THE RIVER GODS

Brian Kiteley first came to my attention via The 4 A.M. Breakthrough, his wonderful book of writing exercises. A professor in the University of Denver’s creative-writing program, Kiteley advocates improvisation and play, urging storytellers to free themselves from the constraints of literary labels: “There is and should be no real difference between fiction and nonfiction. The distinction between the fictional and the fact-based world is overrated and the distance between the two is shorter than most critics imagine.”


Once I heard Franzen had a new book, (I read the two “stories” in the New Yorker) it was all I could do to get my hands on an advance copy.  If you know me, even a little, then you know I love The Corrections, which was a book that hit me right in the sweet spot, at a time in my life when things seemed to be coming up roses. Then 9-11 hit, and it’s been downhill ever since.

Freedom isn’t so much “another novel from Jonathan Franzen“, but a whopper of a story about people, some of them are like you and me, others are just unlikable, and I will never understand why readers want likable characters, because Franzen certainly doesn’t give a shit if you like his people.  But in reality, do we really like everyone? There is a part of every friend you have that is unlikable, so, Franzen takes that to the next level, and writes entire books exposing those human foibles and flaws.

I swear by The Corrections, and Freedom isn’t too far off from that epic, but it is a little more focused on the bad. Walter and Patty Berglund seem to be running in circles around their life, even on parallel lines, and somehow start a war with their right-wing neighbors, (this was excerpted in The New Yorker) which is very funny, and eventually the straw that will break their back. I don’t think Franzen is trying to spread the cliche of suburban malaise too thin with this couple but he certainly drags them through one awful argument after another. Patty is a former basketball star (Harry Angstrom echoed here) and is given a personality that seems both sensitive and rough, while shaded with insanity, even though we’re given plenty of reasons why she’s so unhinged, some of them glorious in their beauty, specifically the flashbacks that take us to a place where she’s got a crazy stalker friend, and a bad boyfriend (I’d tell you how bad, but that would spoil possibly the best flashback I’ve ever read). Walter on the other hand, I don’t ever really feel like I knew him, or cared to know him. He’s obsessed with saving a dwindling species of bird which means tangling with a coal company and he spins and turns in his attempts to make his mark on the world, while his wife suffers, and then suffers some more.  Along comes Walter’s best friend and rock star, shown both in flashback and current time, as a significant member of their love triangle, and a childhood friend of Walters.  Franzen dips quickly into the music side of things, and even takes a stab at writing songs, most of which are hits for Richard, and as we follow Richard through his sections of the book, we see him go from nothing to something, and then become so big that all he can manage is a sneer and a couple of unkind words for his fans.

You won’t like Patty, Walter and Richard, as you see yourself in them, and Franzen reflects this as reality, which can sometimes be painful. All this time the Berglunds’ son, Joey, who is really an unbearable asshole through most of this novel, slithers along to make things difficult on his parents and shows us in spades how stupid he can be, and he is almost too painful to endure.

Whip all this together, and I mean really whip it, and you’ve got Franzen’s new book. I waited nine years, (and suffered through more than one crispy collection of essays), for this book.  I’m pleased by what I’ve read, entertained and horrified. By the time Richard comes between Walter and Patty, which leaves Walter in a funny spot, Richard alone in Jersey City, and Patty trying to discover her kids after basically ignoring them after they got out of diapers. Patty almost speaks right to the reader, actually I felt like she was talking to me, and like Walter, I felt myself telling the Berglunds to pull their fucking panties up and stop acting like everything is someone else’s fault.  As people who know Franzen’s novels will tell you, it’s not always a good thing to see what he’s writing in the life you lead, but it’s hard not to appreciate the grip Franzen has on the pulse of life, even if it is smeared with the unfortunate remains of the people around you. -JR


I meet Matt at BookCourt an hour and forty-five minutes before the reading in Brooklyn. I haven’t seen him in months. Every time we reunite, I think the same thing: this room isn’t big enough to contain two people as beautiful as this. I consider loathing myself for this — it’s not a competition — but there it is all the same. In my head the words take up physical space and I visualize pushing them aside so they disappear somewhere near the ear canal.

So, David, you recently got back from a long book tour; what were you reading in your downtime on the road? Any book(s) really blowing you away right now?

Have you heard of this book called Shit My Dad Says?  I love it a lot.


What’s making you love this book so much right now?

