Friday, May 6, 2011
MEETING AUTHORS 5: IRVINE WELSH
57th Street Books is just off of Lake Shore Drive, and it doesn’t look like much from the outside. In fact, I had to go back and forth a few times in order to find it. A sandwich board was the only thing that helped me find it.
To enter, one must go down a set of steps and into what at first seems like a very small book shop. But as one walks around, it’s a lot bigger than it seems. There isn’t a lot of space, but it’s packed in tightly. It reminds me of an old used bookstore I used to frequent back when I was in high school, the kind of place that book giants like Borders and Barnes & Noble put out of business.
A few years ago, I went to the 57th Street Books because I’d heard that international bestselling author, Irvine Welsh, was going to be there. He’s most popular as the guy who wrote the novel TRAINSPOTTING was based on, but as things turn out, this is actually his weakest book. Those looking for earth-shattering fiction should really look into the sequel, PORNO, or perhaps his finest tale, FILTH. For something a bit more playful, try GLUE, and if it’s meat you’re looking for, you must read MARABOU STORK NIGHTMARES.
Welsh was pimping his new book at the time, so I drove into the city, spent waaaay too much time trying to find a parking spot, and walked through the nice, if a bit rundown, neighborhood. I arrived maybe ten minutes before Welsh was scheduled to appear, and after some diligent searching, I found the place where he would be. There were a lot of empty chairs. Ten minutes, and I was the only one there? That seemed pretty unlikely.
But I didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I sat in the front row closest to the table where he’d be sitting and passed the time by reading his latest book (at the time), THE BEDROOM SECRETS OF THE MASTER CHEFS. It was good, but it was also about a cook, and nothing bores me quicker than reading about food.
When next I looked up, I saw that every seat in the house was taken. Standing room only, and there were A LOT of people standing around.
Welsh was late, which is customary for any signing, really, but not too late. When he walked to the table, I was kind of surprised by his appearance. Usually, writers look older than their authors photos. As Chuck Palahniuk advises, always have your authors photo taken when you’re young. Yet Welsh looked exactly as he did on the backs of his various books. And he was taller than I’d expected, and very solidly built. He seemed more like a Scottish dock worker than a writer.
He didn’t sit behind the desk like the bookstore probably wanted him to. Instead, he moved the chair around to the front and settled in, very relaxed, his legs crossed, and he introduced himself. Gave some background. (Didn’t know he used to live in Chicago.) Talked a bit about his books.
And then he staged a Q&A. I’m afraid this happened so long ago that I don’t remember what questions were asked, but I do recall that they seemed more book questions than movies (although the inevitable question about the filming of PORNO came up, which was given the stock answer; if you’ve ever been to signings, you know what it is).
And then, he gave a reading from his new book. Thankfully, it sounded a lot more fun than the beginning, and I had second thoughts as to how this novel would turn out. One expects a certain level of depravity from Welsh, and it seems that later in the book, he delivers.
Then, he said he’d be having the signing. First come, first serve, which is unusual for a signing of such a famous writer. Luckily, I was front and center, so I swooped in to the front of the line with my stack of books. I had all of his books at the time, and he had no problem with signing them all. In fact, he signed them so quickly I barely had the chance to talk to him. He did comment on my copy of TRAINSPOTTING, which I’d bought used from the library.
Before I knew it, he was sending me on my way. I shook his hand, which was strong and firm, and I tried to make my way through the very unorganized line behind me. All told, I’d been in there less than an hour, which is easily the shortest signing I’d EVER been to. Ever.
I wondered how long it would take the last guy in line to get his books signed. Considering how quickly Welsh signed, I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t take long at all.