If you asked me to give a list of authors I’d like to have dinner with, Douglas Coupland would be in the top five. Of course, what makes any such list pure fantasy is that chances are the people you want to have dinner with likely don’t want to have dinner with you.
That thought struck me particularly hard last night for reasons I will now explain.
I’ve talked in these pages about major influences on my writing life, but I don’t think I’ve touched on one of the bigger ones: Douglas Coupland. I know it’s cliché (even cliquey) to say that the book Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated Culture had a huge impact on my life. But it did – it came out at a time when I was emerging from my chrysalis of teenage angst to spread my early-20’s’s wings of freedom, invincibility, and Early Onset Paranoia. Here was a book that “got” me – that defined the undefinable.
But that could be said of millions of people who read it. However I was a little unique in that it also affected me as a writer. (Heh heh – only tens of thousands of people can say that…) If you remember the original, it was one of those trade paperbacks that were so popular (still kind of are) – except that this one had a glossy cover and an odd shape, and had scribbles in the wide, wide margins. This was an experiment in writing as much as a defining theme for a generation, and I really clicked into that. The storyline was present of course, along with “traditional” characterization, etc. But it did take risks nonetheless in its presentation, and that intrigued me.
That impact still has an affect on me today. I still try to think “outside the margins”, and my approach to storytelling definitely comes in a circumspect way. (Not sure I’ve mastered it yet, but I feel it’s worth pursuing…) When I think about it, I can see direct threads leading back, back, back those 20 years to that one book.
Flash-forward to today (or yesterday, to be exact) and I was at the bookstore with my two eldest boys. While they were tracking down the latest books on their lists, I was perusing the discount tables. I came across Generation A, one of the few books of Coupland’s I haven’t yet read. What intrigued me though was this signature on the title page. At first I wasn’t sure it was actually put there with a pen – I thought it might have been printed, as they do sometimes. But no – I checked through some other copies, and this was the only one.
“Is it real?” I asked myself, meaning of course, did Douglas Coupland actually sign this? If so, what a cool find! But maybe it’s just someone screwing around?
I have found signed books in the wild before, just sitting in the stacks. Once I picked up a signed copy of a short story collection by Banana Yoshimoto. The difference was that it had a sticker on the front saying “signed copy” (this copy of Generation A does not). My surmisal was that it’s common for writers to pre-sign books if it is going to be a busy day.
The key thing here though is that as far as I knew, Banana Yoshimoto had never been to Thunder Bay. So that book likely came from the stacks in Toronto or Vancouver or somewhere, and then it got forwarded to Thunder Bay to linger a wee bit before joining my collection.
It’s key because I’m pretty sure the Douglas Coupland hasn’t recently (or probably ever) done a book signing in Thunder Bay. So if it is real, it was likely the same deal: signed book returned, redistributed to Thunder Bay. In fact it is a good possibility. (What makes me further believe it’s real is that it is just a scribble – fakers would probably have taken the time to write out “Douglas Coupland” legibly…)
But there was still that doubt. So I did what any young enterprising man of the 21st century would do: I took a Twitpic and posted it on Twitter, hoping that someone out there also had a signed copy from Douglas Coupland, and could confirm the veracity. Of course, I made sure that I had @DougCoupland in the tweet, hoping that he himself might see be tracking his name, see my cry for help, and confirm or deny personally.
(An aside observation: Twitter is very much that game of who would you have dinner with, isn’t it? Except that you get to publicly declare who’s table you’d sit at (or “follow”) and they get to publicly not sit at yours…)
Sadly, I didn’t hear back from anyone. However, shortly after Douglas Coupland sent out this tweet: “What is wrong with the human race?”
Of course, now that my Early Onset Paranoia has blossomed into its full blown, adult version (coupled with delusions of grandeur), my first thought was that I’d insulted him somehow. He didn’t like that I’d been shopping his signature around, trying to discover its source. He’d also know I’d been poking around the bargain bin (shame! shame!) and worse, had bought one of his books from it.
In short, I’d become to him the embodiment of all that was wrong with publishing world, the bookselling business, and indeed the world itself; in shorter short, I could kiss any thoughts of a dinner invite goodbye.
I’ve gotten over it know. I’m now (fairly) certain that his last tweet was a fluke, and that it had nothing to do with me, and that the only way he’d know I existed is if for some reason he spent a day reviewing his 380,000-odd followers.
But I’d still really like to know if it’s his signature…