“P.S. My Dad finished Mark’s book, and really liked it!”

When you publish a book, you put it out there for the world.  Or rather, the English-speaking world, in my case, but that’s still an awful lot of people, and I have no control over who will choose to read it.  As an abstract fact, I know this and am comfortable with it.  Excited about it, actually.  The image that initially comes to mind for me is of a total stranger in a bookstore picking up my book, glancing at it, and maybe even skimming the first few pages.  I stand at a distance, watching, hoping to catch some hint of their reaction.  Then my mind jumps to another imagined scene: I’m on my morning commute, on the Blue Line, and I suddenly notice that the book being read by a fellow train-commuter isn’t just any book — it’s my book.  There it is: the cover of “Upload”, and the curious feeling of wondering what scene they’re in the middle of.  (Now that so many commuters read e-books, the odds of my spotting someone reading my book went from extremely low to essentially zero, which is a little sad.  It has also been pointed out that the move away from physical books, with their publicly visible covers, also makes it harder to hit on bookish girls on the train.  “I see you’re reading Heidegger,” you say, holding your copy of “Being and Nothingness” such that it cannot be missed.  This exchange just can’t happen if you’re both reading from nondescript e-readers.  Now it’s, “I see you’re reading a Kindle”, and being fellow Kindle readers just isn’t much of a conversation-starter.)

The concept of sharing the personal investment of my writing with an unpredictable, unknown audience is something I can easily get my head around.  What I didn’t see coming was this, at the bottom of an email from an old friend:

“P.S. My Dad finished Mark’s book, and really liked it!  I just gave it to him Saturday night.”

I know this friend of mine has a Dad, and I vaguely recall meeting him once or twice in high school.  But now his Dad and I have a somewhat intimate personal connection: he’s read my book, including all the moments that are secretly glimpses into my own mind, my own life, my own fears.  Now, if I meet him, I’ll be thinking, this guy read my book.  I’ll be wondering what sort of preformed ideas he has about me, and in what ways I fit them — or don’t.  And, if the story made a lasting impression on him, we’ll actually have a fairly meaty topic for discussion.

It also means his Dad read the naughty bits.  Since I know he enjoyed the book, I’m unlikely to feel judged on this point, but there’s still a degree of awkwardness here, more for me than for the reader.  But what happens when I meet someone who didn’t particularly care for the book, and perhaps even found aspects of it offensive?  Am I ready to stand proudly behind my artistic expression to someone I know?  To my own Dad?  To my Mom?

Towering far above all of this is the joy that comes from knowing my friend had enough interest and faith in my novel to give a copy of it to his Dad.  I poured a whole lot of myself into this book — time, philosophical reflection, emotional release.  I’m not typically a very open/sharing person, and there’s something profoundly thrilling and uplifting about a friend of mine sharing my work with his own family, and having it be well received.  I feel like I’ve participated in my own community in a way that’s entirely new to me — like my art has the potential to put me in touch with my own friends in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

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