Minutes before joining the snaking line outside Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline, my husband and I tucked into soft corn tacos and guacamole and even an elote (corn on the cob) at Boston's awesome Dorado restaurant. The 500-some people waiting in line were the lucky ones with tickets to a reading by my all-time favorite author, Junot Diaz.
Diaz joked around that Brookline Booksmith was one of many fine bookstores in the Boston area (he will do another reading for Harvard bookstore next week). "This city has many dealers," he joked.
While Diaz did do a couple of readings from his latest book, This is How You Lose Her, he seemed to prefer answering questions from the audience and hearing about their experiences. His responses to all questions were as warm, thoughtful and kinetic as his fantastic prose is.
Diaz on being an immigrant: "Immigration sucks, man! Imagine coming from a place where you fit in, to one where you just stand out, to where it feels like there is this huge lesion on your face. It's especially hard on kids. You can probably hear these kids' collective shriek somewhere."
Diaz on his most transformative reading moment: "I came from a house where there was only one book and I come from a Catholic house so you all know what that one book is. Then moving to New Jersey, I remember the first time I was taken to my school library. The fact that there was more than just one book and that I could actually check them out, it just blew my mind, man. I had to learn English first but I remember that was just amazing. Even now, I have to go into a library if I see one." (It was right around this point that I was moved to tears - you had to have been there!)
Diaz remembered first being transported by an Arthur Conan Doyle book. He loved learning English by looking at Richard Scarry picture books. "There was this *bleeping rabbit or whatever doing this strange stuff, it was cool man."
Diaz on being an artist: "When I was 17 I never knew I could dream my own dreams. I just was living my mother's dream or my family's dream. I was like really good, gifted and talented kid -- give me a test and I would just *bleep upset your bell curve, man. It was only when I went to college that people would say "I want to be an artist" and it hit me."
Diaz on the writing process: "In the morning I have to write before I speak. If I talk to someone, those thoughts that were going around in my head, that space you need to write, is lost."
Diaz's biggest piece of advice: "Don't live someone else's dream. Live your own."
Yes, we waited for two hours in the signing line. It was so worth it just to shake his hand and talk to him.
If you have never read Junot Diaz and don't know where to start, the beginning is just as fine a place as any other. Pick up Drown, pronto. And then let Oscar Wao blow you away. Finally pick up his latest. You won't be disappointed.
- Poornima Apte reviews and edits for BookBrowse, she also blogs at booksnfreshair.blogspot.com - where the above was first posted.