Sometimes I feel like a pre-teen groupie when I say that Salman Rushdie is my favorite author. I expect people to say “how droll” as they roll their eyes. Why? Because he’s the rock star of the literary world. He’s Bono while Hunter S. Thompson is Keith Richards. I love one of the most internationally famous authors in the world. He was in protective hiding for almost a decade. He’s in the news all the time, he had a death sentence on his head. He was married to an internationally famous model and tv host. And yet, while this has led to him in gossip magazines, he’s just a great fucking writer with a vast intelligence and an extremely good sense of humor.
I tried reading The Satanic Verses because of the controversy surrounding it and yes, I was 19 and goth and thought, what could be more dark than The Satanic Verses? I opened it up and was lost. And not in a good way. More of a, I’m not a mature reader and I don’t understand what this magical realism is. I put the book aside and waited. And waited. I went to graduate school and eagerly signed up for a course that featured Rushdie’s works. It was half a decade later and I had advanced quite a bit as a reader. Plus, I had Professor Avery to guide me through the novel. As I read The Satanic Verses, I thought, I like this author. There’s a sense of humor I didn’t understand five years before. Rushdie uses a gracefully sing-songy cadence. I had to start thinking about my graduate thesis, who would I write on? When I was younger I had thought I’d write about Henry Miller. I grew a little and thought James Joyce. I grew more and thought, what new stuff can I come up with about Joyce? And what I saw in them I saw in Rushdie. And so I approached Professor Avery and said, I’d like to write on Rushdie, but I don’t want to write on The Satanic Verses or Midnight’s Children. He knew I liked music and said, try The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Reading the first paragraph I knew that he made the perfect suggestion. And so the obsession grew.
I’ve seen Salman Rushdie speak five times. (Below is the second time.)
Each time I’m overcome with his intellectual wit and his inexhaustible knowledge of history, politics, and pop culture. His speech reflects his written cadence. He recently spoke at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. I went with a colleague (and writer) Dan Schifrin. What a pleasure. I always go alone to see Rushdie speak; it was wonderful to share the excitement and countdown with someone.
This tour was in support of his latest book, Joseph Anton, a memoir. In the past he used to say he wasn’t going to write about his life. However, the older he got, the more people told him, if you don’t write it, someone else will. And he said, now hold on a minute. This is my story. If anyone’s going to tell it, it’s going to be me. (He also joked that he would write it only if he ran out of ideas and it was his retirement fund book). However, rest assured, he’s not out of ideas, he just felt now was the right time to write it.
The time flew by, as it always does. I felt like the conversation was much shorter than usual: I looked at my watch, one hour and fifteen minutes. That’s standard, and yet I felt he was only speaking for twenty minutes. Michael Krasny is an amazing interviewer. (I actually met Krasny and his two siblings at work a few years ago. He was kind and polite. When I expressed admiration for his interviews with Rushdie, his brother told me, you know, they’re great friends. Krasny was too classy to name drop, but his brother was so proud of him that he revealed their friendship). When Krasny interviews someone, he gives a brief reason to his question, and then lets the other person speak. His questions are both insightful and playful. I cannot express how much I respect Krasny as well. I have read and reread Rushdie’s (and Irvine Welsh’s) works countless times and yet when I meet them, I can’t think of a thing to say. I just stare and smile. And yet Krasny asks questions that you want asked but can’t come up with them.
Dan and I had our books signed by Salman and once again, I didn’t know what to say. Dan spoke for both of us, “Mr. Rushdie, we’re long-time fans of all your works.” I said, “Yes!” That’s all I could come up with. Call me Molly Bloom. Rushdie smiled and said, “I’m so glad to hear it, thank you,” and he smiled.