Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk and book signing with one of America’s most loved authors at BookPeople (I promise this will be the last time I mention the fact that Judy Blume and I have shared the exact same stage), pimping her newest book In The Unlikely Event, which I cannot wait to read. I don’t even remember the first Judy Blume book I read, but I remember that my mother forbade me–and by forbade I mean I picked it up as soon as I got the chance–from reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, not because of all the adult themed content it contained that my pre-teen brain could not possibly grasp, but because its title implied that it questioned the existence of God. Oh, Mom…
As a writer, I think I will always measure the honesty and authenticity of my own work against Judy Blume’s, not that I think I can ever even come close to her level. I remember after I wrote my first book, my mother was so unhappy with me for the things that I shared, and I had just finished reading Wifey, which exhibited a level of honesty that couldn’t even be classified in the same realm as what I portrayed in my book. I don’t know that I would ever have the courage to be half as honest as Judy Blume is in her books, especially the more adult-oriented ones. For that alone, I will always have undying respect and love for Blume’s work. Even Superfudge.
But back to the event! Blume is 77, but certainly doesn’t look it. I hope that when I am 77, I am A) still writing books and B) look as youthful as Judy. That Key West air must contain Retinol-A or something. I never knew how engaged she was/is with her fans. It never occurs to me to engage with an author I enjoy unless they share the same level of notoriety as me (so, very little); however, there were people in the audience who had been writing back and forth with Judy for YEARS, without ever losing touch. It’s now my life’s goal to keep in touch with all my fans, especially those who have been with me from my very first book, even after I write the career maker (which could very well be Community Klepto… who knows?).
She also talked in depth about censorship; in short, how fucking stupid it is. Just let your kids read. Let them be exposed to the world and form their own opinions of it. She also offered great advice for how to get your children to read something, saying “leave the book laying out and when they ask about, say ‘I don’t think you’re ready for that yet’.” It’s possible that’s what my mom was thinking when she made Are You There, God? verboten, but unlikely. To Mom’s credit, though, she never kept me from walking down the street or riding my bike to the public library, where I spent a lot of time and maxed out the balance on her library card. Nowadays, kids attempting to do the very same (and innocent) thing I did might draw the attention of Child Protective Services.
But my favorite moment of the event was when I was waiting in line for my brand new (and new book smelling) hardback copy of In The Unlikely Event to be signed. For the record, even though they have staff whose sole job is to take ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ at book signings, I decided I didn’t want to partake. It just seemed nice to have a private moment with her that I didn’t have to share with anyone else. The person in front of me was a mother with her young daughter (twelve or so), who told Blume that she (the daughter) was beginning to write short stories. To this, Judy replied, “You know, maybe my next thing will be to finally learn how to write short stories.” If I could say one thing in response to this, it would be, dearest Judy Blume, leave the impostor syndrome at the door. You’re one of this country’s most beloved storytellers of all time. You know how to write short stories; you just may not know it yet. Or maybe you were just trying to make a young writer feel better.
If you ever get a chance to see one of your favorite authors at a local bookstore event, take it. Even if it’s standing room only (which BookPeople was), the air conditioning doesn’t want to work (which it didn’t), or you can’t see (which I couldn’t–God bless the height challenged). It is SO worth it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to crack the spine of In The Unlikely Event.