Make Mine Personalized, Please

Even though the ALA Conference is in Chicago and only a two-hour drive away, I am not able to attend this year. Nonetheless, I am receiving publishers’ e-mail announcements and seeing scads of tweets about author signings in the exhibit hall. That, and Neil Gaiman’s pictures of the myriads of books he is signing lately, have prompted me to think about the two shelves of autographed books my family has collected throughout the years. A few have been surprise finds in a used bookstore. Another few are special editions ordered online (for example, my husband’s Babylon 5 set of behind-the-scenes show history). But most of the books are the result of someone in our family (and, at times, extended family) standing in line, meeting the author, and seeing the autograph as it is made.

Yesterday, my mom called while she and my sister were standing in line in Phoenix, AZ to see Neil Gaiman, who is promoting The Ocean at the End of the Lane on his last U.S. tour. If you haven’t read it yet, drop everything and go do it. I. Am. Not. Kidding. I will wait here.

Back now? Absolutely amazing, right? You’re welcome.

So anyway, I hesitated about driving up to Chicago to see Neil Gaiman myself, and then the show sold out, making my decision for me. Now I am stuck hoping his last tour is just like The Who’s Farewell Tour in 1982. But I digress. My standing-in-line mom called to tell me the signing rules and to ask if I wanted my book personalized.

I always want my book personalized.

The way I see it, a personalized autograph means a true personal connection. For a small moment in time, no matter how brief, no matter how many other people were in line, the author shared a part of himself or herself with me, specifically. I remember exactly what Neil Gaiman said to me when I saw him at ALA in 2009 while signing The Graveyard Book: “It’s such a Monday-y sort of morning isn’t it?” And it really, really was. Very recently, I saw Max Brooks, author of World War Z, speak at Illinois State University. When I asked him to sign and personalize (of course) my husband’s copy of the book, I told him that he couldn’t make the talk because he had to stay home with the boy (meaning our son). Max smiled and wrote, “To Dan, who stayed home with the boys.” He thought I said, “boys,” but that’s OK—in fact, that makes the inscription a little more memorable. When Max learned that my best friend and I were both librarians he wrote, “Girls night out! Go Librarians!” in her copy of The Zombie Survival Guide, and we all laughed. What a fun memory!

I have watched enough Pawn Stars to know that a personalized autograph is worth less than just a plain signature. But that’s assuming an intention to sell the book someday. An intention I don’t have.

My mom called today to talk about how much she loved hearing Neil Gaiman speak and what a gracious yet down-to-earth and real person he is. A couple weeks ago, I mailed her a somewhat unique item to take along. When Neil looked at “Day of the Dead,” a script he wrote for Babylon 5, he said, “Someone is going to be very pleased with this,” and personalized it for Dan. My sister gave up her chance to have her book personalized so Neil could sign one for me.

Even though my husband and I were 1600 miles away from them all last night, for a few moments, we were right there, too. And soon my mom will visit and bring us the books that will forever symbolize that brief yet precious connection.

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2 thoughts on “Make Mine Personalized, Please

  1. I enthusiastically agree. I have a modest collection of signed books. The least “special” of them are signed astronaut memoirs that I ordered online and on a whim. They are cool, but they don’t have personal stories other than a few clicks and a credit card number.

    My copy of Lost Moon by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger might be the most unusual signed book that I own. (This story of Apollo 13 is a great read, by the way.) Neither Lovell nor Kluger signed it; instead, I took the book along when I had the opportunity to meet astronaut Ken Mattingly. He was famously cut from the mission days before launch because he was exposed to German measles. (He didn’t contract them, but by the time that was known, Swigert was piloting the unlucky spacecraft.) Mattingly signed my Lost Moon book, “Karen – Best Wishes, Come Fly With Us.”

    Most recently, Ken Jennings was in town to promote and sign his book, Because I Said So! I was sick the day he was in town, so Brian went solo. As a past Jeopardy! winner, Brian competed in the show’s “Ultimate Tournament of Champions” event several years back. By a narrow margin, he didn’t get to face off against Ken directly, but Ken remembered him anyway. Ken meant to write “Fellow Jeopardy! Warrior!” in his inscription, but he penned “…Winner!” instead. He then modified it so it now reads, “To Brian & Karen: Fellow Jeopardy! Warrior/Winner!”

    These aren’t just signatures; they’re personal memories.

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