Unlike bestselling writers, academic authors rarely get sent out on book tours. From time to time, however, we do have the good fortune of getting invited to speak to audiences in various parts of the country about our work. Case in point: I just returned from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I delivered the convocation address for the Campus Honors Program (CHP). This was the first in a series of speaking engagements that, so far, will take me to Iowa, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. A few more and I may print up a t-shirt.
The event at U of I was a blast. It began in the office of Professor Bruce Michelson, the director of the CHP. We chatted one-on-one for about an hour about literary history, the future of the book, religious publishing in the United States, and a host of other engaging topics. From there we adjourned to the Illini Union. I delivered my speech entitled “The Abuses of Literacy: Amazon Kindle and the Right to Read” — which focuses on electronic reading, liberal political culture, and privacy rights — to a lively group of about 60 undergraduate honor students. They peppered me with incisive questions about my stance on copyright, the future of public libraries in an age of ubiquitous bookselling, the implementation of a “right to read,” digital dossiers, and more. The group kept me on my toes, to be sure.
The evening concluded with a lovely “meet the author” reception at Professor Michelson’s house. The CHP students had been given copies of The Late Age of Print over the summer, and so they came prepared ready to discuss Harry Potter, Oprah, the future of printed books, and even some material well beyond the scope of the book, including what I thought about online learning. What an edifying discussion it was — for me! The most memorable question? “What would I say to Oprah if I ever had the chance to meet her?” My favorite moment? When multiple students told me that they had found Late Age to be accessible and intellectually engaging — my use of the word “incunabula” notwithstanding.
Before the CHPers headed home for the night, they lined up for an impromptu book signing. Though I’ve inscribed a few books here and there, this was my first (and maybe my only) official book signing. It really made me feel special. Indeed, I was overwhelmed to see so many copies of Late Age — more than I’d ever seen gathered in any one place. And what made me feel even more special was the knowledge that the books had been placed in the hands of incredibly bright people who’d closely read and carefully considered what I had to say. What more could an author hope for?