Catholics do not read. Rich Protestants do a little, but over the years their surplus funds have gone to institutions that pretend to be universalist. Hence another venue for the performing author, the WASP club. The club that has been kindest to me was formed during the Civil War after its parent club refused to expel its Confederate members. Bearded Union generals stare from its walls; the library is paneled in South African mahogany. The hors d’oeuvres here are skimpy — you would eat better at Occupy Wall Street — but the bar is terrific. The questions are also good. When the author finishes, he is asked to autograph a copy of his book for the library shelves. The club librarian once showed me a curiosity: a book of John Updike’s, autographed by him, as is typical, on one of the front pages. But when I turned that page, I saw another inscription on the next, in a very different hand, which said, “I don’t know who that was, but I do know that I am John Updike.” A signature con; the talented Mr. John Hancock. Better check the bills in your wallet. Is IOU NOTHIN SUCKER really the Treasurer of the United States?
A third author venue is the bookstore. All my city appearances have been at chain stores. I live two blocks away from a terrific chain store, four stories tall, with a big, high-ceilinged lecture space overlooking a park; but I have always only appeared in smaller outlets, in basements or attics designed for house trolls, with chairs set up among the shelves for Children’s Books, Gay Studies, and Travel: Oceania. The audience at bookstores is the most unpredictable, and the questions can be ululations with rising inflections, but it is always best to be nice to everyone, as I learned when one particularly trying lady turned out to have brought four of my earlier books for signing (she also bought the new one). God bless her; I’ll discuss Freemasons with her all day long.