As a self-effacing, wanna-be writer whose rapidly diminishing chances of ever becoming even a second-rate publishing author is paced only by his readiness to disarm his detractors by throwing his ego under the bus — to laugh at himself, his missed chances and self-inflicted miseries — I don’t particularly like people who take themselves too seriously.
Nicole Krauss apologizes for using the word “asshole” in front of a crowd who’ve already chuckled at its use. She pauses after reading a passage like she expects the audience to murmur in appreciation with sub-sonic “ohhs” and “oohs” that wouldn’t be audible unless it was released in a dead-quiet auditorium. She then waits just a beat too long before beginning again, as if she, too, needed a moment to recover from that Sad Truth despite being the author of said Sad Truth and having read the same passage dozens of times in the last month.
Nicole Krauss speaks about and reads aloud her writing with the affected meekness of a college sophomore reading poetry at the local coffee house, as if to apologize for its brilliance — and it is good, but not quite the shining beacon of “brilliance” it’s achieved in her mind — before anyone could accuse her of being arrogant (ironic since she’s already decided it’s so brilliant that she must preempt her jealous listeners). Perfect for the Oprah Best Friends’ Super Club.
Which is to say, of course, that she wasn’t interested in giving me an insult. One can tell ahead of time that this is going to be the case. She’s lovingly cultivated an image and something like an insult, or even a joke for fuck’s sake, could be taken and run with, misunderstood or taken out of context, whereupon her Technicolor dream of emptying Barnes & Noble bookshelves across the country peters out and drifts away, the proverbial fart in the wind, all because some chump wanted a silly insult for his crappy website.
She “can’t” do that, she apologizes. CAN NOT. Cannot.
I’m frustrated of course; you’re telling me it’s a literal physical impossibility to inscribe an insult? What about a joke? No? Damn.
Of course, she doesn’t owe me a goddamn thing. At no point was she rude or mean; she even had the decency to ask about other writers’ responses, to which I hurriedly listed a few of the more exciting and fun insults. The response has been overwhelmingly positive (or negative!) from the vast majority of published authors. I’ve been burned in personal and inventive ways from authors who draw hundreds into a cavernous auditorium and authors who pull three strangers plus the bookstore staff. Most recognize I’m a guy just trying to have some fun. Do something different, draw them out a little, maybe learn a little about who they are by how they insult or by listening to the cadence or inflection with which they read their stories. It’s a way to listen to some great writing while basking in the glow of some important literary heavyweights. It’s a way to be involved with, however peripherally, the authors and words and books I’d so like to break into myself.
I guess that’s why I don’t try to cajole or browbeat authors who’re probably just trying to protect whatever image they think they have to guard from people like me. I get the feeling that she must crave recognition for her writing skills as purely and desperately as the next anonymous asshole with a blog and a chip on his shoulder because he still hasn’t been legitimately published. I get that. But I swear: you’re going to be okay. I’m not out to ruin your reputation. I’m not calling Oprah to screech about how you think my face looks like an unshorn anus with glasses.
Maybe Mrs. Krauss wants her literary cake and she wants to eat it with a dour expression, scooping up the somber crumbs with a self-important fork, sitting at the Serious Female Writers of Our Generation Table, Joyce Carol Oates (who I fucking know would have a sense of humor about this) at the head of the table watching her eat while Tess Galagher (same) and Virginia Wolff (maybe not) sip tea and talk about Georgia O’Keefe’s newest flower.
I don’t know what I was hoping for, really though. If she apologizes for saying “asshole,” (titter titter, giggle giggle!) why would I think for a moment that she’d write something that isn’t Serious Business? Get outta here with your insults. Would Annie Proulx write an insult in a fan’s inscription? Edith Wharton? WOULD ROSA PARKS?!?
I’ll still read your books, Nicole. But loosen the fuck up.