Wednesday, August 5, 2015

AUTHOR EVENT :: William Finnegan

By William Finnegan
Penguin Press (July 21, 2015)

I really don't enjoy being read to, which can be a problem when attending an author event. It's one reason I don't go very often. When an author or book piques my curiosity sufficiently, I go, but I pick my spots carefully and have a low tolerance for seemingly disinterested presenters.

Last Thursday I hauled my ornery self to local favorite Book Passage to see William Finnegan, renowned war reporter and staff writer at The New Yorker, who is touring to talk about his new book. I had never met Bill Finnegan nor heard him speak, so I had no idea what I was walking into. I knew that his book (SURFING!) had my anticipation high. When the event started I thought I was striking out, but I ended up glued to my seat.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life is a memoir about Finnegan's lifelong passion for the sport, but the stories and themes go far beyond that. It's a book with an interesting genesis that began more than twenty years ago. Finnegan was raised in California and Hawaii and started surfing as a child. Although he was a writer and reader early on (some of the history in the book came from weekly letters he wrote to a childhood friend, all miraculously saved by the friend for all these years), it was surfing that drove his travels, his adventures, his friendships. Barbarian Days is the story of all of those things and how they shaped Finnegan, his relationships, and ultimately his life.

When Finnegan got up to speak, he began with what appeared to be some prepared notes about the book and it's history. He seemed a tad uncomfortable and his comments, well, "prepared." After the introduction, he began to read, and read several passages from the book; some short, some several minutes in length, all (obviously) out of context. I thought I was in for a long night.

But then he just started to talk. To engage. To take questions and tell stories off the cuff, to listen to and respond to the stories of others. It was then that I was almost immediately entranced, engaged, pulled to the edge of my seat. Finnegan is a warm and charming personality, a good conversationalist, an interesting storyteller. While his storytelling prowess may seem obvious, he's written a book and has been a reporter for years, those facts don't always translate to in-person anecdote sharing. Here, it did, and this event more than passed muster by the time we were through.

I had a brief minute to speak with Finnegan, we talked surfing and the work of Don Winslow. I left Book Passage a Bill Finnegan fan and a reader all the more excited to dig into Barbarian Days.

I suppose the lessons here are twofold:

Authors - Start with your strong stuff!
Readers - Be patient, the strong stuff may be worth the wait.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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