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Thisbe Nissen: Tour Diary

Preliminaries - Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6 -
Day 7 - Day 8 - Day 9 - Day 10 - Day 11 -Day 12 - Day 13 - Day 14 - Day 15 -
Day 16 - Day 17 - Day 18 - Day 19 - Day 20 - Day 21 - Day 22 -
Day 23 - Day 24 - Day 25 - Day 26 - Day 27 - Day 28 - Day 29 - Home Diary - July 25 - July 26

Day 2: Saturday, June 2, Chicago, IL

Up at 8 for breakfast in the ludicrously expensive Hilton lobby with Elinor Lipman and Jane Hamilton, who take me under their wings and make everything feel better for a while. It sounds like the anxiety over reviews and the looming what-people-think never really goes away, and though I hate to think that I'm going to still feel like this much of a basket case five books down the line, it also is reassuring to know that I'm not alone in this kind of stress. I feel like I keep prying people for clues as to how you're supposed to get through this sort of thing, listening to their stories of how they've dealt and trying to learn something. I wish I had their poise and grace.

Jane has to leave to catch a flight out of Chicago, and Elinor introduces me to Sonny Mehta (the Alfred A. Knopf of Alfred A. Knopf) who takes me under HIS wing then and brings me with him to the Chicago Art Institute to look at the Chagall window and wish there were sunlight streaming through it. But the day is rainy and cold and we wander a few exhibits, wondering who on earth decided that Southeast Asian art should segue directly into blown glass from the 6th century into Prairie School furniture. The powers that be are exercising curatorial paradigms we don't understand at all. We like the pictures of young men and women in the Israeli army, by an artist whose name I can't remember. The museum is calming, and Sonny's companionship gracious and soothing. For a short time I stop chewing on the insides of my cheeks and I take this as a good sign.

Back at the convention center I hang out at the Knopf booth waiting to meet young Arthur Bradford who I am to accompany to the Printer's Row book fair elsewhere in town where another author, Dalton Conley, is reading at three. Dalton's memoir, Honky, about growing up as a white kid in a mostly African-American and Hispanic housing project on the lower east side, is being released in paperback by Vintage later this summer. We met Dalton last night at the authors dinner. We like him a lot. Hanging out at the Random House booth where Rachel Seiffert is signing copies of The Dark Room, to a never ending line of eager readers, I run into Jonathan Lethem who I met last fall when we read together at Brookline Booksmith. Later on he sends his Italian translators over to talk to me. Marco and Martina have brought a copy of ...Girls' Room... with them for me to sign and I snag the last copy of Good People at the booth and give it to them as well. They have come from Rome for BEA and are the sweetest people. I adore them. They tell me nice things and I want to weep and take them home with me. They give me a catalogue of their translation work. I find myself desperately hoping they will translate my books and I will get to go to Italy and hang out with them. I feel like they are long lost friends and I am sad when they have to say good-bye.

But finally Arthur shows up and we go hear Dalton read and then head back to the hotel to swim, sauna and whirlpool, all of which makes me so dehydrated and ravenous I go back to my room and guiltily devour a bag of peanuts and two bottles of juice from the minibar which must cost about fifteen dollars. I realize I have forgotten to drink water -- any water at all -- today. I am woozy. So what do I do? I go down to the Borders cocktail party and vulture over the hors d'oeuvres table before I down two Bloody Marys and talk to a lot of incredibly nice Borders reps who seem to be for the mostpart as passionate about books as the independent booksellers I've met, all of which is heartening. The sushi rolls are very good too.

I get whisked away for dinner at a very shi-shi Chicago restaurant called Blackbird with some folks from Knopf publicity and also Arthur and Elinor and Dennis Bock and Andrew Weil, the nutrition guru who cannot even get up to use the restroom without being accosted by fans who want to know every secret to long life and good health. I eat baby beet salad and think about my beets in my garden back in Iowa and wonder how they're doing and if Chris and Josh (boyfriend and housemate) are going to take care of them well while I'm gone. Andrew and I talk about favorite beet and tomato varieties. (Note to self: Cobra, he says, are an excellent large red. Try next year.) We talk a lot about place and home. Everyone wants to know why Iowa, and I'm so happy to talk about my little town. We hear stories of the wild javelinas on Andy's property in Arizona where he's lived for something like half his life in a town where his car happened to break down thirty years ago. People ask Arthur questions about Vermont all of which I can now answer for him since we've been sitting across from one another for about eighty-five of these conversations already. I like having Arthur as my ally in all this. We've now known each other about 24 hours and I'm talking to him like we've been shooting the shit for the last twenty years. He's a good egg, Arthur Bradford. We add two or so glasses of really good red wine to the alcohol intake index (I feel like I'm starting to sound like Bridgit Jones, (which I haven't read but saw the movie,) but really I'm just tallying the drinks so you'll be prepared for how abominably horrible I feel tomorrow). After the meal and before dessert we are served miniature squares of vanilla gelatin with edible pansies on top. This would not go over well in Iowa. Pansied jello. Our waiter is the biggest hipster I've seen in months with hair that 's Boogie Nights meets the Bride of Frankenstein. There's jungle music in the bathrooms. A man at the bar is wearing a chartreuse cable knit sweater. We wonder if chartreuse will be the new black.

Arthur and I take a cab to The Hideout where there's a benefit for The Baffler and Open City. I meet Thomas Beller and Nick Pollack, who is just about exactly what I thought he'd be like. He reads a piece and I can't decide if it's horrifically offensive or hysterically funny but I can't help laughing anyway and I imagine that this is just what Pollack wants from his audience. I am loathe to oblige, but clearly do so regardless. I feel like I don't belong in a city, miss Iowa, miss Chris, don;t even care how absolutely not-witty I am, and drink a couple beers with Arthur who remains in my eyes a good egg throughout. There are copies of Open City hanging around and I see that my ex-boyfriend has a really beautiful poem on page 169 which makes me sad and weepy and nostalgic and sad, and I drink a shot of Jack Daniels on the rocks before Arthur and I head back to the hotel where we drink the two bottles of Bailey's from the mini bar in my room before packing it in. Poor Arthur has to get up for a nine o'clock flight. It's three when we say good night and he swears he'll sign a galley of Dogwalker and leave it under my door before he leaves in the morning. I don't even really feel drunk when I go to sleep.