Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2001 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

Literary tips in a jar -- ACCORDING to the San Francisco Chronicle, author David Sedaris, on the road to promote his new book, ME TALK PRETTY SOME DAY, added something new to the concept of a book tour --- a tip jar.

"During a signing at Stacey's Booksellers on Market Street, Sedaris explained that he wanted tips because too many people usually asked him to sign books other than his --- including 'War and Peace' and lawn mower manuals."

Well, I can see how this would be irritating. But at least they know who you are, at least well enough to show up at your signing.

If they ask you to sign something other than your actual book, it could mean a number of things. Maybe they're playing a joke on you. Maybe they like you, but don't like your book. Maybe they can't afford to buy your book.

If this last is true, what good is a tip jar? If they had the money to spend, they'd have bought the book, right? Besides, I thought a tip jar was part of the service economy, a barnacle that adheres to cash registers in coffee houses everywhere.

I can see tossing a quarter into it, if you've just been handed a rich foamy latte --- you're paying a little extra for the labor, and contributing to the general tattoo fund. It's part of urban beautification. But tipping a writer at a book reading?

Well, call me old-fashioned, but I call that crass, distasteful, and shameless. After all, the book has been published, the author has an advance, the publishers are paying for plane fare, meals, hotels, and local transportation.

No, the time for money, in my experience, is when you're actually writing the book. As a matter of fact, the next time I try to tackle the epic rock and roll novel that's burning a hole in my sock drawer, I think I'll take it and a laptop to my local coffee house, set up shop by the door, place a tip jar discreetly next to me, with a sign, "Will write for food."

And no pennies, okay? If you want a little foam on the latte of my prose style, better let me see a little green.

JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Ian Shoales