What do I love about the book? I was talking to Laurie about it tonight, as we walked around Green Lake. I really love how compressed the book is. I love how there is no space between the articulation and the embodiment of the articulation. I love how there are vast reservoirs of feeling beneath Justin’s voice and beneath the father’s aphorisms. The father is legitimately smart, even wise; he’s trying to teach his son that life is only blood and bones. Nothing more and nothing less. The son is trying to express to his father his bottomless love and complex admiration.


I have been aware of Shit My Dad Says as a blog. So there is a book out now also? What are the things about the book that you like? I thought the blog was pretty funny. The blog says they are getting a show on CBS. I wonder if the dad will slowly become aware of his minor celebrity status and become more self-aware, thus spoiling the main source of humor? The massive unselfconsciousness might be polluted?

Yep, there’s a blog posting, and it’s already become a TV show (bad, apparently) and a best-selling book. It sounds too easy–this guy just collecting vulgar wisdoms that his father says, but the book is actually kind of lovely. I love how Justin Halpern writes, and I love the mix between his father’s crazy truth-telling and the son slowly getting it. That is, the title is what it is because the son finally learns to embrace the rude vitality of the father. Also, the book is, to me, hugely about Vietnam—the father was a medic in Vietnam–and to me, based on a single crucial scene, it’s not inconsiderably about the father endlessly processing that violence, that anger. It’s also hugely about being Jewish in America–again, very obliquely, mentioned just once; it’s about the father teaching the son how to be Jewish and male in America, which is a complicated thing.


The blog entries all look like about the length of a Twitter post. Is the book set up that way, too? From what I’ve seen of the blog, the whole thing comes off as a very vulgar, un-PC version of something like La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims or Pascal’s Pensées: raw aphorisms that all seem to have some sort of brutal truth at the core. Does the book layout look at all like the blog–a bunch of 200-character bursts?

Yep. I think each entry is meant to be 140 characters or less: the length of a tweet. I love how it just cuts to the chase. How short all of the sections are–how it tries to have as thin a membrane as possible between author and reader and writer, and I love how it’s essentially a tape recording of the father’s best lines, overdubbed with very brief monologues by the son. To me, it’s almost a model for what writing can be now. It’s not great or even good, probably, really, finally, but above all it’s not boring. Which is everything to me. I compare it to the excerpt in the NYer recently of Franzen’s new novel. I couldn’t read past the first paragraph’s high-church sonorities, which have zero to do with life now lived.


The analogy of the tape recording of the father with color commentary by the son is a good one. I like that sort of double-layered narrative. It almost sounds like what I love about a really well-done sports broadcast. You have the main voice calling out all the detail as it happens, and then you have the color-commentator adding a less specific, wider view on events.

That’s a great analogy, but I’d change it more to the father is the action on the field, then the son is the announcer trying to explain it, analyze it, get it.


So are you seeing Halpern’s book as a pretty much flawless work?

The only mistake in the book is the last ten pages, and it’s a serious one. The mask comes off, and everything goes badly sentimental.

Till then I love the book.


That is interesting about the last 10 pages. I wonder why Halpern makes the sudden change at the end? Is it because he felt that a book needs a “book-ish” ending? Or maybe it was editorial advice?

It’s a terrible move. Almost certainly derived from editorial advice.  In many ways it ruins the book, as does the sit-com.


Do you think Shit My Dad Says could be a glimpse of a new form of book born out of the Myspace/Facebook/Twitter realm? Halpern’s instinct was to make a blog first. The book seems to be a secondary recasting of the blog. Before this conversation I didn’t know it was a book. To me it was a blog people kept telling me about.

I do think it suggests that you can be living as an unemployed screenwriter in San Diego and six months later you’re a best-selling writer. I love that.


Do you think Halpern put the book together by harvesting and editing down the blog posts that had built up over a stretch of time? Or was the blog part of a more deliberate plan, and the book was always the end goal? For some reason I find the latter scenario more artistically appealing, maybe because it starts to feel more like organic folk art. Also, do you think a book like this shows that the social networking, web-log impulse can lead to good literature?

I definitely don’t see it as a deliberate plan. If it is, I’ll kill myself. Can social networking, blogging generate great books? On very rare occasions such as this, yes. Justin Halpern has said that he was collecting notes for a screenplay, then of course the notes became tweets, tweets became blog, website, book, etc. That’s crucial for me: the notes for the book are the book, are the better version of the book than any too-considered book.


