IVP - Strangely Dim - Your Name Here

December 17, 2004

Your Name Here

By David A. Zimmerman

Earlier this week I finished the third of my three big book-signing events for Comic Book Character. Boy, are my arms tired. (Ha! That's hilarious!)

Actually, it is funny that people will wait around to have you sign your name on something that already has your name on it. Prior to these signings, the only time my signature has had any value in the eyes of anyone has been when it's applied to a check or a contract--usually a contract that will ultimately involve my signing a check.

My first signing event was in Dallas, Texas. I was there for Thanksgiving with my family, and I thought, You know what might be fun--having a book signing! So I called a bookstore and set it up. Then I sat in the store and put together a puzzle while a throng of customers avoided eye contact with me. We sold about five copies--all to people who owed my mommy a favor.

A couple of weeks later I rode the coat-tails of the massive marketing juggernaut that is InterVarsity Press to Wheaton, Illinois, where my book signing was heralded by a guy wearing a cape and a spandex body suit. Fortunately for me and for everyone in the store, that guy was not me. Counting infants and my coworkers--who have different developmental capacities but similar purchasing power to one another--about eighty people showed up. Some of them even bought books.

Five days later my wife and I, after making a prodigious amount of food, watched our home fill up with friends and family to celebrate the release of my book and the birth of our Lord and Savior. All in all, sixty people came by--we've got the food on the floor to prove it. (Note to self: sweep.)

The common denominator of these events is that I had to write something pithy in each copy of the book that sold. Considering that I filled up 160 pages saying essentially "Comic books are cool; you should read them," I think it's fair to say that pith isn't one of my strong suits. But there's a fundamental weakness in books that is at least slightly overcome by a handwritten signature from the author: we read books by our neighbors, for the most part, in the same way we read books by fifth century theologians--one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time, utterly detached from the people who wrote them.

We're not free to interact with authors; we simply accept or reject what they inject into our lives. Likewise, in most cases authors get no opportunity to hear their readers. An author casts an idea out into the world and hopes that it's given some attention, that someone somewhere will take the idea to heart and make some use of it. For all their depth, books are two-dimensional artifacts in a three-dimensional world.

My three-year-old niece offered me a strict warning at one of my signing events that continues to perplex me: "Uncle Dave, don't write in books." She's speaking from experience, having learned in her short life that librarians don't look favorably on such behavior. But if books are anything, they're written in, and for that matter, what do you do at a book signing if you don't write in books?

Perhaps a three-year-old born into a postliterate world has some ideas on the matter, but until she writes a book on the subject I'll be left in the dark, nursing my poor, carpal-tunnel threatened hand back to health.

***

This may well be my last Strangely Dim of 2004. I am suffering severe writer's block. So unless my muse strikes next week, I'll say Merry Christmas today and Happy New Year next year. Thanks for reading and God bless.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at December 17, 2004 8:34 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments

Zimm,
I enjoyed your entry this morning...honest and humorously self efacing (a good combo). I have to disagree with you though about books being two dimensional artifacts in a three-dimensional world. Books can be (at least for me) more alive than a many "real life" conversations, perhaps that reveals too much about my friends or worse, about me. You made the curious comment that we are not free to interact with authors, we either accept or reject what they interject into our lives...don't you think that books and the reading of books can be a kind of ongoing conversation we have both within ourselves and with others, even with those who have gone before us? Don't the ideas and stories we read in books exert a shaping influence on us wehter we accept them or not? Isn't this, at least in part, what you are trying to give voice to in your book "Comic Book Character"? I have never written a book, so I cannot speak to what the author feels (i.e. casting his/her idea out into the world and hoping...) I will rely on your experience there, however, don't you think it is possible that the author's casting is really a part of a larger dialogue going on? I mean a reacting to the books, stories and ideas that have shaped him or her and making a contribution to that stream of dialogue in some way? It is true, on a certain level, that books writing and reading is a rather solitary endeavor. But I think there is an entirely different level on which it is a dynamic and lively engagement with ourselves and our world.
Looking forward to reading more in '05!

Comment by: Fraz at December 17, 2004 9:25 AM

Jeff:

Thanks for the comment. A little background to my writing here: I've just come off three book signing events, where my most involved conversations lasted no more than a minute. People were either filing through a line that had to keep moving or vying for elbow room in a crowded house. So a good chunk of my perplexity is flowing out of that feeling that I missed the chance to REALLY talk with some folks.

But you're right: There's certainly a depth that can be uniquely reached in writing. I would like to go on record (in case my boss is reading) that I strongly support the ongoing publication, purchase and perusal of books. (Nice alliteration, huh?) I think better by writing than I do by talking, in that I can look back at what I've written already and keep my thoughts anchored as a result. And I definitely see value in the long shadow cast by books: some of the most important stuff I've read was written by people long dead before I showed up.

Similarly, as a wannabe historian I see great value in knowing our heritage--seeing where we stand against a backdrop of where people have stood before us and considering how those who come after us will benefit or suffer for what we've said and done.

Nevertheless, there's a cost in the medium of books that balances out those benefits. We ought, I think, to be able to have thoughtful, redemptive and constructive conversations in our present with the people around us, and to the degree that the people around us know us well and are somehow invested in our lives, the impact of their influence can be profound--either postively or negatively.

I depend a lot on a musical metaphor when I try to sort through this stuff: there's a function for melody and a function for harmony, and the best music realizes both functions. The greater story being told that you reference and hopefully we both contribute to is melodic--one strand takes place over time, and its impact is finally and fully known by measuring the beginning against the end. But the harmony along the way is important, and each particular point in time feels its impact.

Blah blah blah. All this to say, we should talk to one another. And we should read. Particularly books about comic books. They make great stocking stuffers.

Comment by: dave at December 17, 2004 9:49 AM

Zimm,
I read your book last night! Very well done indeed! Chapters 5-9 and then the concluding chapter on becoming super were your best. I espescially loved the quotes from Merton and Buechner, two of my favorites, have you read much of Buechners fiction, I'm sure that you have, I especially like his books Godric and Brendan, as well as the Son of Laughter. If it would help, I would be happy to write a little review at Amazon for it. I have also reccomended it to e few friends who would appreciate it.
Your musical metaphor is a good one and I think it captures well the idea that we need both kinds of dialogue...when you say that there is a kind of a cost associated with the medium of books, I grant you that in our post-enlightenment culture there is a costinvolved since books ae viewed largely as information to be disseminated or knowledge to me mastered instead of a dialogue to be entered into...I guess what I am saying is that "talking" and "reading" should be viewed as to ways of approaching the greater dialogue, after all, there is such a thing as mindless reading just as there is mindless chatter...I think this is what you are saying too...yes? Anyhoo, have a merry Christmas and let's get together in '05.
Shalom,
Jeff

Comment by: JFRAZ at December 19, 2004 4:39 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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