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Donna Tartt: Quotey and Less Intimidating Than Expected

Donna Tartt came to Chicago.

For those unaware, Donna Tartt wrote The Secret History and The Goldfinch (and also a third book that no one really talks about). She also has author pictures that cause hardened warriors to quake in their spike-tipped boots.

Better known amongst her kindred as "Soul Reaper."

I liked The Goldfinch. And I like author events. And Donna Tartt looked so impressively terrifying that I had a whole plan of going up to the author table and being AS CHEERFUL AS I COULD POSSIBLY BE to see what happened.

So I went to Northwestern's Thorne Auditorium and sat in a seat that yielded this blurry picture (Tartt is, of course, on the right):

The audience was mostly made up of gay men and older women. So I distrust my own reactions to the program, because maybe everyone aside from my friend Jeff and myself was fascinated by the talk and thought some very probing questions were put to Ms. Tartt. What seemed to happen, though, was the following:

Moderator: "You're so awesome at everything. How do you do that?"

Tartt: *talks for five minutes, pausing a lot. Nothing is really said*

Jeff captured this moment, unbeknownst to me, which sums things up pretty accurately:

Here's the thing — I don't expect all authors to be engaging and awesome in person. That's not their main thing. Their main thing is sitting alone in a room and writing shit down. Which people then read and get excited about, or hate, or go 'meh' over. To also have high expectations of their interpersonal skills seems to be asking a bit much. The main thing I was disappointed in, actually, was that Ms. Tartt seemed shy up there. Really? Shy? Do I have to show you another one of your author portraits?

Like we could do anything to you. Look how pointy your shoulders are.

What I remember about the talk, aside from the incessant fawning, was her quoting authors. Like a lot. To the point where I started writing them down. Woolf, Orwell, Nabokov, Flaubert and Yeats. At least. At some moment she mentioned Bret Easton Ellis, whom she is buds with (a fact which the internet has trained me to react to with '...ugh').

Question time prompted a fierce battle between myself and the man handing out the mic to people. For he was being directed by the girl across the aisle, and WOULD NOT JUST GIVE ME THE MIC until said girl saw my hand raised. People in a three row circumference were invested in the outcome of this conflict until persistence won and I stood up, mic in hand, apparently so I could be a shit to Donna Tartt.

I don't think she actually took it that way. I don't think. But I started by saying how fantastic Boris is as a character. And then — she had read aloud a quote from like 20 pages from the end of the book which talks about WHY The Goldfinch is an amazing painting — I said that THAT quote had made me go "Oh, I get it now" regarding a good deal of the preceding pages, and why did she put it at the end rather than earlier? Essentially I meant "You put this in the wrong place and this would have been a better book if you'd moved it."

She gave a very calm response, which pretty much boiled down to "I have thought this through and it's in the right place, thank you very much, did you work on a book for ten years no I didn't think so you sit yourself back down now."

Jeff and I then got in line for the signing. You might know that I ask authors to write a favorite word in the book I have them sign. Alison Bechdel wrote 'Ranunculus.' Emma Donoghue wrote "bejewelled." Donna Tartt, after seeming confused and not in the least bit amused, wrote the following:


So the event was all a little anticlimactic. I mostly blame the moderator for her sycophancy (ALSO YOU, AUDIENCE), but I will say I don't expect any of this to make me enjoy Tartt's books any less — which is generally the fear with meeting an author whose work you like. I bought The Secret History from the sellers working the event, and I am muy excited to start it.

Afterwards, Jeff, my beyond-charming friend who works in publishing:

you should all meet Jeff

and I walked over by Water Tower, which if you live in Chicago you tend to avoid, as it's the site of Overpriced Everything. But there's also a Ghirardelli there and they had a milkshake called the Nob Hill Chill, and this needed to be ordered. So the evening ended with this and I now have nothing but good feelings for Donna Tartt:

Well done, milkshake.


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