Autographed books more common, but nothing beats a personal book signing

I recently purchased autographed copies of books by John Green, George Saunders and David Sedaris, even though I haven’t been within a thousand miles of any of them in recent months.

More and more, signed editions are showing up in bookstores, even when the author hasn’t stepped foot in said store. This involves writers either signing a frontispiece that will later be stitched into the binding or making a trip to the publisher to sign massive stacks of books before they’re shipped. Green, for example, signed 200,000 sheets that were later inserted into his latest book, “Turtles All the Way Down.”

It used to be that if you wanted an author’s signature, you had to attend an event, stand in a line — long if the author was prominent, short if not — and personally hand your book to the author. You’d exchange some pleasantries and go on your way. Speaking as the kind of writer who generates short lines, I’ve always found it fun. With plenty of time on my hands, I like to write a little something personal in each book.

But I’ve seen writers who generate long lines do the same. I’ve witnessed Roxane Gay, Dave Eggers and Sedaris interact with fans for multiple hours after an event. Books often create an intimacy between reader and writer, an intimacy that is not wholly true and only travels one way. Seeing prominent writers handle and affirm star-struck readers has always served to affirm my faith in the power of books and literature.

There is not a writer alive who doesn’t know the feeling of being awed by someone else’s work. Having a moment to express that, even if it’s in the form of incoherent mumbling (as I have done to my heroes), honors the relationship in a way that collecting a signature from afar never could.

As the son of a bookstore owner (my mother co-founded The Book Bin in Northbrook), I grew up with “autograph parties.” They were always a big deal. I remember Lisa Birnbach, author of “The Official Preppy Handbook,” being swarmed by suburbanites who didn’t seem aware that the book was something of a put-on, rather than a how-to.

M.M. Kaye — a writer I think very few remember, but whose books were hand sold like crazy at The Book Bin — had a line down the street for a signing of “The Far Pavilions.”

However, the biggest appearance by far was Sophia Loren, who visited the store my freshman year of high school in 1984. My father, who did not miss a day of work in his life, managed to find the time to hang around and have his picture taken, a Cheshire cat grin on his face, as he stood next to Ms. Loren.

Green says he signs so many pages because he wants to give readers who aren’t able to come see him in person the chance to have an autographed copy. I suppose there is something meaningful in buying a book when you know at least one of the pages has been held by the author.

We shouldn’t confuse purchasing a commodity with having an experience, however. I have many signed books, including a very rare one by Don DeLillo, but the one that matters most to me is my first: a copy of “Four Miles to Pinecone” signed by Jon Hassler when he visited my sixth-grade class and I had a chance to see a real-life writer up close. I realized a writer could be just about anyone — even me.

John Warner is the author of “Tough Day for the Army.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read next based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “Origin” by Dan Brown

2. “But What if We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present as if It Were Past” By Chuck Klosterman

3. “History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium” by James Hitchcock

4. “The Case Against Sugar” by Gary Taubes

5. “The Scarlet Gospels” by Clive Barker

— Patrick S., Oak Lawn

I know that Clive Barker is the horror novelist in this list, but “The Case Against Sugar” sounds like the scariest book imaginable. Patrick is in luck, because not a month ago Penguin Classics issued “The Best of Richard Matheson,” which brings one of our greatest horror/suspense masters back into the light.

1. “Golden Age” by Jane Smiley

2. “Wilde Lake” by Laura Lippman

3. “Raven Black” by Ann Cleeves

4. “The Ice Age” by Margaret Drabble

5. “Ask the Parrot” by Richard Stark

— David B., Chicago

David’s list reminded me of a crazy book by Charlie Huston that I don’t recommend often enough: “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.”

1. “A Girl of the Limberlost” by Gene Stratton-Porter

2. “American Places” by Eliot Porter, Wallace Stegner and Page Stegner

3. “The Law of White Spaces” by Giorgio Pressburger

4. “Roads” by Larry McMurtry

5. “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

— Tonia L., Chicago

I hope Tonia isn’t yet acquainted with the work of Willy Vlautin, because I think she’s going to dig “The Free” and will probably go on to read more of his work from there.

Get a reading from the Biblioracle!

Send a list of the last five books you’ve read to books@chicagotribune.com. Write “Biblioracle” in the subject line.

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