Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Dinner With Arthur

Okay, technically it wasn't my dinner, and it would have made a better title here if his name was Andrew, or even Andre.  But Arthur Phillips was in town last week to read and talk about his new book, The Tragedy of King Arthur, and local publisher and patron of the arts, and, more importantly for me, old friend Steve Lawton decided to take a new approach to the fact. He invited a few friends of the bookish persuasion to join him at a dinner for Mr. Phillips. He also said in advance that he would offer to pay for half of the book for the first thirty people who took advantage of the offer. I'm not sure if anyone actually took him up on the book angle, but the bookish friends took him up on dinner, because that is what bookish friends do.

In the not so olden days, this would probably have been in the purview of the bookstore or the publisher or some combination of the two. With bookstores struggling to survive, that kind of thing is largely of the past, and I never knew it to be a major feature of the business anyway. Publishers probably do their wining and dining of authors somewhere other than small cities off the main  book tour track. But in many ways, this evening was better. Steve took great care to welcome one of his favorite authors, and though the blown life up photos of Mr. Phillips head used as placemats was a risky touch, it seemed to have gone over well. Perhaps more important was the centerpiece of Arthur Phillips works, and Steve's close reading of all of them.

This was the basis of the placemat...

Arthur seemed up to pretty much everything the group could throw at him, and was gracious and appreciative of everything. I don't want to get too much into the details of dinner conversation without everyone's permission, but of course the conversation turned to the decline of books, as it inevitably does among any group of people who has a vested interest in their persistence. Arthur wondered after we had all gloomed it up for awhile about why what seems to be their passing seems so  sad to us, since we at the table will probably always have books, and plenty to read until we ourselves are gone. If the next generation doesn't care about them, what of it? It's a good question, and was met by a musing silence. I think we want to pass them on, one of the guests said.

Anyway, at least some of us--the ones I've checked in with since--had a marvelous time. I'm not usually so namedroppy, but I really appreciated Steve's generosity and cleverness in putting the whole shebang together, and thought I'd mention it partly in thanks, but also because it might inspire a similar idea sometime in, well, YOU.

The reading itself, by the way, was highly entertaining. Some writers know how to do the traveling show aspect of this part of their gig and some don't, and no shame to them if its the latter. But Phillips has his act down, and I expect there is very little that could ruffle him in such a situation. Even a woman wandering into the room because she thought she'd heard him mentioning Brown College was taken into his schtick.

One man was noticeably laughing the whole time. Steve ran into the guy later in the parking lot and it turned out that he and his wife had seen Phillips on Jeopardy. They had come because they wanted to know if he was that funny in person.

Turns out he was.

And yes, I did buy a copy of the book that night. I'll be getting back to you on it before too awfully long.


  1. So glad to read about this! I've mused on the book thing, too, and I think those who come after us will find their ways to keep reading and/or keep some actual books around. Or not. And it will all work out.

  2. You remind me that another thing Phillips asked was whether we didn't think there was some inborn human need for the long story form.

    I think that's possibly true, though I don't think it will necessarily continue to be satisfied by the printed text.

    I was also thinking that mass literacy has been present for just a blip of human history. It may turn out to have been just a fad.

  3. Hey, we won't wither away as a species or a civilization if we become less literate.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  4. No disagreement from me, Peter. What we will actually be is the question.

  5. A place where we're less literate but still alive.