I don’t even know these people

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I can tell you the exact day and pretty close to the hour when I first read Nick Hornby. I was attending the annual English community celebration here in these parts of Quebec, something called Townshippers’ Day. It was September 16, 2000, probably around 1:30 p.m. in the tiny village of St-Felix-de-Kingsey. And it was snowing. Not real snow, just the kind of early autumn unpleasantness that makes people put on brave faces and duck inside at the earliest convenience.

I was a ducker. I took shelter in the local Catholic church, which, like most small Quebec villages, was at the heart of town. A women’s world-music choir was set to perform for other snow-duckers, and I was early. So I pulled out the paperback copy of High Fidelity that I had just purchased from a table of used books up in the parking lot.

It would be too easy and altogether wrong to call it a religious experience right there in that church — and, honestly, it’s just Nick Hornby — but I remember starting the book and being instantly delighted by the characters and their obsessions with music, women and optional maturity. I was smitten with Hornby and his compassionate humour there and then and since. I’ve often told people, if I could be any writer, I would choose to be Nick Hornby.

But this isn’t about Hornby.

Several weeks ago, I mentioned to a friend of mine my longstanding Hornby love (which sounds like a mistake and I regret typing it immediately). Knowing how much I like Hornby and how I was looking forward to reading his latest novel Funny Girl, last week this friend stood in line at a Hornby reading in New York, purchased a copy and had the author sign it “For Ross in Canada, Best Wishes, Nick Hornby.” The book arrived in the mail today, and I ripped open the packaging like a giddy school girl — if giddy school girls had literary crushes on bald British football fans turned novelists, which sounds even worse than “Hornby love.”

I probably would have purchased the book — ah, who am I kidding? I’m cheap; I would have borrowed it from the library. So it wasn’t like I was never going to get my hands on the thing. But this one is autographed. It’s signed by the author! And that makes it…

What does it make it?

Really, what makes an autographed book special? Will it increase my reading pleasure? Has some kind of magical transference taken place that wasn’t already there in the, oh I dunno, months and months of writing that produced it? Is it like I now know the author a bit better?

Of course not. I don’t know Nick Hornby and he doesn’t know me. He merely signed his name. While I’m sure he is truly sincere in his best wishes, he probably would have written “Ross: Get bent” if that’s what my friend had asked him to sign.

The signature doesn’t make a relationship. But a signed book creates a connection, however slight, and any connection in this world is not to be dismissed.

But this isn’t about the autograph.

I mentioned that a friend sent me the book. What’s remarkable is that I have never met this friend. He’s a blogger friend, Mark at Exile on Pain Street. I didn’t ask him to do it. He just did it.

You’ll notice I qualified it: “blogger friend,” which is this close, some believe, to saying “imaginary friend.” I’ve never met Mark. I’ve never met Ned either, although I traded a tin of Quebec maple syrup for a copy of his book. Nor have I met Bill, though we correspond  regularly and he sends me music playlists and last month convinced me that, hey, reading Infinite Jest together would be swell, which makes him the kind of convincing friend who in real life would be a lot of fun to be around as long as you’re not so fussy about having a police record.

Some people would say these are not friendships because we don’t interact on the same physical plane. All we know of each other is through carefully crafted texts and comments, as superficial as a signature.

True, I don’t even know these people, and unlike my in-the-flesh friends, they’ll never hear me weasel out of a dinner invitation or ask to borrow their pickup (again). But a connection has been made, and any connection in this world is not to be dismissed. We chat, we kibitz, we pep talk, we send each other stuff in the mail, we share interests, we crack wise, we get deep when we need to and then shrug it off in a manly way, we say heartfelt things like this that we would never dare say face-to-face. They are books that they have personally autographed.

I think Hornby knows what I’m talking about.

For more on Internet relationships, read http://kingofstates.com/2015/02/06/the-internet-its-made-of-people/

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
This entry was posted in It Really Did Happen!, Reading? Ugh!, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to I don’t even know these people

  1. pinklightsabre says:

    Cool. Starting German class. More to follow. Deutsch ist Einfach. Tschuss…

  2. I have a lot of imaginary friends too!!

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    That is so cool Mark did that for you. Makes it all the more special. We may never meet many of the people we connect with online, but sometimes we have more in depth communications with them than we do with those we meet in ‘real’ life. Especially us introverts. 🙂

  4. jackiemallon says:

    I enjoy a bit of Hornby myself. At one time when I lived in London, at least half the people on my tube car on any given day were reading Fever Pitch. I’ll never forget it. I thought how cool it must be to be him.

  5. I picked up Ten Years in the Tub to read while I’m sitting around these days. It seemed the perfect book for someone who enjoys Hornby and doesn’t want to watch CNN all day.

  6. Wow! That’s a wonderfully thoughtful present. 🙂

  7. Paul says:

    ** Brushes a tear from the corner of his eye ** Oh, Ross, such heart-felt friendships. And you’re making friends with Americans too. Your therapist will be so happy with you, playing well with others. And, not to be ignored – the impact on international trade, by sending goods across the border both ways. Remember, Mark’s dog hates him, so at least now he has a good friend who doesn’t growl at him from the couch. And when you sent Maple Syrup to Ned, his Volunteer Fire Dept., got some good practice with the handling of suspicious packages. Friendships with benefits – oh, wait, doesn’t that have another meaning?

  8. markbialczak says:

    You have good blogging friends, Ross. It’s really real. I’m all in this thing, too. It’s a great feeling to think we writers do get along this way. The photo with you and The Hornby make Mark’s shopping trip worthwhile. Three great looks on that face, my friend. Thanks for sharing. And good job, Mark.

