This week, Alicia Oltuski, the author of Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family and a Way of Life blogs for The Postscript on signing books and an author’s personal touch. The Postscript series is a special peek “behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy little extra something to add to a book club’s discussion and a reader’s understanding of how the book came together.
To “host” Alicia at your next book club meeting, request her through JBC Live Chat.
I’ve always meant to become the kind of person who writes thoughtful messages in the books I give as gifts. Usually, though, I just end up summarizing these sentiments less eloquently in person. When I started my book tour for Precious Objects
two years ago, I inadvertently became an inscriber, because part of touring means signing books. Which I loved. It’s a great way to connect with readers after an appearance; to meet and greet the crowd to whom you chatted about spying on your dad in his workplace.
Honestly, it was one of my favorite parts of the tour. I met some incredible people. As for the signing, I usually went with some combination of “Thanks for coming out tonight!” “Great to meet you!” “Best wishes,” and a wisecrack about my ears. Something short (unlike my ears) and sweet to keep things moving, but also to acknowledge that a human being had taken time out of his/her week to come hear me, and had subsequently taken money out of his/her wallet to purchase my book. I was overcome with gratitude.
Every once in a while I got requests. People had birthday and Christmas gifts to fulfill for loved ones, places on the title page where they preferred my signature, a predilection for documenting the event’s date (which I sometimes found, after a busy week of touring, I did not know). They wanted a special message for a special someone, and had done me the favor of selecting the exact wording through which to communicate it.
People got creative. I obliged.
I’d put some effort into avoiding diamond puns inside my book, but on the Roman numeral pages that precede it they now abound in Sharpie print. It turns out, people adore diamond puns. So over the past few years, I’ve referred to countless men and women — only a fraction of whom I’ve met — as “a diamond in the rough,” “this girl’s best friend,” “flawless,” and “my precious object.”
“Would you mind writing the message I put on this Post-it note?” someone in line would say.
“Dear Marshall,” I wrote, “You are my precious object and the love of my life. Thank you for forty wonderful years.” This was sweet. I looked up at the lady on the other side of the table and asked for her name so that I could attribute the thoughtful sentiment.
“Oh, just sign your name. He knows mine.”
Really? Even though she, not I, had been married to Marshall for forty years?
Fair enough. So I’d sign my name, close the book, and thank Marshall’s lovely wife for joining me at my reading.
This kind of thing happened with surprising frequency. Dear Joy, You sparkle brighter than any diamond. I love you. Love, Alicia Oltuski. To a gem of a gal: Ashley. You rock. All the best, Alicia Oltuski. Happy diamond anniversary, James and Leigh! Wishing you many precious objects! Alicia Oltuski.
Somewhere out in the world lives a stash of my books with notes varying from sweet to borderline creepy directed at a group of men and women I’ve never met but to whom I wish only the best — and often more than that. And sometimes also the date.
Every so often I wonder about these books, whether anyone will find their inscriptions strange; whether one day, years from now, they’ll cause confusion as someone sorts through a loved one’s old things. It’s something I’m willing to risk.
One of the nicest things about publishing a book is getting the opportunity to thank those who have been good to you — personally, professionally, and often in both capacities. These people (or their loved ones) had been good to me, too. They made sure I didn’t read to an empty room. They laughed at my ear jokes. They asked me questions about diamonds and writing and books. They took the time to wait in line so that I could personalize their copies.
I’m fairly certain I won’t get a letter asking me why I penned a romantic memo to someone’s father or aunt. But if I do, I’ll just explain that this is all a perfectly normal part of book signing. I don’t know, I’m fairly new to this.