Margaret Atwood: Stand-Up Comedian?

On Monday night, I carpooled with a friend to the book signing of Margaret Atwood at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, Calif., hosted by Peninsula Arts and Letters of Kepler’s Books. We got there just in time, or so I thought. By the time we arrived, the place was packed, and we were forced to find seats up in the balcony.

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Yes, that’s her on stage. Trust me.

All I kept thinking while we waited for her to walk across the stage was that most Americans never read and therefore have no idea who Margaret Atwood even is, but it was clear to this audience that we had a celebrity in our midst. And I’m still pinching myself that I had the opportunity to meet her!

Atwood is on a tour to promote her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, and we were the lucky ones who heard her read an excerpt of it for the very first time. This dystopian story features Charmaine and Stan, a married couple down on their luck and living in their car after a job loss, who sign up for the Positron Project, which Atwood described that evening as “a timeshare prison,” in which you alternate every month between a comfortable civilian home and incarceration.

Obviously, this alleged ‘win-win’ situation turns out not to be the answer to these characters’ prayers, and I can’t wait to read how Atwood tackles serious issues like unemployment and the prison-industrial complex with her famous wit.

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And now I’ve got her famous signature 🙂

I’m actually very disappointed that I did not live tweet this event, because Atwood was absolutely hilarious. She poked fun at the American presidential race, shared an amusing story about testing a virtual reality machine to fly like a bird, and discussed sex robots. She had so many one-liners, she could moonlight as a stand-up comedian.

At one point she was asked the question, “How does the development of your plots reflect the development of your themes?” and she replied sing-songingly, “I smell a term paper question!” At 75 years old, Atwood is at the IDGAF stage of her life, and I loved how down-to-earth she was.

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The queen in the flesh!

After the Q&A session, we waited in line to get our books signed, taking quick photos of the author on our smartphones. In the few seconds I had to talk to her, I mentioned that our book club just finished The Blind Assassin, and I enjoyed how she used the WWI reference “Remember the starving Armenians” in her story. Slightly confused because I forgot to mention that I’m Armenian myself, she replied, “They really used to say that back then!”

All in all, I had a wonderful time being in the presence of one of my literary heroes. And the cherry on top of this sundae? Going to bed with a huge smile on my face, because this happened:

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That’s right. Margaret Atwood retweeted me. My life officially has meaning now!

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Hail to the Queen! Margaret Atwood is Coming!

As I announced yesterday, I’m tackling my 2015 goal of attending more book signings with a vengeance, because in nine short weeks, I will be meeting the one and only Margaret Atwood!

Image via Fox Theatre

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a gift in my inbox: an invitation from Kepler’s Books & Magazines to an exclusive event starring the renowned writer of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin.

As excited as a kid on Christmas morning, I immediately whipped out my credit card and purchased my ticket, which only cost $25 for general admission. I’m flabbergasted that I have the chance to meet one of my most admired authors for such a bargain.

Thus, on October 12th at 7:30 p.m., Margaret Atwood will be stopping by the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, Calif., to discuss her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last.

Image via Goodreads

Here is a book summary excerpted on the Fox Theatre’s website:

Visionary as always, Atwood imagines a setting that isn’t as implausible as we’d like it to be, one that will resonate particularly strongly with residents of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

In The Heart Goes Last, she chronicles a recently unemployed married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse, are living in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers.

But this is Margaret Atwood we’re talking about here… And with each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

I would love to have my book club read this novel once it’s published in late September, so that we can make this book signing our own little field trip!

If you’re in the Bay Area and would like to join us, click this link to purchase your ticket. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t let it slip away!

The Day I Met One of My Heroes

Happy Easter everybody!

Thursday was an incredibly exciting day, because I finally got to meet one of my all-time favorite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro! You’ve already heard me gush about his writing, so I just wanted to share with you how the book signing went!

After reading the Buzzfeed article, “What It’s Like to Meet Your Favorite Author,” in which the author attended an Ishiguro signing in New York City, I was anxious about dealing with insanely long lines. The signing was set for 7:30pm, so I left right after work at 5:00 to give myself plenty of time to beat rush-hour traffic.