As I mentioned above, I find it interesting that I was told about Shit My Dad Says by a handful of people, but always in terms of it being a blog I should check out. It might be because the book has been out only a few weeks. But it makes me think about the fact that in the course of everyday discourse at work and in conversations with friends, I’m almost always being urged to check out blogs, YouTube videos, the odd TV show episode or movie now and then, and sometimes podcasts. Books are probably the furthest down on that list. Books don’t seem to occupy the “fun zone” (for lack of a better term). The word-of-mouth recommendations I get from friends are usually some sort of oral endorsement about how great something is and how I really need to have a look because I am missing out on the fun. That is how I found out about Shit My Dad Says. Someone said, “Have you ever read [the blog] Shit My Dad Says? It’s hilarious. This kid just records all the crazy stuff his dad says, and his dad says some real messed-up stuff.”  I’ll wager a million dollars that I’ll never have one of these folks come up to me and say, “Hey, have you heard of this book Shit My Dad Says? It’s great.” Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems far less likely to happen.

I think that’s crucial. The book as object is, as you say, not part of the “fun zone.” Book culture is dead. Books, if they want to survive, need to figure out how to coexist with contemporary culture and catalyze the same energies for literary purposes. That’s what I try to do. Those are the books I love, read, teach, and try to write. Eg, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate, Simon Gray’s Smoking Diaries, David Markson’s This is Not a Novel, Leonard Michaels’s “Journal.” They’re all more literary versions of Shit My Day Says, but they all have that cut-to-the-bone, cut-to-the-chase quality. “This is how we write now.” At least it’s how I write and read now.


It just seems that 20-something and 30-something people I am in contact with are much more open to a new reading experience when it is a blog. I know there have got to be a hundred complex reasons as to why that is, but none of them change the fact that these folks, these non-literature-heads are reading. They haven’t stopped reading; they just don’t get as excited about the book form. I wonder if this is because the blog form is so much easier, immediate, low-time-commitment, non-homework-ish, and of course free?

Crucial for me are the immediacy, the relative lack of scrim between writer and reader, the promised delivery of unmediated reality, the pseudo-artlessness, the nakedness, the comedy, the real feeling hidden 10 fathoms deep.


I think for the most part we can rule out cost as a factor, because these same people don’t hesitate to buy a CD even if they could download it, if the spirit moves them enough or if the artwork is cool enough or if the significance of the release is high enough. I think the reason for these media habits has more to do with low time commitment, and also the feeling that with a blog they are getting something “rawer,” more unfiltered, more direct from writer to reader.

That’s so much what I argue, of course, throughout Reality Hunger. For instance, this new book about David Foster Wallace, called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. David Lipsky spent a couple of weeks with Wallace 14 years ago, then 13 years later he went back and excavated the notes. The book pretends to be just a compilation of notes, and maybe that’s all it is, but to me–this might be way too generous of a reading–it’s a meditation on two sensibilities: desperate art and pure commerce. Lipsky, I hope, knows what he’s doing: evoking himself as the very quintessence of everything Wallace despised.


I don’t think that these media-use habits that we’re talking about mean the book is obsolete. I think it means that we as writers are somehow missing a new element. It could be that a book is just less inherently immediate and raw because it has to go through the old-fashioned labyrinth of the publishing industry, and even when the book is printed and ready to go, you have to either go down to a store to get it, or have it shipped to you via Amazon. But I think this is a constraint that we writers can work around. I think it’s just a challenge for us–to give the book that “live” feel, that up-to-date, awake, aware, instant feel. There will always be a place for, say, the traditional novel that is read on the beach on vacation or chapter by chapter at bedtime for a month as a means of entertainment and escape. But there is this whole other, newer form of reading that most books being published today don’t have an answer for. Even achieving a happy medium between the new and old reading experience would be a great breakthrough. To me a book like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets has that sizzle on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. It’s boiled down to the bare elements, stripped down to just the basic notes (in both senses of the word).

That’s what I’m aiming for. The paragraph-by-paragraph sizzle is everything to me. Fusselman, Gray, Michaels, Nelson, to take just a few examples—-these books books have an extraordinarily artful “artlessness” that is to me crucial to contemporary art.


