I was watching a bit of late night TV yesterday and a certain Scottish talk-show host shared the end of an old joke with the audience. It went like this:
“The first time he tried it, he got sick and the second time, his hat blew off and he just quit.”
That’s the punch line. It sounds vaguely filthy, doesn’t it? I don’t know the rest of the joke; he wouldn’t say, but that was the point. It was enough to make you laugh. It’s true that not everyone wants to be told straight up what’s so special about Luke Skywalker’s dad or that the whole thing was a snow-globe, but I don’t pay much heed to that increasingly obnoxious warning, SPOILER ALERT. The end is just another place to start.
This is how I was introduced to Katrina Best. Best is an author who wrote a book of short fiction called Bird Eat Bird in 2010. A year later, that same book earned her the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and, until last week, I hadn’t read a word of it. Knowing Best was coming to town for the Morris House Reading Series, I sat down to read it and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do so because invariably, whenever I meet an author, I have failed to read most of book they are promoting and I feel terribly awkward about it. It usually goes like this: “Well, hello, author of significant literary standing whose book or books I have not actually finished reading but will no doubt garner enjoyment and/or enlightenment from. I hear you write books. Do you use words? I like words. I once used a semi-colon like you wouldn’t believe. So, yeah. Books, huh? Oh hey look, they have cheese. I’m going to go stand over there now.”
I should try to explain that it isn’t due to a lack of interest or respect. Authors are some of the best people you will ever meet. I just have poor time-management skills. This time, though, I managed to get through two stories before I was off to meet Best. Not perfect but I felt it was enough of an ‘in’ and I could reasonably hope to engage the esteemed Best in conversation and not sound like a rubber-mouthed, cheese-eating, semi-colonite. Ha. Well, at least this time I didn’t have any cheese.
I was introduced, pleasantries were exchanged and then, rather unpredictably, I was I asked whether I’d noticed that the last page of the book was missing. It seems the publisher had made a bit of a mess with the print run. Ha ha. I had not noticed. I stammered; I hemmed and hawed; I apologized for failing to read the entire book; I lamely blamed Jonathan Swift. I am not cool.
Katrina Best, thankfully, is. Despite her frustration and dismay about her publisher’s mistake she apologized in a charmingly British and self-deprecating way, made light of it and even suggested we hold a contest for which readers could submit their own endings. She went on to read, in a highly entertaining manner no less, with colourful voices and everything, from two of her stories. The first, “Lunch Hour,” begins with the demise of a pigeon and “Red” about the day in the life of a troubled Montreal woman in which the last two pages inform everything strange that’s come before.
So, here’s the thing: I will no longer feel bad about not having read the entire book and I stopped worrying, mostly, about being awkward around an author. I suppose most people read a book before they meet the author, if at all, and that’s the usual chronology but it occurred to me that my introduction to Best by way of that last, missing page meant I was just starting at the end. That blank page , I think, made for two pretty good stories. One is the story of getting to know Best’s work and looking forward to what I haven’t read yet. The other is the story of the day we got to know Best the person who, I should add, has endeared herself to me forever by graciously honouring my cheeky request that she sign that last blank page.
If you’re interested in buying a copy of Bird Eat Bird (with a photocopy of the last page included) it’s on sale at the Bishop’s University bookstore. How much is it? Well, I think an old punch-line says it best:
“Twenty bucks, same as in town.”