After driving for an hour to the Center of Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, CA, I quickly realized that my fears were exaggerated. I was literally the first person to arrive, waiting thirty minutes before the building even opened. I decided to pass the time by re-reading the ending of Never Let Me Go, before heading inside.

To describe the venue, let me start by giving some background. Atherton, CA, is the most expensive zip code in the entire nation. Right next to the Facebook headquarters, many homes in this city are valued at over $10 million dollars and are often owned by extremely wealthy Chinese investors.

Thus, in case any of you were wondering why the heck this book signing was held at a high school, this was no ordinary performing arts center. It looked like an opera hall; I could practically see the excess of donor money built into its walls.

Front of the center (Image via Archinect)

View of the stage (Image via Bay Area Spaces)

But enough about this fancy-schmancy building! Kazuo Ishiguro came out around 8:00, accompanied by author Tom Barbash. There were quite a few technical difficulties with the microphones, but both men were easygoing trying to make sure everyone in the audience could hear them.

The conversation began with a reading by Ishiguro, followed by Barbash asking him questions, and then ended with reading off questions from the audience’s note cards. My only complaint was that it seemed that Barbash did not do enough research, frequently citing incorrect information from past interviews of Ishiguro’s or taking his quotes out of context. As a former journalist, I cringed every time Ishiguro had to correct him, though he always did so with grace.

It’s nerve-wracking to be sitting in front of someone you admire so much, because there’s always the chance that person is going to be a major jerk. This was certainly not the case. Ishiguro was very humble, making self-deprecating jokes and assuring the audience that we need not clap after he read the first few pages of his latest novel, The Buried Giant. I’m sure it can be monotonous answering the same questions over and over again on a book tour, but Ishiguro was calm and collected, his British accent giving him a sense of soft-spoken sophistication.

Kazuo Ishiguro (left) and Tom Barbash (right)

Kazuo Ishiguro (left) and Tom Barbash (right)

Among the many topics Ishiguro covered were his relocation from Japan to England at five years old, his early life as a songwriter hitchhiking up and down California with his guitar, and his lucky break with fiction-writing. He’s well aware that his success is not typical and disapproves of the saturation of creative writing programs as a means of exploiting young writers’ hopes and dreams.

I was also intrigued by his observation that from the outside looking in, it appears that Ishiguro’s novels are written haphazardly, jumping from genre to genre. He explains that he actually begins his writing process with a kernel of truth about a story he wishes to write, and then selects a setting after the fact.

For instance, at its core The Buried Giant is about remembering and forgetting–both from a micro level inside a marriage to the macro level of a civilization–and it just so happens that Ishiguro felt that post-Arthurian Britain was the best time and place for this theme. Rather than setting out to write a mythical story, Ishiguro goes “location-hunting,” as he puts it, until he settles on the right genre for his intended message. It’s a literary strategy I find very unique, and I greatly respect his ability to reverse the conventions of the writing process.

The event concluded with the signing, with each row called up one-by-one to wait its turn. I was appalled by how many people in the back rows simply left without getting their books signed. Sure, it’s late at night, but for goodness’ sake, who knows when you’d get such an opportunity again!

The three books I got signed!

The three books I got signed!

I waited patiently with the true fans, and Ishiguro was nice enough to sign all three of the books I brought. He also accepted the thank-you letter I wrote for him, and we talked for a minute about how I connected to The Buried Giant’s theme of remembering the past so as not to repeat its mistakes, given that this month commemorates the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

I drove home that night on cloud nine, elated that I got the chance to meet one of my heroes. Some people idolize athletes or musicians, but I’ve never been so starstruck than I was standing in front of Kazuo Ishiguro. So on the off chance he actually runs across my blog, let me end this post by echoing a sentiment I included in my fan letter:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Even if you never write another word, you have made a profound difference in my life.

The autograph I'll cherish forever!

The autograph I’ll cherish forever!