I have been taking notes and collecting quotes for nearly 2 years, all for this future book that I hope will materialize at some point. But every time I attempt to turn the notes into the book, I hate the results. It also doesn’t hurt that I love all these books, like The Pharmacist’s Mate, that are collections of scraps laid out in a pleasing manner. I think my love of this sort of structural style definitely nudges me towards the notes staying notes, or you could say “the book” staying notes. Really what I have built is a database of little meditations, riffs, metaphors, and quotations. I even find my notes on how the book should be structured to be full of energy, because it is an outline of my massive aspirations for the book, most of which I have no hope of actually pulling off. It almost feels like my book wants to be about the planning of a book. A hypothetical literature that can’t exist under earth’s current gravity. So, yes, I am with you all the way regarding your interest in these sorts of books.

The notes are the book, I promise you.




I read Safe in Heaven Dead and I waited. That was a hell of a debut, there was a whiff of The Corrections to that book, but in a more focused world, plus the main character dies on the first page, so, I guess it’s not all Franzen. Then, as I’m doing my monthly Ligon check I come across him on Facebook, which, well, puts Drift and Swerve squarely on my desk. It’s funny to wait so long to read a writer and then realize that he’s continued to write the same searing and effective prose that you remembered. Ligon and I talked about Providence, where the first story in Drift and Swerve takes place. I went to college there and grew up in Rhode Island, and he wanted me to point out what he got wrong about the city. He didn’t miss anything, or screw any streets up, which is good, meaning he knows where he’s writing about. What I like about the story is that it reminds me so much of the people that didn’t go to RISD or Brown, and hung around Providence with the kids who did. They were there physically, but when we students went to class they went to work at a job-job. These people were sometimes more interesting than the kids who went to college, and Ligon takes us on trip around town with a down on her luck stoner, who drifted her way to Providence.

Sometimes Providence collects people like Nikki, who got there by accident. Nikki doesn’t remind me of one person, she reminds me of six or seven, girls who showed up at parties that were all RISD kids and she was the only one there who didn’t have to go to class, but somehow found something in common with everyone. I thought of Nikki as more than the stoner thief that she’s made up to be by Ligon, the girl who wants something but doesn’t know how to ask, or find it, if she did know what it was. She’s working at a restaurant owned by some lesbians, and Ligon makes it all sound oddly uncomfortable, without saying it out loud. There’s this great scene where Nikki gets this painting from a painter who may or may not be dropping out of RISD, and she doesn’t really like the gift. It sounds good to me, but Nikki doesn’t know if it’s good or not, because she’s Nikki, a girl who works at a restaurant. It’s easy to show a character being uneducated, or have them say it, but it’s difficult to neither say it or show it, and just have it be there, that’s a writer who knows how to write characters. -JR

December 25 marks a milestone at The Nervous Breakdown: the fortieth day of the existence of TNB 3.0. If the revamped site were the Ark, the dove would fly back with an olive leaf in its mouth. Or a sample from the bag of Jessica Blau’s “lemons.” Or a beanie Zoë Brock found on the side of the road in Frisco. Or…but you get the idea.

I feel like this momentous occasion should be commemorated by something other than the exchange of presents and spiked eggnog. Perhaps Megan DiLullo can organize a podcast? Or, better yet, a photo montage of TNBers dressed like Bond girls? (An editorial suggestion for Megan and Erika: next time, get the girls to wear the bikinis).

It’s been a month in which our contributors have displayed feats of tremendous bravery: David Wills swam with sharks. Matt Baldwin hiked with bear. Simon Smithson jumped off a tall building. Ben Loory stole money from Demi Moore. Don Mitchell wore tighty-whities.

J.E. Fishman is serializing his novel, Cadaver Blues. Between Cadaver and Cactus City, there’s a lot of blues going on at TNB. I hope 2010 is a happier year for everyone.

Richard Cox wrote a cool piece about the hoopla surrounded the Tiger Woods imbroglio, which—because we are above it here on this blog—somehow descended into a debate about the literary merits of Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections, it appears, refers to what Woods did to his swing a few years back.

Our Fearless Leader returned from blog post exile, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, Welcome back, Brad Listi. His piece, “You Lost Me At Hello,” was treated like the release of Chinese Democracy—top of the charts, top of the comment numbers—the only difference being that Brad’s post is good.

Someone named Darian Arky started writing for us from his redoubt in Prague. According to his dossier, he works for the State Department. How naïve do you think we are, man? I’ve read enough James Ellroy books to know that if a dude claims to work for the State Department, he’s really out there gathering intelligence, handling sources, and slipping Cold Ethyl into the Chivas of enemies of the state. I’m not sure what Arky is up to—other than contributing great pieces and leaving lots of comments on everyone else’s—but I find it curious that as soon as he shows up, Justin Benton vanishes.

