14 October 2006

Audiobook Immortality Slips By

Yesterday afternoon I sat down in the reading room atop the Boston Athenaeum with two old volumes of the Huntington Library Quarterly to peruse. But first my cell phone was quivering in its attention-seeking way. Someone had called me at 12:25, when I was incommunicado in the subway, and the phone didn't recognize the number.

So I thought no more about that and dove into the world of Dr. Thomas Young, the Rev. Isaac Backus, and young Benjamin Thompson--i.e., pre-Revolutionary Boston. About 5:15, I packed up and went downstairs.

And I ran smack into the Horn Book Awards crowd, almost flooring a man as I opened the stairwell door. (I made up for it by telling him where to find the restroom.) I twisted and torted myself through the crowd toward the exit, only to be greeted by advertising manager J. D. Ho with name tags. Earlier in the week she'd emailed me that there was no more seating at the ceremony, so I refrained from identifying myself as one of the names still on the table and resumed threading my way out.

Editor Roger Sutton passed by, marching honorees up to the podium. Normally corraling authors and artists is like herding cats, but it helps that Roger's two meters tall.

Finally I retrieved my checked bag and turned to the outer door--and bumped into past honoree M. T. Anderson. "How did the leech get into the bed?" I asked him.

"It was on my leg to begin with," he said. [This is a common problem for travelers in Nepal, apparently. Add another region to my list of Places I'm Happy to Read About, Thank You.] "You know, I tried calling you early this afternoon."

It turned out he was my missed call. Anderson's National Book Award-nominated novel Octavian Nothing contains a letter about hiring a horse which, in eighteenth-century style, has dashes in place of a man's name. The audiobook publisher didn't want to leave a Nixonian gap there, so it asked Anderson to provide a name, any name. And since I'd helped to vett the book's historical details, he thought it might be fun to insert my name--if I approved.

But we didn't connect in time, so that horse dealer in the audiobook will now sport another name. Fame is so fleeting.

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