BREAKING NEWS: I’m going to meet Kazuo Ishiguro!!!

All cover images from Goodreads

If there was ever a reason to use the word ‘amazeballs,’ this would be it. One of my goals for 2015 is to attend more book signings, and on April 2nd, I will be going to my first one of the year. And talk about setting the bar, because I’ll be meeting Kazuo Ishiguro, world-renowned contemporary fiction writer and the author of The Buried Giant, which is his first book in a decade!

Many people may be unfamiliar with Kazuo Ishiguro, including many of my fellow book bloggers, who seem to focus predominantly on YA fiction, so I’m here to enlighten you!

Ishiguro is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest writers living today. I was first introduced to his work in college, where I read Never Let Me Go and a couple of his short stories. I was hooked immediately and have since read The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, which were also amazing.

Why is Ishiguro such a literary genius? He’s a master of rewriting the rules, or as he puts it, he’s “been promiscuous with genre.” His novels could be considered science fiction, mysteries, or romances, but they’re written in such a way that those labels would leave out all the nuances and multidimensionality.

The best part is that you can’t deduce what his books are about from their mere summaries. You can’t discuss them without giving too much away. His words are wrapped in enigma, which is exactly why reading them is such a profound experience–you have little idea as to what you’re getting yourself into, and that intrigue fuels you to turn the pages.

He’s also an expert in creating introspective characters who say so much more than in their dialogues. If you’re a fan of unreliable narrators who experience complex character developments, then Ishiguro is definitely the writer for you.

However, I admit that Ishiguro is not fond of clean stories with plenty of closure. His books never end with a pretty bow tied around the plots. Instead, these tales haunt you, urging you to reflect on the past and contemplate the future. Every time I reread his books, I learn more about them–and myself–in the process.

To make a long blog post even longer, if I haven’t convinced you to check out Kazuo Ishiguro, then maybe this information will:

  • The Times named him one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
  • The Remains of the Day won the Booker prize in 1989, and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, declared that it was the most influential book he has ever read: “Before reading it, I didn’t think a perfect novel was possible.”
  • The film adaptation for The Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Music (all of which were won by that other WWII movie, Schindler’s List).

I will be sure to give you all a full report of the book signing next month. I’m already restless with anticipation! In the meantime, I’ll be reading The Buried Giant, which I’m sure to give a stellar review!

Image via The Sunday Times

To see whether Kazuo Ishiguro is visiting a city near you, click here for the tour dates.

Book Signings in SF!

Hey everyone!

I just popped in to brag that I had an awesome time last night meeting the one and only Scott Westerfeld! The YA author of the Uglies trilogy visited Books Inc. in San Francisco to discuss his recently published novel Afterworlds and do a signing.

The coolest part about the event–besides seeing an admired author in the flesh–is that 15% of the book proceeds support NaNoWriMo! In fact, I only found out about this signing on Tuesday after logging into my NaNoWriMo account and reading a memo from one of my region’s Municipal Liaisons.

Why the fundraising? Well, it turns out that Afterworlds is about a teenage girl named Darcy who creates a novel during NaNoWriMo that later gets published, thereby inciting her writing career.

And the uniqueness about Afterworlds is that it swaps chapters between Darcy’s world and the world that she brings to life in her own novel. I love the idea of reading a book within a book, so I’m really looking forward to this one!

I would have recommended Scott Westerfeld before meeting him, but especially so afterward. He was such a down-to-earth guy with a great sense of humor. I appreciated his insights about the YA community and his writing advice regarding POV. Needless to say, I’m inspired to revive my own writing for NaNoWriMo!

Thanks for the autograph! 🙂

The good times continue to roll next week, since Books Inc. is hosting another signing for Azar Nafisi, best known for her novel Reading Lolita in Tehran. That book was an exquisite window into her experiences as an English Lit professor in post-revolutionary Iran, and her new novel The Republic of Imagination describes her path to American citizenship.

So big thanks to Books Inc. for coordinating these opportunities to learn from these wonderful writers. I’ll see you again next week!