Tuesday, October 21, 2008

White Suit in the White City

Best-selling author and journalist Tom Wolfe made an appearance Thursday as “The Right Stuff” was selected for The Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago program this fall.

I must admit, I feel somewhat perverse writing a blog about him after he said tersely in an interview with journalist Carol Marin, “Blogs fascinate me…they’re a new world for people who will believe anything.” Believe me when I say meeting Tom Wolfe was truly an unforgettable experience.

After much discussion, Marin finally got to the question everyone’s been dying to know, “What’s with the white suit?” Anybody who knows anything about Wolfe knows he’s famous for wearing a white suit and fedora during any appearance.

Wolfe said the white suit is “the man from Mars” approach. He said he never blended in with the crowd and wearing the white suit provides a barrier between himself and his subjects, as he has reported a variety of subjects from NASCAR drivers, to Black Panthers, to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, to the first men to launch into outer space – just to name a few. He described it as “The man who doesn’t know anything and is eager to know.”

His opinion of modern authors who have “the right stuff” are Carl Hiaasen (Strip Tease) and Richard Price (The Wanderers). You better believe I rearranged my book list. Any advice from the pioneer of the New Journalism movement is worthy advice by me.

The turnout of One Book, One Chicago was an expected 700. Audience members were given a numbered ticket, and mine was 249. The adoring crowd waiting nearly an hour as numbers one through 50 paid their dues while eager-to-please Wolfe allowed photos and small talk as he signed book after book.

Tired and grouchy, I waited it out, determined to meet the author who takes up a good portion of my bookshelf. I went to the restroom to contemplate whether to stay or leave, when the angels above must have heard my silent pleas. A ticket with the number “49” was laying on the tiled restroom floor. No more than a minute passed and I was back out in the corridor waiting in line for my book to be signed.

My copy of The Right Stuff was bought years ago from a used bookstore. The cover page was hanging on its last thread and when I finally handed my shabby copy to him—yellow weathered pages and all—he said, “Wow, this is one loved book. Authors like to see this.” As he closed it, the cover fell off in his hands. Needless to say, though sad and broken, I will never rid of my beloved copy of The Right Stuff.

*Sidenote : I found myself in line with The Huffington Post's Greg Boose. Read his piece on whether Wolfe thinks McCain or Obama has "the right stuff". You'll find me at the bottom of the posted pictures!

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