#110, Go to a book signing
Yesterday I headed to Orange County, the city of Placentia actually, for a book signing at a country club. It was a bit of a distance, but I have decided that I can’t let a fear of traffic limit my adventures. I just need to be patient. Or leave earlier.
The guest of honor was Lisa See, the author of the novels, Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, among others.
I had absentmindedly put a check in the mail to the Placentia Library Friends Group for the book signing, but as I was leaving the house I couldn’t remember if lunch would be served. I grabbed a protein bar, but then found the flyer. The event was scheduled from 10-2. Four hours?! Was she going to read a novel to us? What would take four hours? The word luncheon caught my eye. Hmmm, okay. Ditch the protein bar. Hit the road.
I arrived at the country club just in time to see Lisa See stepping out of a town car. I resisted the urge to pounce on her and shake her hand.
As I stepped inside, I realized that this was an EVENT. Perhaps the $55 ticket should have alerted me, but I had mistakenly thought that the price had included a book.
At the entry table, I was greeted kindly and as the lady inked through my name she said, “You are at Table 4, one table away from Lisa See and you are seated right next to the Mayor!” I was ushered into a banquet room that had a red carpet taped down the center and perhaps 20 round tables set with ivory tablecloths, red napkins, and floral centerpieces.
I was underdressed in my trouser jeans against a sea of black pants, but no one seemed to care. I am accustomed to moving through crowds unnoticed, but this event was going to require conversation. I asked if there was a bar. It was only ten o’clock in the morning, but a Bloody Mary sounded perfect.
I was then encouraged by ladies with name tags to visit the silent auction tables. There I read cards that offered spa baskets, nights in a cabin overlooking Lake Arrowhead, gift cards to Buca di Beppo, and other local eateries, and the item I bid on, dinner for six at an Orange County Firehouse. I thought winning would make me a hero to my teenage daughter and her friends.
I then made my way to the book table and bought a copy of China Dolls which Lisa See signed for me. She seemed aloof and serious to me, and I wondered if events like this are a necessary evil in her life or if perhaps she just isn’t a smiling, nodding, bobble-headed Foo dog like myself.
We were asked to return to our seats. The emcee of the event was a fashionable and animated woman who wore a fitted red satin dress with a Mandarin collar and silver four-inch heels.
Then she told us it was National Cheese Doodle Day. At this announcement, high school kids moved through the crowd handing us plastic bags of cheese doodles. I looked at Lisa See and saw her take her doodles and place them on the table as though she thought the orange cheese dust might escape from the bag and stain her hands.
Next we were treated to a JibJab video of the police chief and other officials dancing to All About That Bass. The police chief was a good sport and was called up to receive a service award for 34 years behind the badge.
A beat of a drum sounded and moments later Lion Dancers appeared on the edge of the room. They moved inside the long costume and ran through the crowd, whipping people with fringe and making us laugh. A little girl was allowed to jump inside the lion and she ran with the dancers between the tables. At the end of the dance, we were given a blessing of “Good Luck and Good Health.”
There was a break in the ceremony and I went to check my silent auction bid. There were five bids after mine, so I upped the ante.
When I returned to the table, a young Korean guy was seated next to me. He introduced himself and told me that he was on the board of the Library Friends association. Another couple had also joined the table. The man was wearing a bow tie and a navy suit coat. His wife looked hip and bookish. I saw cufflinks made of Scrabble tiles adorning the man’s wrists. His name was Zoot, and he is the president of the Library Friends group. With his gray hair and dark framed glasses, he looked very Brooks Brothers, so it was fun when he addressed the crowd later and told of his troubled youth and his talent for break dancing. He said that he was suspended from school for lighting firecrackers and spent two weeks in the library, a stint that changed his life and opened up a world of reading for him. It was a great story.
I chatted with the guy at my left and asked what he had been reading lately. He told me that he liked graphic novels and had also just read Crazy Rich Asians which I should check out.
We were asked by our emcee to clap and cheer loudly and I would have thought I was on a cruise ship if it wasn’t for the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the golf course.
Then a young man joined our table, and I was surprised to learn that the baby-faced man seated at my right was the Mayor. His name is Jeremy Yamaguchi. He was late because he had already been to three events that day, and he had two more events still to attend. Each of the tables had their own “celebrity host” so Jeremy filled our coffee cups and brought us water. That’s him behind Zoot. After speaking with him I was impressed with Mayor Yamaguchi. He was kind and thoughtful and personable. He told me that he has held the position of Mayor for six years, since he was 22. He had joined the city council at the age of 19.
Rushed banquet servers began serving our lunch. A salad landed in front of me as though it had been shot out of a cannon. It was removed with equal force and replaced with grilled chicken and fettucine alfredo. Someone asked the Mayor if he could bring us some bread.
I checked the silent auction again and someone had outbid me by $5. It was getting pricey, so I only upped it another $10.
Next, dessert was served. Everyone managed to catch their flinging plates, but Mayor Yamaguchi received ice cream due to his nut allergy.
Next, Lisa See was called to the podium. She carried scribbled notes on a sheet of paper.
I put my own notebook down so that I could give her my full attention, but I’m sorry I did. Her talk was erudite, eloquent, and funny and I would have liked to remember more details. The coolness I had observed disappeared and her stories brought her to life.
She gave us brief histories of her Chinese ancestry, her adventures in research, and her writing career. She said that her writing and her interest in telling stories of the past could be likened to this Wallace Stegner quote which introduces her book, On Gold Mountain.
“Fooling around in the papers my grandparents, especially my grandmother, left behind, I get glimpses of lives close to mine, related to mine in ways I recognize but don’t completely comprehend. I’d like to live in their clothes awhile.”
She summarized the plot lines of her novels and told us that, for her, each story must begin with a relationship. She told us of the many stories of women through the ages; stories that were not allowed to see the light of day with so much shade thrown from the stories of men and their wars and their accomplishments. She described interviewing tiny old crones who gave her the details of their strange and eventful lives. She would catch their gossamer words like butterflies in a net, so that she might tell their stories before they disintegrated forever into nothingness.
Lisa See told us that art is the heartbeat of an artist and that to be good, it must cut all the way to the bone.
She fielded questions with wit, and poise, and gave plump answers that only whet my appetite. I look forward to reading more of her books. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Shanghai Girls, and Peony in Love.
They reminded me of my childhood and working through the stories of Pearl S. Buck.
Our emcee returned to the stage and I learned that I had lost the silent auction, but I wasn’t the least bit unhappy about it.
I had arrived at the club with almost no expectations, so every twist and turn had been a welcome surprise. I also spent an hour doing what I love best. I had tapped my foot to a symphony of words, and swooned while the Lisa See orchestra played the music of colorful tales, foreign voyages, and insight into a fascinating artistic process.
I see from her website that she is speaking at The Biltmore on March 10th, in Santa Monica, and at the Whittier Library, on April 2nd.
See her if you can and read her novels. Add them to your list.
300 days to go!