Monday, August 2, 2010

David Mitchell returns to San Francisco *swoon*

Yes, I did swoon in the headline above. Have you met David Mitchell? You would swoon too.

For me, it's several things. First, the man is ungodly talented. I've mentioned this before, but his recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the best book I've read in the past several years. Cloud Atlas was definitely the best book I read in 2004. Even my least favorite of the three I've read, coming of age tale Black Swan Green, was fairly magnificent and has really stuck with me in a way that is rare for a girl who writes a blog entitled In One Eye, Out the Other.

In addition to his crazy talent, the guy is completely adorable--not just in the most obvious sense (see photo above) but also his personality. Every time I see him, we seem to have an odd encounter. This started the very first time I met him, back when he was touring for Cloud Atlas.

I don't know why I went to his book signing. I hadn't read him and didn't own any of his books. Perhaps I'd just heard buzz on the book. Maybe I was just bored, and a reading was free entertainment. I don't remember.

Here is what I do remember... I went to A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books straight from work. I was early, so I grabbed a seat in the front row and pulled out the paperback I was reading at the time. Now, people who know me and regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that I was reading a mass market trashy underwater fiction horror thriller. It was a creature feature called Sleeper about a water monster type thing in the basement of the Pentagon, and as I recall, it was pretty darn entertaining. Better than one would expect from such a premise. But I definitely didn't want anyone in that fine bookstore and that oh-so-literary crowd to see the trash I was reading, so I sort of had the book's cover pressed against my skirt to preserve the illusion that I belonged. And all was well until I looked up from an engrossing passage to find a handsome young man kneeling in front of me trying to determine the title of the book I was reading. And realized that the person in front of me was none other than David Mitchell.

Why? Why? Why was he so curious about the book I was clearly trying to hide? Apparently he's always like that, and I have to admit that I'm much the same. Whenever I see someone reading a book, I'll do whatever I can to get a glimpse of the title. Still, it was unseemly. I didn't want to show him. I told him it was too stupid a book to be seen with. I asked him to go away. Nothing would get rid of the man! Seriously, didn't he have a reading to prepare for? Ultimately, he said to me that no matter how bad it was, it was better than sitting at home in front of the television. So, that's when I finally showed him the book. And we laughed. The man charmed my socks right off. He went on to do an amazing reading, and I bought a copy of a book that I probably wouldn't have purchased if not for that encounter. Lucky me; it was my introduction to one of my very favorite authors.

I don't think that anything unusual occurred the second time we met, but I was still excited to hear him read at the Booksmith on Haight a couple of weeks ago. He didn't let me down either. It was a packed standing-room crowd. I was there with Jon, and while we were among the standing, we had a great spot. David did a terrific reading, the highlight of which for me was learning the pronunciation of de Zoet. (It's dee Zoot.) As always, he was completely adorable, gradually stripping off layers of clothing in the over-heated store and making jokes about a very slow striptease, to the delight of the crowd. He spent a lot of time answering questions and seemed to enjoy himself. And he expressed what appeared to be a genuine appreciation for San Francisco and its wikipedia-like denizens.

My galley of Thousand Autumns is on loan, but I was happy to buy a hardback copy of the book. It's one of those special books that you just have to have a pristine hardback of on your bookshelf, you know? Plus, I like any opportunity to support independent booksellers and Praveen, the owner of the Booksmith, is becoming a friend. I'd rushed back to the signing line as the Q&A broke up, so it didn't take too long to reach the front. Besides, Jon and I were having fun kibitzing with those around us. I always meet the nicest people at that store.

Anyway, as David was signing my book, I asked him a question. I asked, "What was the deal with the name of that English character, Cutlip? Why were all the Dutch characters so amazed by his name?" And David gave me a strange look. He said, "I can't... I can't... Wait a minute... Come over here." And with that, he got up from his signing table and walked me into a corner and proceeded to crack up. He said, "You really don't know?" And I told him that I'd made the inquiry of a Dutch friend online, but that I had not received an answer. He wasn't surprised. He proceeded to explain that in Dutch, both parts of the name refer to some jocular slang for part of a woman's anatomy. He compared it to the word "Willy" when discussing male anatomy. Meanwhile, there was a fair amount of giggling and blushing from the two of us in the corner of the bookstore as the rest of the people waiting in line looked on. I'm sure they're all dying to know what we were talking about.

After a few moments we composed ourselves and returned to the signing table. As David finished signing my book, I reminded him of how we'd first me, and we'd had a good giggle over that, too.

Suffice it to say, I will drop anything and go see David Mitchell on book tour any chance I get. I never know what the man will do next! Probably all future encounters will be boring and normal, but let's hope not.


  1. Nice report, Susan! My encounter with DM was also great. I liked it how he was able to hold a conversation with every one who wanted him to sign the book, and they were all very different people.

    I had two books I asked him to sign, so I had a little longer with him. My report is here:

  2. This is a really cool post; thanks for sharing your story. I've been a fan since Cloud Atlas, but Thousand Autumns knocked my socks off! He seems really humble and genuine, too; no sight of an ego there.

  3. Also agree De Zoet is a phenomenal book. I am astounded at Mitchell's gift.