a question. When the floor was opened up for questions, I raised my hand. I asked my question. And nobody laughed. Nobody judged me. In fact, another girl in the audience (who had written her dissertation on House of Leaves so you know she cares deeply about his work) complimented me on it.
And this is what I realized – I’m here because I care about writing. I’m here because I want to be around other people that care about it as much as I do. I chose Edinburgh specifically because it’s a city with a deep literary tradition. I chose it because it’s the center of Scottish publishing. I chose it because every day of every week of every year there is an event going on that’s related to books. To literature. I chose a city where I could immerse myself in things like this, and the other people at these events probably feel the same way I do. The girl who wrote her dissertation on House of Leaves was truly excited to have him sign a copy of the book. I was so nervous about asking my question I had butterflies in my stomach, and when I got my copy of his new book signed and we chatted about Singlish, I had an adrenaline rush for an hour afterwards.
These are the celebrities I care about. People talk about movie stars and musicians, and I understand how they’d be exciting to meet (especially musicians that write their own music, not the people who are solely performers – what can I say? I value creativity). The people I want to meet don’t have their pictures everywhere – I wouldn’t have recognized Mark Danielewski if I saw him on the street – but they care deeply about the things I care about, and they’re passionate about their work, and their minds work in ways I want to understand.
Maybe one day I’ll sit where he was sitting, maybe not. But if so, I hope that when somebody in the front row is sitting there, too scared to raise their hand all the way for fear they actually be called on, I give their question as much consideration and respect as he gave mine.