Author Encounters: Stephen Chbosky

Today I went to see Stephen Chbosky read The Perks of Being a Wallflower at a bookstore down the street from my house. It is probably the best thing I have been to, reading-wise, and I’ve been to a lot of readings by a lot of authors I like.

But the thing is, he is exactly as nice as you’d think he would be, given he wrote that book, and he talked to everybody who brought books to be signed, and when he saw mine he laughed and said, “Wow, this has been thumbed. You’ve read this a lot.” And he flipped through to look at the things that I’d dog-eared and marked and written in the margins about, and it was really cool.

He also was really funny, and really seemed grateful that people had showed up ten years after he wrote that book. (I asked him if, looking back ten years later, there were anything he would change about it – he said two things. First, he thought Charlie should be less sexually naïve in the beginning. Second, he said Charlie should have cried about half as frequently, because he thought that had turned a lot of people off of the book.) He also told a great story about that line, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” which roughly paraphrased is this:

Before it was published, he’d given a xeroxed manuscript of the book to a friend, who read it on an airplane on the way to a birthday party for a girl he knew, who was rich and beautiful. He was neither – instead, he was chubby, with a tendency toward dating really terrible women. And he read that line, and it really struck him. And he’d liked this woman for a while, and that line made him decide to pursue her, because she was the kind of woman he wanted, and he decided to deserve her. And he did, and they got married, and afterward he gave her the manuscript and told her that it was the reason he’d had the courage to go after her. And she read it, and loved it, and called up a guy she knew who worked at MTV and was trying to start a book publishing branch. And he read it, and he loved it. And then he published it.

And that’s why we’ve read it.

He was really nice, and really funny, and he looked about a decade younger than he is. And some of the people he’d gone to high school with were in the audience because they live in Chicago now.

So I’m really glad I went. It makes the book even better, somehow, knowing that the person who wrote it actually meant it, and is actually as nice as someone who writes this should be, and seems to really appreciate and understand how much it means to people.

Anyway, I guess that’s a pitch for this book. But it’s a book I feel pretty good about pitching.

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