The first time I held one of my published books in my hand, I kept putting it on the shelf and saying: “Look, it looks just like a real book!” That memory is very vivid, very clear. Yet I am less sure of what I felt when subsequent books arrived. I do remember the thrill of seeing the cover for The Sugar House, my first hardcover. And I remember the dismay I felt at seeing a prototype cover for one book, which my editor was kind enough to send back to the drawing board. But, in general, key book-related memories are lost to me. First time I saw my book on sale, in a library, in a stranger’s hands? I couldn’t begin to tell you. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a stranger reading one of my books, although I’ve seen many people reading my friends’ books.
So it’s reasonable to assume that I will very soon forget the enormous pleasure I had on Friday, when I opened a box of galleys for NO GOOD DEEDS. I am one of the lucky ones; my galleys (aka AREs or ARCs) are glamorous affairs, shiny and embossed, with cover art and marketing plans. But I don’t think it’s the cover that made me rip into the box with such enthusiasm that I ended up with a long and somewhat painful cardboard cut on my left forearm. The pleasure of seeing the typeset pages in bound form simply never grows old. It is the equivalent of that: “Look, it looks like a real book” moment, which is what I feel every time. A year ago, literally, these pages were mostly in my head, with no more than nine or ten chapters in the roughest of rough drafts. The chapters that did exist weren’t even in the right order.
The arrival of the ARCs followed one of those rare moments when someone recognized my name. I was involved in a business transaction, signing some paperwork, when the heretofore no-nonsense woman screamed out: “OH NO YOU’RE NOT.” I thought I had made a grievous error in the paperwork, but it turned out she was a fan. This does not happen to me often, although it does seem to have an uncanny knack for happening when I’m wearing my bright blue Colts Corral windbreaker, with “Jimmy” stencilled on it. Yet, despite the relative rarity of this, I can’t remember the first time it happened. Right now, I can’t remember the penultimate time it happened. Meanwhile, I can’t forget the cheerful young clerk in a local bookstore who took my credit card and said: “Lippman — like Elaine’s boss on Seinfeld!”
It’s funnier when you know that I was standing two feet from a huge stack of my own books, and that I sell rather well in this particular store.
Today’s topic is memories of first times, memories of first times that you can’t but should remember, memories of first times that you’re lucky enough to experience over and over again.