Whether or not Darian Arky is an actual person, Darian Arky is a cool name. That seems to be a criterion for letting new writers on the site. Check out these new peeps: Gwenda Bond, Doreen Orion, Nathaniel Missildine, and Jeffrey Pillow all join Autumn Kindelspire, Slade Ham, and Will Entrekin in the Cool Name Hall of Fame.

(Alison Aucoin is a cool name, too, except that I have no idea how to pronounce it. Oh-KWAN? OH-cun? Oh-CYOON? Alison, please enlighten us).

The forty days have included lots of great stuff—if I neglected to mention you specifically, it’s not because I don’t like you, but because my daughter is yelling at me from downstairs to give her gum, so my attentions are diverted—but I’ve especially enjoyed the content from LitPark and 3G1B and WordHustler, as well as the fact that my kids routinely appear on View From Your Phone.

My favorite piece of the first forty days, however—other than my own self-interview, of course—is the trilogy submitted by Gina Frangello about her father. A must-read, it says here.

Happy holidays, folks. May 2010 be the year in which all your dreams come true…and the year in which we drop the idiotic “two-thousand” business and start saying “twenty-ten.”

I’m so ashamed. I only made it three days.

Three days before I ended up on TMZ.com.

When the news first broke, I was watching a college football game with my dad. A network news anchor looked gravely into the camera and explained how Tiger Woods had been involved in an automobile accident and his condition on the scene had been described as serious. I don’t know about the world at large, or for readers of The Nervous Breakdown, but for sports (and particularly golf) fans, this was big news. Obviously you’re concerned for the guy’s safety, but when you find out he’s okay and learn a few details about the accident, questions begin to arise.

But why? As I wrote in an earlier TNB blog, I don’t know Tiger Woods any more than I know my neighbors who live two doors down. I’m not interested in their daily drama, so why would I be interested in the personal life of a famous golfer I’ve never met?

I’m completely interested to see him dominate the sport of golf like no one else, to use his swing as a model for my own (I still have some work to do there). As a sports fan and a serious golfer, I have every reason to be impressed with his miracle victory in the 2008 U.S. Open (hobbled by a bum knee), or winning the 2007 PGA Championship less than two miles from my house.

But why would I care about him running over a fire hydrant, other than he’s not seriously hurt?

And yet I was.

My first thoughts were that he either a) wandered out of the house on sleep medication, or b) had gotten into a fight with his wife. How or why else would a person who wasn’t drunk run into a fire hydrant right next to his own driveway? At 2:30 in the morning?

But I was determined not to care. Even as people texted me gossip from smut web sites, I refused to go looking for those details myself.

If you ask anyone if they approve of the methods used by today’s paparazzi, they will invariably say “no.” The worst of these photographers are dirtier scum than email spammers. They jump from behind trees and frighten actresses, and then sell these pictures to magazines that write stories about how Jen still isn’t over Brad. They’ll follow any minor celebrity hoping to see a misstep that can be sold for cash.

But they’re only able to earn a living doing that kind of shit because we as consumers buy their goods.

And even if you don’t buy trash magazines, you probably still watch television and read news on the Internet. Tiger’s story is on every network, on every news web site. They cover stories like this because that’s what sells advertising. It’s what we want to see.

Look at this photo, by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images:

All this for a guy who hit a fire hydrant and a tree with his SUV.

But oh, he’s the best golfer of all time and is worth close to a billion dollars. And won’t tell us how or why the accident occurred. Further, this extra attention is directed at Tiger largely because of his squeaky-clean public persona. It’s like we want to see him fail, since we’ve never seen it happen before. Is that because we’re happy to know he’s a flawed human being, or because jealousy drives us to enjoy his suffering?

Let’s say for a moment the worst rumors are true: He angered his wife, she attacked him in some way, and even chased the SUV with a golf club as he tried to flee the scene. All he’s done since then is blame the accident on himself and ask for privacy.

Isn’t that what any of us would do? In fact wouldn’t most wives appreciate a husband who protected her in that way, even if she was pissed at him for something else?

He is Tiger Woods, however, so people want the details. But why? Why does it matter? How will the lives of golf fans or casual observers be any different tomorrow if he were to offer us a few sordid morsels?

