Saturday, July 12, 2008
The Enchanter of Borders
Friday night, Gina and I went to Borders to see Salman Rushdie give a reading from his new novel. I've been a fan of his writing for a long time, but I'd never seen him in person. Over the course of an hour or so, he gave a little talk, read a chapter from The Enchantress of Florence, and then answered some questions from the crowd. It should come as no surprise that Rushdie is a skilled public speaker: eloquent, witty, and extremely intelligent. I really enjoyed that many of the crowd's questions weren't about anything specific to him or his writing - instead, there were questions about the history of Turkic dialects, or why the Ottoman empire used foreign mercenaries, unlike the Roman centurions. Inevitably, he was able to give an informed and thoughtful answer to each question.
The crowd itself was something to behold. We arrived an hour and a half before the talk was scheduled to begin, and there were no chairs left in the rows and rows in front of the podium. There was a sea of standing room behind them, but we were still slightly dejected. We decided it was worth asking one of the crowd-wrangling employees whether any more folding chairs might be brought out, though we weren't hopeful. And, indeed, according to the woman we asked, no more chairs were to be had. "You could go sit on that couch," she said. We gazed over in the direction she was pointing. The couch in question was one we'd noticed earlier, and assumed it was part of "backstage" - it was situated slightly behind and about five feet to the right of Salman Rushdie's podium. "Really?" I asked. "Sure," she replied. "Someone will sit there." So, we (and another woman) did. It was a great perspective.
We chose not to wait in the signing line for personalized autographs after the talk, but I did pick up a signed copy of Enchantress. I'm looking forward to delving in, and still thinking over one of my favorite comments from Rushdie during the Q&A session. He said that, often, good fiction ideas come from imagining the thing that didn't happen, and exploring what might have happened if it had. I like that.