I have some friends who are big author stalkers. I'm not too much into it, but when I heard that David Giffels was going to be at one of the local libraries last week for a reading / Q & A / signing to promote his book, All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House, I thought I'd check it out.
Giffels used to work at the Beacon Journal, and I remember reading his articles — along with those of Chuck Klosterman, but I would probably skip a Klosterman event. I just don't find his books that interesting. I've been meaning to read the Giffels book for ages, though, and I figured that actually owning a copy might put me a step closer to achieving the goal. Thanks to the helpful people from Borders, that part of the mission was accomplished within five minutes of entering the building.
After the library's representative welcomed us and introduced the evening's main attraction, she presented him with a hammer. (If you don't know or couldn't guess, his book is about fixing up a house. But it's probably got a bit more in common with the fellas on The Red Green Show who hang out at Possum Lodge than the delightfully accented quartet at Ask This Old House.) I'm not sure if that was truly a new experience for him (receiving a clever gift like a hammer) or if he gracefully didn't let on that dozens of the libraries and other sundry organizations he has visited as part of his book tour have already bequeathed to him a wide selection of implements from the 2009 Craftsman catalog.* Either way, it got a laugh out of the crowd.
At any rate, he went on to explain that Westlake just barely met the criteria his speaking engagements** and then set the scene for people who weren't familiar with the book. He read a highly amusing snippet involving an oversized raccoon that had taken up residence in the attic, and then took questions from the audience.
Some questions were requests for more information about aspects of the book — the family of the previous owner, for example, and the woman herself. She sounded a bit like a Collyer brother to me, but I shouldn't talk — people who live in glass houses, don't y'know.
After that, a couple wanted to know what advice he could give their son (a recent journalism grad) and someone else wanted Giffels's opinion on the state of newspapers, perhaps especially because Giffels has chosen to pursue a career in academia: He's going to be a professor at Akron U*** in the fall. His advice was to learn a variety of skills (If you're a writer, learn to take photos; if you're an editor, learn Web design.) because one person is going to have to do more than one task in the newsgathering/publishing process. He also recapped some of what I already knew about the decline and fall of the Beacon, and I think he wrapped up with the general idea that there will always be a place for the kind of work newspapers do (more in-depth coverage of an issue; serving as a watchdog to government and private enterprise, etc.) even if the actual format /delivery system of the product changes.
On a lighter note, he discussed how being part of a house tour is equal parts ego boost and stress inducer, since you're excited about participating but bummed out by how much work you have to do to make it look like no one lives there.
When it was my turn to have my book signed, I asked if he had any contact with Progress Through Preservation, a group in Akron that I thought would love his fixer-upper house, especially once he had fixed it up. I name-dropped a little, since I know someone on the board, and it turned out he knows her as well, and in fact just saw her at an event within the last week. And since I had identified myself as a transplanted Akronite, part of the inscription reads, "with Akroness." Heh. That's almost as good as Clevelanxiety.
It's almost a week later and I still haven't started to read the book yet, but at least it's making itself comfortable with the rest of the Akroness in my apartment.
* I was poking around the Craftsman Web site, and I found this mildly insulting: A complete line of pink tool sets. Because, you know, it's for the ladies. Urk.
** To have some kind of reason for accepting some invitations and refusing others, he came up with the policy of only appearing at events that were within an hour's drive of his house. According to MapQuest, Westlake is 59 minutes away.
*** I think the marketing department insists on "The University of Akron" because they think it's classier, but whatever.