I’m ashamed of myself for following a link to TMZ (an entertainment site I deeply despise) but that doesn’t change the fact that I did it.

Whatever the reason for his accident, no matter which (if any) rumors are true, for me it doesn’t alter my awe of Tiger Woods. He is the best in the world at a sport I love. I didn’t think any less of Stephen King when I learned of his drug and alcohol problems (that actually explained a lot), and if tomorrow Jonathan Franzen were to admit an addiction to Internet porn, I would still purchase every book he ever published. I don’t know these men personally and likely never will, but as long as they don’t intentionally kill anyone I will probably always like them.

But I like myself a little less when I’m forced to admit that I cannot completely ignore the drama in their personal lives. No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, such is the reality of human nature.

The morning is soupy, humid and warm, and we all know the mercury will climb quickly. A ride on a bus and an uphill walk, rubbing elbows with an army of spectators, and then I see the sun breaking over the roof of the club house. Shadows stretch across the golf course, a man-made jewel. The sky is infinite shades of pink and blue. I never get up this early. As far as I’m concerned, the day doesn’t begin until two hours after sunrise. Minimum. But I might as well capture this rare moment for digital review at some later time, so I reach into my pocket and retrieve my camera. Push the power button. Nothing happens. I push it again, but knowledge surges into me like guilt, and I see clearly the camera battery mounted in the charger. Which is plugged into the wall. At home. Today is the day I chose to take pictures–the Tuesday practice round–because tomorrow I’m working, and during the actual tournament, cameras are prohibited. Because of the bus system and the long walk, the round trip time between this spot and my house is probably an hour and a half. Maybe even longer. I stuff the camera back into my pocket. Through the trees I notice a group of golfers on the fourth green. One of them is Tiger Woods. I happen to be standing near the fifth tee, so I walk over and find a spot on the ropes, directly behind the tee. Two minutes later, here comes Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods, two of the biggest hitters on the PGA TOUR, about to tee off on one of the longest holes in major championship golf. A 653-yard par 5. And I have no camera. But wait! I smuggled my cell phone into the tournament! It has a 2 megapixel camera! Phones are definitely not allowed here at the PGA Championship, but I get it out anyway and snap a couple of shots. Even though I know they won’t turn out well.

You know what, though? It’s okay. It’s no secret that I’m into golf. I like to think that if I could quit my job and practice full-time, I could probably make a living at it. Either playing or instructing. But I don’t, because I already chose “writing novels” as my pipe dream career. It would probably be greedy to have two.

The PGA Championship two weeks ago was one of the most rewarding weeks I’ve had in a while. I volunteered as a marshal on one of the more famous holes in golf, I was able to watch the sport being played at its highest level, and I was there when Tiger Woods won his 13th major. That all this happened a couple of miles from my house made the experience that much more sublime. A lot of people asked me afterwards: Did you see Tiger? Did you see Tiger? Yeah, I did. Being inside the ropes, I was pretty close. Did you get his autograph? people asked. Get a picture with him? I am a big fan of Tiger Woods because he set his sights on one of the most hallowed records in sports and has steadily marched toward it for the past twelve years. I am a fan because he is about the same height and body type as me, and I can look at his swing as a model. Surprisingly, I hit the ball about as far as Tiger (though nowhere near as precisely). It’s fun to compare your skill level with the best in the world, to imagine what it would be like to play a round with Tiger or any of the best golfers. But what would I do with an autograph? His name hastily scribbled on a ball cap? A photograph might be interesting, but only if it were taken after I had a conversation with the guy.

Because who is Tiger Woods? I don’t know. Who is Stephen King or Jonathan Franzen or any well-known person I admire for their skills? I don’t know them. They don’t know me. Would I like to play golf with Tiger? Discuss fiction with Franzen? Of course I would. But I would do it as a peer, not a fan. To do so is to acknowledge some gap between us, some difference in what we bring to the world, and I’m not prepared to do that. I can understand children pining for an autograph. But I don’t really get it with adults…and yet I’ve happily signed many books. For readers I meet in bookstores, for friends. It seems very hypocritical, I know. Maybe the difference is that at a book signing, I have the chance to speak with readers. Or maybe I’m conceited. All I know is that I prefer to take pictures with the people I care about. The people I talk to every day. The people who I share my life with. But hey, Tiger: Let me know the next time you have an open spot in your foursome. I’m free. And this time I’ll have a battery in my camera.