Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Meeting My Readers Face to Face

Yesterday, for the second time, I sat outside the gift shop at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and signed copies of the new history of the hospital written by me and my daughter Martha Bull. Every author should do this at least once. It is an extraordinary experience to spend three years writing something, as Martha and I did this 527-page book covering 200 years, and then set it loose in the world like Moses in a basket among the bull rushes.

The experience is in every sense of the word unreal. The only thing unrealer is writing a blog, where the writing does not even take physical form. The words go out from your mind through your fingers . . . and who hears them? What expressions come to their faces, what praise or criticism to their lips? Who picks up the basket, and what do they do with Moses? Is anyone changed?

For five hours two weeks ago, and for three hours today, I signed books, an estimated 700 overall for the two days, many with personal inscriptions. (“For Nurse X, with appreciation for your 35 years of service to MGH . . . ”) I did not sign books for so many hours because I am the next Mark Twain. The only impressive name on this book is Massachusetts General Hospital, and it was for that that people literally lined up down the hall, waiting their turn.

What I saw in those hundreds of faces was delight in the place and pride in taking part. I signed books for a few doctors, many nurses and technicians, and most remarkably janitors, service workers, a security guard, an HVAC mechanic. For me it was a reinvigorating encounter with reality, like breathing fresh air after having been submerged in a nuclear submarine for three years.

This experience convinced me as no pile of reviews could that my work has meaning. What else could a writer want?

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