Friday, March 26, 2010

Like "watching Avatar without the glasses"

I got through my last day at St-Laurent. It was strangely quiet: well, the usual suspects showed up (the cranky teacher who thinks I hate her because I refuse to be her minion and pick out every single book about Easter for her STAT, the befuddled teacher who can't figure out how to reserve her own books, the teens wanting manga at 5:58 - we close at 6, the little boy crying when he has to leave, the girl wanting books about Paddington because she saw our stuffed Bear) but overall, it could have been far crazier. The comparative quiet meant I actually got my work done - done, done, done, as in "going to Rideau with a clear head and a (mostly) blank slate." Hooray!

This evening I went to a book launch for The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery, by Alan Bradley. I previously wrote here about The Sweetness At The Bottom of The Pie, which I loved. Maybe it was the emotional up and down of this week, but I walked into Nicholas Hoare with a feeling of almost homesickness, remembering the many, many launches I had attended at Nic Ho on Greene, and remembering working in the Ogilvy store myself for three years. Three wonderful years, actually - I got a nice discount, got to read at work, and was surrounded by the smell of new books and a diverse cast of characters who were lively, creative and passionate about literature and art (Dan hand-sold the most Ishiguro one summer; Miriam introduced me to Dusty Springfield; Luca taught me how to pronounce Paul Auster - um, don't ask...).

Bradley himself was more or less exactly who I expected: a regular guy (doesn't look his age, which is 71 if you're wondering), somewhat quiet, likeable. He talked about how Flavia came into his life (she intruded on another story, where a major character came across her and inquired what she was doing. When she replied she was taking down license plate numbers, he observed, can't be getting very far, can you? To which she replied, well, I have yours).

He then read from the new book (photo below) and took questions, which ranged from the ridiculous (is a certain character going to cook better in the new book?) to the fascinating (apparently two members of the audience have a young poisoner at home, rather like our Flavia). Every so often, I ask something (not very often). Tonight I asked Bradley about the setting: I had read that he had never visited England, although the novels are so steeped in small-town English life it's unreal. He replied that yes, he had never been there, but was raised in a house full of English expats, and he "grew up reading Punch, and The Strand," and "dreamed of England at night." Then, "minutes after winning the Daggar," he was on the plane to London. Upon arrival, he felt like he was "watching Avatar without the glasses," walking around a city at once familiar and utterly different, as though the London of literature was superimposed upon the modern one. He walked around lost for a bit, and then suddenly it came together, and he says he visited all the literary haunts, wandering streets (he says he didn't go underground once).

A lovely evening, shared with the affable Sean from Writer's Fest, and a fellow librarian re-discovered serendipitously in the audience.

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