I can walk into a bookstore and hand over my credit card and they don’t know who the hell I am. Maybe that says something about bookstore clerks.
E. L. Doctorow
Maybe it says something about the impermanence of fame. Or that E.L.D. wasn’t as important to the world as the critics made him out to be…
One of the nice things about being a famous author is that your face is still obscure enough that you can have a private life.
Maybe what it says about bookstore clerks is that they have the good taste not to fawn over the famous author who is trying to get through his day. I grew up in Southern California, where it was entirely possible to end up sitting at a lunch counter next to a celebrity. The ethos was (1) Don’t act like a tourist; and (2) Let the guy eat his lunch! If you felt absolutely compelled to say something, the correct form was “I enjoy your work.” But better not to.
Or, in the alternative, the bookstore clerks don’t actually look at the names on the cards they run. Why would they?
In any case, my takeaway is that Doctorow got irked if people didn’t acknowledge what a big shot he was. In other words: a tool.
My Dad was traveling on business about 20 years ago and went to the lounge for a drink while he waited for his connecting flight. He was sitting at the bar and Chi Chi Rodriguez came in and sat down next to him. Chi Chi was a world-famous golfer for those of you who don’t know the name.
Dad looked up and said: “Hey, Chi Chi.”
Chi Chi responded with a nod, then ordered a drink. The two of them sat that way for a few minutes, watching TV without talking.
After he finished his drink, Chi Chi got up and started for the door. Then he stopped and came back, offering his hand to my father, and said: “Thank you.”
Then he turned and walked away.
Ah, the immortal Chai-Chai Rodri-Gweez.
(Showing my age…)
Les Nessman For The Win!
Chi Chi used to amuse fans by telling stories while he juggled a golf ball off the face of a pitching wedge. One story I heard him tell was, when he was an airman in the Air Force — which means he volunteered; the Air Force has never used conscripts — he often played the base commander, a full colonel. The colonel and Chi Chi wagered on their round of golf and dickered over the handicap Chi Chi would give the colonel, ’cause they both knew Chi Chi was much the better golfer. Once, while bargaining for the handicap, Chi Chi lost his temper and said, “Why, play me straight up, no handicap! I’ll beat you with nothing but a putter.” The colonel replied, “You’re on!”
As Chi Chi told it, they play 18 holes and he won by two strokes. He was transferred the next week.
And then Chi Chi flipped the golf ball high into the air, wrapped both hands around the club shaft, and before the ball hit the ground he drove it far and away.
What a great story.
In high school I had a walk-on (assigned) partner in the form of a one-armed man who used wrist brace. I was a terrible golfer, but I was impressed, nonetheless. He beat me by a good 15 strokes.
I think slightly famous is better than the full-blown version. It means you don’t get pestered, and can enjoy the odd bit of recognition that does come your way. Most successful authors are only slightly famous.
I once sold Salman Rushdie some jewellery from my Saturday stall just before the fatwah was declared on him. He paid by cheque and when I saw the name I asked him if he was the famous author. He looked quite pleased.
Do not know who he is.
Google is friend.
The most surprising (to me) E.L. Doctorow fact is that he and Cory Doctorow are not related in any way. Beyond that, I liked Ragtime but came away feeling I’d filled my pretentious quota for the next decade.
but came away feeling I’d filled my pretentious quota for the next decade.
I feel that way about Cory Doctorow’s books…
I suggest telling them next time. See if they say, “Who?”
When I was a kid, there was a celebrity in town that I wanted to see. Along with a friend, we staked out his hotel. We made our way to the floor where he was staying (I don’t remember how we got that floor number) and listened at his hotel room door. We didn’t hear his voice, so we positioned ourselves at the elevators. Eventually he arrived, but when the elevator door opened, my friend and I froze, unable to speak or move. He stepped toward us and said, “Do you want my autograph?”
Considering I’ve never heard of “E.L. Doctorow”, my sympathies are with the clerk.
For that matter, there are only a handful of authors whose faces I would recognize, mostly because their publishers insist on putting GIANT PICTURES of them on their books. (hint: most of them are not particularly photogenic)
I met Rod Quantok in the local newsagent once. You might need to google him though.
Back when I was a Regional Manager for Books-A-Million, we had a store in Murrells Inlet, SC, which was in my region. It was one of the smaller Bookland Stores in an outlet mall there. When I was there on a store visit one time, Micky Spillane came in. Turns out he came to the store fairly often. I met him and whenever he came in after that, if I was there, we’d always go down to the food court and have a coffee and talk about books and writing. He was a hoot.
Wow, I read this anecdote all wrong 🙂 I honestly thought he was complaining about security, as in no one checking ID before putting the card through. But complaining that no one recognizes you? My, what an ego.
I do love that authors get to have “name fame”: people know your name, but not your face. You can go to the grocery store without being mobbed. But even if some random clerk doesn’t know your name, your readers do, right? Isn’t that enough?
We used to get Michael Crichton into the store fairly often, HE was cool but his wife had a bad case of “General’s Wife Syndrome” …
Yeah, I don’t know who that is either. I’m sure there are many famous authors today that I wouldn’t recognize by face or name. We can’t all read all the books, and I read based on what interests me, not based on what other people think are big deal book/authors that everyone should be reading. Given this guy’s apparent attitude of “any competent bookseller should know what a big deal I am and respond accordingly”, he probably thought his books were very “important” and therefore are almost certainly not ones I’d be interested in.
Yep, I agree, Shawna. If I hear a critic say a particular book or movie is “important and needed to be made or written” my warning flags go up.
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