Have you heard of Helen Oyeyemi? In 2004 or 2005, she was the talk of the literary world because she wrote a novel and sold it at the same time that she sat her A-levels, and that was amazing, because really young writers are amazing. I heard about this somewhere and became pretty obsessed with the idea that someone just a couple years older than I was had done what I wanted to do, so I got her book, The Icarus Girl, when it came out, and it was everything.
It wasn’t anything to anyone else I knew, which made me sad, because I couldn’t stop talking about. The boys at school (who I was always trying to impress or at least be seen as worthy in their eyes, even though by all high school social standards, they were not impress-worthy) who were in journalism with me made fun of me for this, especially when I wrote a book review for the school newspaper. Looking back, the way they treated me in that class and in high school in general was problematic on so many levels (once I brought The Norton Anthology of African American Literature to school because I needed it for something we were doing later that day in English, and one of these boys just ripped out a page out of nowhere, because he thought a poem called “Run Nigger Run” was hilarious. Who rips pages out of books?) and yet I didn’t have the vocabulary or the confidence to hit back or explain what they were doing or anything, and it was so frustrating.
Anyway. I loved The Icarus Girl and was always telling people to read it. Then I kept following Oyeyemi and was always buying her next books whenever they came out.
It’s funny, because with her second two books, I think I read them when I was in a place of not knowing how to read critically or carefully, of not having the brain power for highly literary, complex writing, and of not being thoughtful when I read, so I barely remember The Opposite House or White is for Witching at all, except that I liked them and was intrigued and knew there was so much there to unpack every time I read them. I just never got to reread them, because I never get to reread things.
I tried reading Mr. Fox when it came out, but I only got halfway through before I had to return it to the library, because it had the longest list of holds ever. This was confusing to me, because I was under the impression that I was her only fan. But now she’s huge, and I’m so, so happy, and I don’t even have a lot of hipster angst about liking her first or anything. The Icarus Girl is still everything, though now that I’ve read Boy, Snow, Bird, her latest, it’s in the running for that spot. But given that I felt so racially isolated and unable to communicate that in high school, The Icarus Girl will always have both the literary punch and the emotional connection to keep it first in my heart.
So a couple weeks ago, she came to San Francisco for a reading/Q&A/signing at Booksmith. Obvs I had to go or I would die, so I invited a friend and we had a lovely dinner and then walked next door to the bookstore.
Okay, so she’s adorable, first. And also she’s smart and lovely and likes both lofty literary things and kidlit, so we’re meant to be best friends. And it was funny, because at some point during the interview she talked about how there’s that moment you read a book and it’s everything, and I was like, oh shit, that’s totally what her book was for me! So after it was over I bought her latest two books and pulled out the three I had brought with me, and I was first in line and gushed and fangirled and it was terrible, except probably it was slightly more mature than I have been before (like when I nearly killed Jane Yolen with hyperventilating and squees and she was WAY too nice considering it was a 23-year-old she was meeting and then when I met Rachel Cohn after years of sending her I-love-you-you’re-the-best-ever emails as a teen).
I really think she was genuinely friendly and a bit tickled to have someone bring all five of her books to be signed, but I’m sure everyone says that about everything. But seriously, I’m certain she is actually a really nice person, and she was so sweet about signing all five (see below). And I have already read Boy, Snow, Bird, because I was just so happy.
What’s weird is that I went home after that and was so pleased that I had met an author I really really love, and it was amazing, because I was going to tweet about it or something, and I couldn’t (well, I could, but you’ll see what I mean), because she has no digital footprint. At least not one under her real name. Her publisher has some things, and there are tons of book reviews and interviews, but she has no Twitter, no Facebook page, no blog. It’s so weird.
But actually, when have I ever fanned an author who officially wrote for adults? I have no idea what that world is like; I know what it’s like to be an author for teens and kids, because I am friends with those people and because I interact with them and fan them and follow them. I don’t even know what grown up, Literary with a capital L authors do. Is Oyeyemi weird for not having an online presence, or am I out of touch to think that she would?
At any rate, it’s kind of a good thing, because a) we all spend too much time on the Internet, so cheers to this girl for being above it, and b) I can continue to live in my happy world where there is this author that no one knows about whose books I love. AND I got to meet her and tell her that she means a lot to me. And now we’ll go on with our lives, not interacting except in the one-way direction where I will buy her books whenever they come out, and that’s perfect, because it’s just like the olden days, and because the Internet is totally not required to love books.
Also, did I mention? Read her books!