Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reading: Chip Kidd

Valentine's Day.

Is there anything more romantic than going to see a potential new boyfriend? Yes, I suppose, if said boyfriend lives up to your expectations. Chip Kidd (about whom I've rhapsodized in a previous post) visited the Library in support of his new novel, The Learners. But the audience -- young, hip -- most likely know Kidd for his comic and graphic design work. Give the man his due.

Kidd didn't give a traditional reading; instead, he opted for a PowerPoint presentation: humorous, erudite, and filled with both his successes and failures. So while displaying some of his upcoming book covers (Oliver Sacks, Augusten Buroughs), he also ran through slides of jacket designs that didn't make the cut (Fangland, early attempts at Cormac McCarthy's The Road). The latter was accompanied by a wicked Binky Urban impersonation, which only made me want to be her client even more. Not because she's a powerhouse. Because she also represents Kidd himself.

When Kidd reached to "reading" part of the presentation, his grand, theatrical style carried over: he didn't just read dialogue, he embodied the characters, especially the Norma Desmond-like Himillsy Dodd. And while this wasn't as enthralling as his impersonation of, say, Peter Lorre singing "Sugar Walls," Helen Hayes singing "Nasty," or a newborn hamster performing Hamlet, I can imagine him concocting these characters by becoming them first, testing out their voices outloud, and transcribing what comes out of his mouth.

I admit: I was feeling giddy throughout, grinning maniacally, staring at his shoes (brown, with an slash of orange on the side) and admiring his sartorial sense (vintage tweed, shirt collar hanging outside the lapels). He has much more upper-body bulk than I imagined -- his Marion Ettlinger portrait in Author Photo shows a much more trim Kidd (he laughed obligingly when I called it his "beefcake photo"; he compared himself to Stanley Kowalski). Whatever the case, he mentioned how his glasses were custom-made in London, reflecting his love of Bauhaus, and if that wasn't enough to get me swooning, I'm probably dead inside.

Not to mention Kidd is the first author I've met who signs the page edges.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Reading: Manil Suri

Matthew was particularly excited about seeing Manil Suri in person. After all, his picture, a yellowing rectangle snipped from a Texas newspaper, was magnetized to our refrigerator for years, until we finally invested in stainless steel. And there's no doubt, Suri is a striking man: thin with prominent features, salt and pepper hair, a mathematician's exacting eyes, thick lips that make you think bad thoughts when you look at them.

He read from his new novel, The Age of Shiva, the second part of a trilogy (although he preferred to call it a "tryptich," after one audience member asked why the characters from his first novel, The Death of Vishnu, weren't reprised). The audience was sparse, with a few South Asian faces sprinkled in. He seemed composed throughout, with a stately bearing, and his voice maintained a steady tone. He didn't demand attention -- he wasn't showy whatsoever -- but you could imagine him as more of a slow seducer, someone who works his way into your subconscious until you're madly in love.

Okay, maybe I'm projecting now.

Still, he had a mischievious sense of humor and promised a free DVD of an audience member who asked a "secret question." It reminded me of the old Groucho Marx TV show, You Bet Your Life, and when I asked about balancing a mathematical life and a writing life, a duck dropped from the ceiling. It was an easy question to guess, really. This makes two giveaways that I've won at Free Library readings. Time to play the lottery? Perhaps.

In the end, I got to take my picture with him, as is my custom, and he signed his photograph in my book of Marion Ettlinger portraits. I put my arm around him and could feel all the layers of air in the space between his clothes. He's a slender one, that Manil, but when you make contact, you know you want to hold on.