I volunteered at this year’s Printer’s Row Lit Fest, a wonderfully bookish weekend in Chicago full of books, nerds, and authors.
Or, if you’re a Signing and Selling Volunteer, as I was, it’s a 90-degree day spent inside the cool Harold Washington Library, trying to calm down crazed and impatient fans wanting the best seat and to be the first in line to get their books signed.
I nervously boarded my train at 7:44 a.m., running on adrenaline and the fear that I’d somehow mess something up and ruin the entire weekend. I spent my hour-long train ride reading over the notes and FAQs I’d been sent to prepare myself for the day.
Luckily for me, none of that mattered. The job description was simple: go down the line of people waiting to get their book signed and ask what name to personalize the signing to, write it on a sticky note, and slap it on the signing page.
I spent the early morning getting to know my fellow Sellers and Signers: a librarian, an elementary teacher, a future publisher, and a social media-er. I liked these people.
Our first big event was Dan Rather. We had a feisty bookseller who swore like a sailor and was simultaneously the sweetest woman to spend two hours with, who ended our time together with a bear hug. So, yeah. I got to hang around Dan Rather for a while, making sure devoted fans stayed behind the designated line. No big deal.
The next few authors were people I’d never heard of. I got to listen in on one of their presentations while we waited for the signing, and they were hilarious. One of the guy’s anecdotes was about how he needed to get a degree to do what he wanted to do, and despite having published books, he had to take freshman-level composition courses. He never told his professors that he was a writer, and at the end, they told him he had a knack for writing and should go for a writing career. Ha!
Then came the Big Event: Rachael Ray. The Book of Burger. About 600 copies of the book were rolled in. It was near-chaos. People were sprinting into the library two hours early to make sure they got a good spot in line to be able to see the sassy chef. People wore T-shirts with things like “I love you, Rachael!” and “Yum-O” written on them.
Now, I don’t really give a damn about Rachael Ray. But there was nothing else to do, and I was tired, and there were comfy seats in the theatre where she was speaking, so I sat in and watched. And to be honest, I was way more giddy about the Tribune reporter sitting next to me. I watched him taking notes and tried to decipher his scribbles and imagined how much he must have loathed being there and having to write that story.
After that, we were free. I wandered around the fest for a while, got a letterpress stamp of an ‘A’, and walked over to Grant Park to kill time until my brother’s orchestra concert. I checked out the Chicago Blues Festival, witnessed a wedding in the park, and sat under a tree reading a copy of the Chicago Reader until my parents picked me up for the concert.
All in all, I’d say it was a pretty solid day. Plus, my to-read list grew exponentially.