You Are Not Smarter than Paul Harding | 192 Books

Paul Harding signed book

More than a little Don Rickles

Fellow lovers of literature and audience members: shut up. I’m not interested. The author isn’t. Neither is your mom, your wife, or your dog. The audience is rolling its eyes and looking at its watch. More than likely, you’re not interested in what you’re saying, either.

You’re talking to hear/watch/feel yourself being listened to by Intelligent People.

Back when I was a cute, trim college student, living in a rotting shitbox near school with a fellow acolyte of youth, invulnerability, and alcohol, I fucking loved to hear myself being intelligent. To float above myself, mind’s eye steered by co-captains, Arrogance & Obliviousness, taking in the crowd’s appreciation of my interesting ideas. Like looking at myself in the mirror and managing to see studflesh and allure where there was nothing but a spare tire and the self-awareness of an autistic puppy. I’d peruse the author’s content, think of some unique position to take, back it up with pagination and direct quotes, and poof! I was out on the town, seen by some pretty girls and maybe some classmates, Being Intelligent w/ Other Intelligent People.

As far as I can tell, the author or poet would nurse a question out of the mess of the half-formed idea I’d prematurely birthed and give an answer based on whatever he felt like talking about. When it was a particularly lousy question, he’d say “That’s a good question!” like I’d just gift-wrapped the opening to his next novel, and move on to the next question.

So I understand the draw. Outside of a circle of three or so, no one really pays attention to me, either. Good friends don’t listen. Why would complete strangers want to hear my long-winded, spiraling (downward, quickly), off-the-cuff (or worse: painfully rehearsed), interpretation of the symbolist imagery throughout the book?

But the absolute worst: when the audience member makes declarations — “I’m an avid reader and I really enjoyed this book” or “I’m a frustrated novelist so it gives me hope” — and then realizes only afterwards that it’s a fucking QUESTION and ANSWER session, and so, half-panicked, out squirts a little turd of a question from the anus of their minds, dovetailed like a skidmark on the back of their initial “question.”

Not to say Q&As should stop, though we’d all be better off without them. Just think before you open your mouth. Is my question going to bore the general public? Am I saying something just to be heard? Do I need 2 minutes of lead-in before I can ask the question? Am I confused by computers? If you answered yes to any of these, shut the fuck up. If you miraculously answered no to all of these, shut up anyway.

I’m hungry and I have a job to get to in the morning.

Paul Harding graciously took the cavalcade of morons in stride. He has a thoughtful, placated look I associate with physicists and custodians, and he often paused before responding to questions. Much to his credit, he was quick to swat down the gushing hyperbole of the type represented by one septuagenarian woman’s mysterious comment about his “making up an original genre of fiction.”

It’s a damn fine book, for those who haven’t read it yet. Dreamy, translucent. Just as weather can affect one’s experience, add an extra layer of meaning to an otherwise unremarkable event, good books have a strange sort of mood that colors and reshapes the plot seemingly without any effort from the author, and that often goes unmarked by the reader except in some grainy, almost unconscious/subconscious level; throughout my reading of Tinkers, my “theater of the mind” had the smoke machine on overdrive. I had the distinct impression of walking through thick fog. Strange that Mr. Harding pulled this off so well; I mean, of course a story about the headspace of a dying old man would be shifty, diaphanous. But he pulled it off well.

He was a bit non-plussed by the insult request, however. I blame it on the turkeynecks who rudely interrupted our brief conversation by cutting in without apology to hand Mr. Harding a card and an accompanying explanation as to why he was being handed a card. He was distracted, had already signed and personalized my book and was ready to move on to the next while these women held his attention. Meanwhile, I was trying to explain the whole insult thing.

“You want me to… what? Insult you?” Well, yeah. If possible. “In there?” (pointing to the book). Yeah.

I looked around for help but found only the tight smug smile of some cute girl. I’d say “hipster chick” but the word’s lost any meaning. Cynical, cute, as soon show effort in public as light herself on fire. Fuck off.

I handed back the book and tried to fade to the background.

“You get a little Don Rickles,” Mr. Harding handed back the book, smiled, and moved on to Cutey McUglysmile.

Who’s smiling now, Ms. Sassypants?

Bill is an unpublished writer looking to get into the literary agent biz. You should hire Bill Ryan.

5 responses to “You Are Not Smarter than Paul Harding | 192 Books

  1. Keep on making those wonderful skidmarks, Bill.

  2. That was awesome.

    When Nassim Nicholas Taleb gave a talk at B&N a few months ago, someone in the audience told a long story about how he and his friends used to play a game called “Guess the weather.” I think his question was literally “Can you relate to that, Mr. Taleb?”

    All authors on book tours should be equipped with tasers.

  3. I appreciate so much about this post, but you lost me with the use of “hipster bitch” in the tags. It casts your description of the young woman in a misogynist light. I wonder, if the nearest person were a young man equally disinterested in your interaction with Harding, would you invoke the label “hipster prick”?

    Or worse, would the social slight go unmentioned?

    • You’re right, Lori. I shouldn’t use the pejorative “bitch.” It was a lazy dig, and I fall back on that type of language too often, and it takes it to, like you say, a misogynistic level that I don’t need or want to convey.

      But to be fair, I would be just as likely to use “hipster prick” in my description, were it a young man who’d sneered at me. Probably I’d have said “hipster doucheprick” or something. It just happened that it was a woman.

      Regardless, thanks for reading and responding.

  4. Bill, with your sincere apology you’ve eased my concerns and gained a new reader. Thanks for the reply.

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