by Hugh Gilmore
Saturday night, for the three-hundredth time in as many days, I said to my wife, Janet, “I can’t do it. I’ll just sell the book online as a Kindle, but I can’t do this book launch.”
One of my sneaky little, haunting fears jumped me that day and knocked my confidence to the ground and stomped all over it.
Jan said, “I’m staying out of this because I sympathize with whatever way you feel.”
Uh oh, I thought, suddenly facing the prospect of making my own decision for myself, like a grown-up.
Jan added, “But you better make up your mind by Monday, because a lot of people are making plans. And Trish is taking off from work to be there.”
Trish is our favorite waitress at Maria’s Ristorante in Roxborough, where we’ve gone about once a week for what seems like forever. She knows I’m a writer, but she’s never heard me speak and had said she wanted to come hear me. So, I invited her, of course. It’s a public event, but it’s also nice to be personally invited by the author to an author’s reading of his work. Since the date, Feb. 27, is a Friday, she’s giving up a night’s income to hear me. So, Janet’s right. I agreed as we drove to Maria’s Ristorante that I should warn Trish I lost my nerve and probably can’t do the reading.
See, what happened is this: The book is a memoir and it’s quite personal. Many of the stories in it, even the funny ones, are either sad or strange, and they show a side of myself that you’d have to know me a long time (if ever) to know. I’m not a public figure, by any means, but I have been writing this column for nine years, and, for those who read it and those who have heard of it, I have a certain persona. I’m not sure what it is, but I get the feeling that it’s mostly positive. I like that.
I’m a bit worried about two things. First, because my book, all things considered, is as honest as I could make it, some people will be surprised by some of the things they read. And maybe not like me anymore, now that they know me better. Second, some of the people who know me and like me, and maybe always will, will be made uncomfortable by my going public about some of the stupid things I’ve done in my life. And some of my failures. In effect, some folks will be embarrassed for me and my decision to let the world come backstage on my life. Especially the family stories, which I can assure you I would not tell if my parents were still alive.
So, after a nice meal and a pleasant visit with everyone at Maria’s Ristorante, on the way home I said to Janet, “I think it was Jane’s e-mail that kind of pushed me over the edge today. It verified all my worries and hesitation.” Jan said she sympathized and would support me no matter what.
Jane is Jan’s (mine too, but originally Jan’s) friend. She is a loyal reader of my books. When I put my new book on Kindle last week, she bought the first copy. On Friday she wrote to Jan, “Finished Hugh’s book – very interesting. Enjoyed it, even if it is difficult reading something so ‘open’ by someone you know.”
“That’s it,” I said when Janet forwarded the “review” to me. “The book is too frank. I don’t want to do that public reading.”
I wrote to Jane Saturday afternoon and told her, “I’m so grateful you bought and read my book. And enjoyed it. Yes, the ‘open-ness’ is painful for me to consider when the book is read by people who know me personally. I’m constantly tempted to yank it in that regard. It’s fairly embarrassing to tell the truth. I would hope that in Nebraska, or Taiwan, 50 years from now, no one will know me anymore and they won’t care about anything but the stories…”
Late Sunday afternoon, Jane wrote back and said, “I don’t think anyone who knows you and decides to read the book will have a problem knowing you better through the process. No matter what our exterior persona is, anyone with the intelligence to read knows that we all have our highs and lows, goods and bads. The more intelligent the person, the more complicated is their personal ‘growing up’ process. Most of us will relate to the embarrassment of ‘failures’ and the triumphs of the successes.
“My only disappointment in your book is that I was hoping for more on your life in Kenya … I’m sure that will be the next book … Your friend, Jane.”
Boy, did that buck me up. Those words were what I wished I could have told myself, but couldn’t get a grip on. I was made very happy by that bit of wisdom Jane passed along to me.
So, late Sunday night I told my steadfast Janet that, even though the Monday deadline hadn’t arrived, I am going to act like a big boy and take a deep breath and go ahead and read from my memoir. There, I’ve said it aloud. Hope to see you there.
Reading, selling and signing from “My Three Suicides: A Success Story” will be at the Chestnut Hill Hotel’s Bombay room from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday , Feb. 27, more or less, with some wine & cheese supplied by Chestnut Grill. Event sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Book Festival.