Robert Olen Butler: Professed Book-Sniffer (and literary chameleon, controversial artist, et al.)

We took in the Decatur Book Festival a few Saturdays ago. It was smoking Atlanta hot, and therefore pretty much misery-inducing, ‘specially when you factor in that we were ferrying around 3 kids under 8. But the day started off nice enough (before the heat). Somehow we’ve lucked out, found a way to live on a beautiful shade-covered street just outside the ATLanta city limits, but still only a minutes-walk away from public transportation and all that lies on the other side of a $2 bus fare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we arrived at the Downtown Decatur location, the kids were already pissy, what with it being smoking hot and whatnot. It was too hot for anything other than icecream and maybe swimming, neither of which was at our immediate disposal. But I had my copy of Severance, and was determined to follow through on my hours-old dream of having it signed by the singular talent that is Robert Olen Butler.

So we got to the high school where he was reading, and I went in to the auditorium where Butler was already reading. Kara hung back in the hall, bless her heart, so that the aforementioned 3 under-8 kids could be attended to without disrupting Mr. Butler. He was reading from his latest novel. It was way, way different from Severance. I was kind of lost. But the prose seemed good, for what that’s worth. And, as I do anytime I find myself in the presence of other writers, I began to compare myself to him. And, of course, found myself lacking in most every way. Especially when he finished reading and it was time for the Q & A. He was so self-assured, so convinced of his very RIGHT to be on that stage, admired by the 1 or 2 hundred people in fawning attendance. And he actually mentioned how, just as it says on his wikipedia page, he considers himself a “literary chameleon”, who never wants to write the same sort of book twice. But surely he hadn’t been responsible for writing his own Wiki page, right? I mean, Big Time authors (or Big Time Anythings, for that matter) don’t have to spend time on such banal things as Wikipedia entries. They have biographers and rabid fans to do that for them, no?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, screw it, I thought afterward, while we waited in line for ROB to sign my copy of his book about 60+ people who have been decapitated and what must have been going through each of these severed heads as its last moments of consciousness slipped away. For every Spielberg there’s an Ed Wood or maybe, if we’re being slightly more generous, McG. Hell, even millionaire, omni-present author Steven King has gone on record calling himself something like “The burger and fries of American literature.” But I can’t be that either as long as I’m writing about truly fucked up family shit and not killer clowns terrorizing generations of children. So here I am, these few years into my pro writing life, still not knowing where I fit in. But I do know this, dear readers: both Robert Olen Butler and myself like the smell of ink on paper, of musty books found in the back of old book shops (imagine that–an old book shop–a relic of pre-internet times, endangered as hell if anything ever was). He even wrote as much for me in the front of Severance. And while that won’t do shit for my as-yet non-existent Wikipedia page, at least I can go to sleep a little easier knowing that both the great Robert Olen Butler and myself both like taking a good whiff of a book every now and then. (Immortality, here we come!)

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