  9. I am a Prince Amongst Men, am I not? Okay, all kidding aside, what is it about a signed copy? A signed first edition, no less! Why do my bookshelves groan under the weight of signed books that cannot be read for fear of degrading their condition? What is this visceral thrill of owning a book that the author signed? Perhaps it’s this slight connection you mention that’s so fraught with meaning. I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I’m just grateful my thrill ride is a signed copy and not a bottle of Jack Daniels or BDSM whores. Books are a much more benign obsession.

    Wait until you read that, brother. It’s the best thing he’s ever written. As I mentioned to you offline, I was chatting him up while he signed our copies and I said as much to him. He looked up and said, “I think so, too.” But he didn’t say it with smug satisfaction. Rather, he said it with the pleasure for a job well done.

  10. Trent Lewin says:

    Bah. Friendship goes beyond physical form. I consider people in the blogosphere to be honest to goodness unqualified friends. We share ideas and are not in fact burdened by expectations of physical assembly that are often so hard to coordinate or manage. No limits on buddies! I am ashamed to say I don’t know who Nick Hornby is… I suffer under this rock, but I’m going to check him out, especially if both you and Mark endorse the guy.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Here, here. Michelle at King of States puts it much more emphatically than I did, thus the linkage.
      I think you’ll like Hornby. It’s not heavy reading by any means, but funny and human. He’s the type of writer you give suggest to men who don’t read a lot. High Fidelity was written in ’95, I think, so it’s a bit dated in some references, i.e. mix tapes, but a great starting point.

  11. ksbeth says:

    i love the connections too )

    • rossmurray1 says:

      The downside of blog friendships is that they can disappear just like that when the person stops writing or commenting. Where did they go? Are they okay? I have a couple like that.

  12. Yahooey says:

    It’s a kindred spirit thing for me. Hornby did it with his musical references in “High Fidelity.” There is even more time with bloggers to find touch points and to make it mutual. One of the questions I ask myself about virtual friends is “do I want to meet them in real life?” The answers are interesting.

  13. pinklightsabre says:

    There’s a lot here that’s got me thinking, all kidding aside. For me, it seems I’m putting my best realest identity forward here at times, and when people glom on to that, it’s more intimate somehow than the relationships I have with people in person, when they’re not seeing me as a writer. That’s odd. But there’s lots to work with on that. Probably the core tenet to online dating. A bit of delusion at play, too.

    I feel like I’m part of a great gang of mid 40s losers now. A cyberpunk thing, because we have a place to fit in now, to be accepted. The thing is, we all seem to have the same supernatural power, which isn’t good on a campaign. We need some warriors too, and a cleric here and there to read the undead spells. I do have a Holy Avenger in my closet I’m dying to get out (that’s a paladin sword for those unfamiliar with D&D). Now you got me kidding. I’ll send you something sweet and authentic elsewhere. Nice post Ross, good haircut – glad you went with the #3.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Mid-40s losers. I should feel insulted but it all makes sense, though the millennials would sneer that “mid-40s losers” is redundant.
      As for expanding the team, I’ve become friendly with young women bloggers but that stays on-blog, otherwise it starts to feel weird pretty quickly, for both parties, I’m sure.

  14. Ned's Blog says:

    I read this during halftime at a high school basketball game I was covering for the paper. I must say, Ross, that I smiled all the way through because you captured so well the feeling I have for the true blogger friends I’ve made over the last year or two — you being chief among them. Your comparison of “blogger friends” to “imaginary friends” not only made me laugh, but also nod in agreement. Not in the sense that they aren’t real, but because, in a way, you remind me of what an imaginary childhood friend would be like if I ran into him as a grown up. I enjoy our comment kibitzes as much as our offline exchanges through email, and anything that brings that kind of connection and enjoyment is about as real as it gets in this world.

    Like an imaginary friend, we may never meet on the same physical plane (not that I’m counting that out), but it’s good to know you’re out there anyway.

    OK, that’s probably enough mushy. Time now for some serious manly shrugging…

  15. byebyebeer says:

    How to explain this cool, funny blogger’s post (you wouldn’t know him, I’d say, he lives in Canada) to my real life people? Internet connections defy definition, right? It’s probably something our generation will always struggle with, while our kids have a good friend they know simply as zazzlebear34. (Wait that’s a scary thought…and now I have zazzlebear in autocorrect.) How awesome to hear about your wonderful friends from afar who would no doubt describe you the same. god bless the Internet!

  16. List of X says:

    I’ve been trying to blur the line between the “blogger friend” and “real-life friend” by actually trying to meet some of the bloggers in person. No luck so far, but I’ll keep trying – at least that has to be an interesting experience.
    It’s probably like online dating, but without any pressure stemming from having a further goal beyond just meeting itself.

  17. Helena Hann-Basquiat says:

    I adore Nick Hornby — have ever since High Fidelity (the book, and THEN the movie because… John Cusack). I was sent here by Kevin Brennan and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve been invited to do a blog hop thing about Works in Progress. Hit me back if you’re interested. I’m also a Canadian and don’t know that I’ve ever even said eh unironically.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Howz it goin’, eh?
      Got that out of our system.
      I did a Work in Progress blog hop a few months ago, and I don’t have anything new. In progress. I’m contemplating something but it’s a long way away from being progress-able. I’m struggling with how to not make it seem autobiographical. I solved that with my first novel (waiting on a publisher query) by making the main character a woman; it seemed to help. Is that worth posting about?

  18. vsvevg says:

    Well, due to your “Hornby love” I bought a copy of About a Boy. Funny post 🙂

  19. pieterk515 says:

    Some days I prefer my blogger friends to the real ones I have.

  20. Pingback: Two blogging friends cruise in to my hometown | Jill's Scene

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