Beyond FINESSE: John Elder Robison
I arrived just a few minutes early and began to read the introduction to Look Me in the Eye when I realized (through blatant eavesdropping) that John’s wife was sitting directly behind me. She was telling another lady about a recent signing during which John interacted with a boy with autism who was having trouble coping with the stimulation of the event. The boy then attended another of John’s signings…and brought John a gift. After hearing this I wasn’t surprised to see John interact with two “young Aspergians” as he called them and invite them up to introduce themselves and then sit in chairs on the stage platform with him. One boy wasn’t satisfied with that and eventually asked for (and received from John) a bottle of water near the podium, asked (and was allowed) to read an excerpt from John’s book, and then (with John’s encouragement ) acted out an excerpt while John read. This child was high-energy all the way, and John accepted that fact and worked with it while the other boy (who’d admitted shyly into the microphone that sometimes he had really good ideas) seemed to decide it was a good idea to stay out of his friend’s way. Follow that with some tricky questions from the audience and then more than a few dozen energized readers anxious to ask the author many more questions, and it was evident John was in for a long night. And it didn’t seem to phase him.
I also was impressed by the manner in which John fielded tricky questions, addressing them and the person posing the question with great care and respect. He’d mentioned earlier that he’d learned a while ago not to think too long when someone asks him something in everyday conversation. He said that a long pause usually leads the other person to get impatient and ask whether or not he’d even heard the question. He barely hesitated to answer any questions last night, and yet his answers were right on: thoughtful, careful, and above all, respectful. Though I had to run out to get back home before too late and didn’t have a chance to chat with the other Denver Literary Ladies who attended the signing, introduce myself to John’s wife (after being rude enough to eavesdrop on her conversation), or join those waiting for a chance to hang out and talk to the author, I came away with the impression that John is an incredibly intelligent, talented good guy who’s been through hell; who took years to teach himself how to interact with strangers, make friends and develop tight-knit relationships; and who deserves every good thing that comes his way.
I’m looking forward to reading Look Me in the Eye over the holidays. At the same time, I suspect—now that I’ve met John and seen what a wise, kind person he is—the realities revealed in his book will break my heart more than once but leave me in the end with a renewed sense of hope. I shouldn’t be surprised; isn’t that what most really good books do?