Gay Talese came to Seattle Town Hall* on Wednesday to promote his new book, A Writer's Life. I was tipped off by a review in the Seattle Times.
Gay Talese was a bit older than I expected, but he's still looking good. He was wearing an impeccably tailored three piece suit. You don't see many men look so elegant these days. I guess since his father was a tailor, it's in his blood.
I arrived shortly after the doors opened. The audience was sparse at first but thickened up to a respectable level - not crowded - by 7:30.
Talese began by speaking about the way he became a journalist, a trajectory from a small-town southern New Jersey high school paper to the New York Times via Arkansas. He reminded me of Clark Kent; very much a mild-mannered reporter. He was self-deprecating and funny in a gentle way, describing himself as a mediocre student who was 'not really good at anything'.
He talked about the way he worked, the stories he's told and the people they belong to. He spoke a great deal of his parents.
I bought two copies of the book. Both are intended as gifts. I read through the first fifty pages or so waiting for the event to start. It seems to me from the material I read (and the reviews as well) that Talese only gets to his own story in a very roundabout way. He seems to think of his own story as a compendium of bits of other people's stories; even though the book is titled A Writer's Life, it's about a lot of other people instead of him.
Talese was a perfect gentleman to those attending - he signed books without complaint and talked patiently to everyone who wanted personal advice and encouragement.
I enjoyed the event but it's striking me as I write this that Talese has achieved my worst nightmare.
It's not something I often admit to myself, but one of my fears is that I will end being a supporting character in someone else's life. Talese made his life about all these other people. And he did it on purpose.
*you don't ever want to type 'seattel town hall' into Google at work and click on the first link that comes up. Trust me.