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Anne McGrath

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That Awkward Moment when you Body-Check a Pulitzer Prize Winner

Posted: 08/27/2012 5:12 pm

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:

You are at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This is your fifth time in the city, yet somehow you have only just discovered that this event exists. It has become your second home, and every time you leave you all you can think about is the next time you'll be back. You are beginning to suspect that this is how junkies feel always.

Tonight, you have arrived a little early for a talk by China Mieville. You have a little time to kill, and you have chosen to peruse the festival book shop. Your eye is caught by the shelf labeled "Autographed Copies." You had recently attended a reading and talk by Junot Diaz, but had not stayed for the book signing afterwards. You're hoping that they might have a signed copy of Oscar Wao so you won't feel like you missed out on something.

You locate the letter "D" and sadly there is no Oscar Wao. However, there is one last copy of Diaz's new short story collection, from which he'd read at the event. You snatch it up and idly flip through the pages. Every once in a while you stop to read a sentence here and there. You decide that maybe you shouldn't buy any more books, since you're flying home in five days and your suitcase is full enough already. Before you put it down, though, you flip to the front to see the signature. But it isn't there. "What a ripoff!" you think, and place it back on the shelf, although really it doesn't belong there since it isn't an "Autographed Copy" at all.

As you whirl around in righteous indignation, your shoulder collides with the side of a very thin man. You look up and your throat catches. You try to suppress and gasp but it sort of makes a sound like you've just burped at him. You have just bumped into Junot Diaz himself, standing right behind you in all his quiet unassuming baldness.

You move to the side in a daze, staring at him. You feel paralyzed, and a tickle in the back of your mind insists, "Maybe this is a dream. Pulitzer Prize winners aren't real people." No. This is your life. He scans the shelves, and although you know that reading is the key to writing it still seems strange to see an author in a book shop. At this event he feels like a celebrity, and celebrities don't mingle with plebes like you.

Once the dreamstate passes, terror sets in. Oh God, he saw you checking the signature page! He knows how petty you are. Worst of all, he saw you put the book back. You rejected him to his face! "This is a sign," you think. "The universe needs me to buy this book! Maybe if I buy it I can ask him to sign it." Yet you remain frozen, fingers twitching toward the thin yellow book. If you were Matilda, you could pick it up with your mind, without having to cross his field of vision again. But you're not Matilda, and you hold your breath as the one-sided awkwardness builds.

Can you imagine such an incident? Well, my friend, I don't have to, because I lived it.

I did not buy his book.

 

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