I almost didn't make it to the Jonathan Lethem reading last Thursday. When one goes to an unfamiliar place and assumes that just because one has seen the bookstore before and believes that it will be easy to find, it can make for a lot of driving in circles and a great deal of cursing. On this night, one was forced to make the embarrassing decision to stop at a gas station and ask the clerk, who appeared just as lost inside his little both surrounded by cigarettes and porn mags, if he happened to know where one might find Warwick's.
But getting the directions was only half the battle. After finally spotting the bookstore, I had to find a place to park, which meant another ten minutes of driving in circles. Even after locating a parking spot, I ended up lost, this time on foot, this time after cutting through a building teeming with a late evening exercising class, emerging on the wrong street and realizing that I was turned around, out of my element, and I had five minutes. Luckily, one of the sweaty exercisers pointed me in the direction, and with a minute to spare, I found a seat in the corner of the closed-for-business (except for the reading) Warwick's.
I'm not sure what I expected, but I thought there would be more than the fifteen people that showed up to hear Lethem read. One would think that Lethem would have some following or be able to draw more than a tiny fraction of the crowd that showed up for Palahniuk's El Cajon reading in July. But there were more people in the restaurant next door, many more. The small gathering inside of Warwick's was a mixed bag of young and old: a few college kids, a few older couples, the bookstore employees (three by my count), and me. One of the bookstore employees introduced Lethem, saying that if nothing else he now knows how to pronounce his name correctly (Lee thum, long e) and then proceeding to mispronounce it twice in the introduction. He listed off the author's books, said Lethem (first e as in egg) was his favorite writer, and invited him to the makeshift podium.
Lethem reminded me of a less simian Ben Stiller. He was soft-spoken, so much so that I had trouble hearing him over the crickets that were chirping loudly in the Travel section next to me. For half an hour, he read from The Fortress of Solitude, two different sections, both from the first part of the novel. At one point, he laughed at his own writing, apologizing afterword and telling us that he had never done that before.
After his reading, he took a few questions from the dozen or so people who remained. He discussed the amount of research that he had done for Fortress, saying that he had spent more time researching that novel than any of his others because he wanted to "create an immaculate impression so that it was like a time capsule." About Motherless Brooklyn, he said the inspiration for the tourette's character came from reading Oliver Sacks, specifically The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. He also mentioned that a movie based on Motherless Brooklyn was in the works though he has only a rooting interest in who plays the lead (Edward Norton). Along with other projects--a novel set in L.A. that has nothing to do with inter-family relationships or Brooklyn--he has a collection of essays due out in March.
Before he began signing books, I managed to ask him if he reads litblogs. Lethem claimed that he was a late-comer to the blogs, but that he does read them from time to time. Mostly, he said, a couple of music critics. He enjoys the fact that these critics will veer from the subject of music and discuss books or politics or their life. As for litblogs, he claimed that he does check them out and mentioned Maud's site as one he goes to quite often.
I left without getting a book signed and headed back in the direction of my car. I'll spare you the details, but I ended up getting lost again.