I’ve always had an intuitive grasp of how hypertext works. Even as a young boy, I always enjoyed reading something new based on a note or reference in something else I had read. The encyclopedia was great for that kind of thing.

Last week, I was in the public library when my eye was caught by Stan Lee’s “How To Write Comics”. Although it wasn’t something I ultimately checked out (I already had eight books checked out before entering the library), I did leaf through it. There on page 39, I came across a sidebar that had a list of recommended reading written by Margaret Atwood. In her list, was the book, “Mortification”.

This week, when I had whittled my collection of library books down to six, I thought I could handle another book. I’m glad I took it out. I’m going to be giving a talk in a couple weeks, so it is nice to know that if it doesn’t go well, I’m in good company. For me, it definitely isn’t shadenfreude that makes the book interesting. Instead, it is the reminder that even successful authors have had their share of embarrassing moments.

There are 70 authors who answered Robin Robertson’s call for stories of their public shame. The chapters are relatively short, so it is a good book to pick up when you have a few moments here and there throughout your day.

To give you a feel for the stories, and to explain why I think the book can be looked at as “comforting”, I’ll give a shortened version of one of the three stories submitted by Ms. Atwood. Her first novel, “The Edible Woman” had just come out and her publisher arranged for her first book signing. It was held in one of Canada’s biggest and oldest department stores. So far, it sounds good, except they set the table in the Men’s Sock and Underwear Department. In her own words: “They [the men shopping for boxers] looked at me, then at the title of my novel. Subdued panic broke out. There was the sound of a muffled stampede as dozens of galoshes and toe rubbers shuffled rapidly in the other direction. I sold two copies”

Here is an author who would go on to be very successful but on that day must have felt quite awkward. The fact that she only sold two copies might also seem to be a little insignificant, but considering the circumstances, I think she did great.

Title: Mortification
Sub-Title: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame
Editor: Robin Robertson
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0-00-717137-4
Website: http://www.harpercollins.com/

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