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A very cool venue for a very cool talk

A few weeks ago the hubs surprised me with tickets to go see one of my very favorite authors, Michael Chabon, speak at the Singapore Writers Festival. Chabon wrote what may be my all-time favorite book (adult fiction division), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Unfortunately the hubs had to work late, and my multiple Twitter pleas went unanswered, so I headed to the event on Friday night solo style. But it was fantastic nonetheless.

Chabon’s lecture was held at School of the Arts Singapore (sota), which occupies one of the coolest buildings in Singapore (that’s really saying something) near Dhoby Ghaut. I was actually pretty excited to have an excuse to go into the school, particularly at night when it’s lit up in an extra cool fashion. The ceilings are beyond vaulted, but the decor is so stark that your sense of proportion gets totally skewed. I took this picture with the security desk just to give an idea of how massive the space is:

I don’t think I’ve been to an author talk since I was in Berkeley a few years ago (incidentally that’s where Chabon and his wife, the author Ayelet Waldman, live; I never came across them), and like an idiot I forgot that there might be a book signing afterwards. D’oh! So I missed the opportunity to have the author autograph one of my all-time favorite books (easily one of the greatest book covers ever, regardless of what you might think about the actual content):

I considered purchasing a new book for him to sign, but the cheapskate in me decided to take my chances that I’ll cross paths with him again some day. It was still fun to see the British and American versions of the books next to each other, though:

There seemed to be a fair number of expats in attendance, and the auditorium was comfortably packed. Awesomely, when Chabon was introduced he came out in a white linen suit that was surely a nod to great Singapore-associated authors like Maugham, Conrad and Kipling, and was also reminiscent of another one of my fave writers, Tom Wolfe. Isn’t it cool when you encounter one of your idols and they not only live up to expectations, but exceed them? He spoke just like he writes, using big words pronounced with geeky inflection, in a slightly rambling and self-deprecating manner that enabled jokes to flow beyond effortlessly.

Off the bat he made a joke about how he was grateful to be giving a talk because it was the first excuse he’d had to stop eating. Later on he made references to chicken rice, and asked if sota had a food court underneath it like seemingly ever other building in Singapore. These jokes went over quite well, of course.

The advertised title of Chabon’s lecture was “Hackwork: Using Craft to Sell Madness for Cash,” although there was no explanation whatsoever on the site about what this entailed. As it turns out, this was an erroneous title, as the talk was actually entitled “Poe Biz.” It was clearly a talk he’d given many times before – I kind of felt like I was listening to a story on NPR – but I enjoyed his enthusiastic and enunciated delivery, despite the fact that I’m not too familiar with Edgar Allan Poe’s works. He actually read it off an ipad, which malfunctioned at a few different points. I kind of loved that he deadpanned, “Sorry, I’m having trouble with my ipad. I won’t badmouth it, though. I’m still mourning Steve Jobs.”

When the talk finished there was a short Q&A; I wish I could have asked 1) if Kavalier & Clay will ever get made into a movie and 2) what his favorite pizza place in Berkeley is (Zachary’s or Cheeseboard? I have very strong opinions on this matter). But alas, I was too chicken, plus I figured I should let locals have their say. There were some good questions, including

What’s your writing schedule? He works Sunday-Thursday nights from about 10pm-4am – my kinda guy! – and forces himself to write at least 1,000 words per sitting.

What’s your writing process and how do you create plot structure? He just writes and sees where the story takes him, and was fairly adamant about not mapping plot out ahead of time.

What did you think of the movie version of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh? He demurred awkwardly, after his wife shouted “Don’t answer that, honey!” from two rows behind me. He feels Wonder Boys is a fantastic film that’s aged quite well, though.

Who are some authors that you feel are under-recognized? Ursula LeGuin and some other guy whose name I didn’t recognize; I felt so incredibly gauche when half the crowd mmmmed knowingly.

Whatever happened to your magnum opus, Fountain City? A few chapters got published by McSweeney’s; he doesn’t expect any more of it will ever see the light of day.

All in all it was a lovely way to spend a Friday evening, not least because I capped it off with a trip to Popeyes Chicken down the street (mmm…biscuits). I continue to love the endless array of interesting, exciting and totally accessible events here; I only wish I’d had more time to research the SWF ahead of time, as it seems like it was packed with all sorts of stimulating programs. In two weeks Kevin Spacey debuts in Richard III at the Esplanade Theatre; any takers out there for another dose of culture?

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