The enigma of a literary festival

1. The book signing

When I was two turns away from meeting the author, it occurred to me that I must keep a question or two ready when he signed the book. I looked at the copy in my hand, a thick paperback with intricate cover art – Japanese-styled cottages next to the sea on which a three-masted ship sailed, and in the distance mountains, clouds, a pair of large birds in flight – a design that perhaps anticipated the novel’s style. The blurb above the title announced that Sunday Times found the book ‘Spectacularly accomplished and thrillingly suspenseful’. A frivolous quote; why did they choose this one? I had my question.

“Do you have a say in deciding what quotes go on the cover of your books?” I asked, as he wrote my name and signed on the title page.

He smiled, and looked up: “Well, the publishers usually decide that but I do have the presidential veto powers. I haven’t really exercised it, though – I just leave it to them.”

“What do you think of this one?” I pointed to the quote above the title. “Thrillingly suspenseful!”

He squinted his eyes and looked at the ceiling, searching for an answer. “Well… you’re right… it’s a bit redundant, isn’t it? A book can’t be suspenseful without being thrilling, can it?!”

I smiled, nodded and thanked him as we shook hands. Moving out of the line, I opened the page where, below the title The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, he had scribbled, in large but barely readable letters, his name: David Mitchell.
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