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Authors Can Autograph It
June 16, 2009 1:13 PM   Subscribe

To Marty, This bespells doom! A recent reading in Manhattan at the Strand bookstore by David Sedaris, whose most recent book is “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” may have offered a glimpse of the future. A man named Marty who had waited in the book-signing line presented his Kindle, on the back of which Mr. Sedaris, in mock horror, wrote, “This bespells doom.” (The signed Kindle was photographed, but its owner’s full name is unknown.)
posted by Fizz (53 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can the Kindle be setup to accept digital autographs, like a permanent digital autograph book?
posted by eggman at 1:16 PM on June 16, 2009


Can the Kindle be setup to accept digital autographs, like a permanent digital autograph book?

The signature probably wouldn't be worth anything, though.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


“The strangest thing I’ve signed is a woman’s artificial leg,” Mr. Sedaris continued in his e-mail message. “Last year in Austin I signed an actual leg, and its owner had my signature tattooed into her flesh. The night before that, a nursing mother offered me a taste of her pre-pumped breast milk, and I took her up on it.”

A single link to this story would have made a better post.
posted by uaudio at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


David Sedaris is all about the fun. He signed one of our books, adding a little doodle of Abraham Lincoln with a cartoon bubble saying, "Boyfriends make better lovers". If you have the opportunity to go to one of his readings, don't miss it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:20 PM on June 16, 2009


I like David Sedaris a lot, but "bespell" does not mean what seems to think it means.
posted by blucevalo at 1:32 PM on June 16, 2009


I like David Sedaris a lot, but "bespell" does not mean what seems to think it means.

On the contrary; it seems to mean only what Sedaris thinks it means.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:41 PM on June 16, 2009 [20 favorites]


This happened at a Stephenie Meyer event about a year ago, but she actually refused to sign the e-book device. The signing rules specifically stated that she would only be signing copies of her new book and two copies of her backstock, I think. Of course, Mrs.Meyer had the signing rules to begin with because she is more prone than most people (even Mr.Sedaris, I'd guess) to being subjected to a crazy wide swath of fan ephemera.
posted by redsparkler at 1:41 PM on June 16, 2009


That's totally weird, I absolutely thought (or I think I thought, maybe I am just very suggestible) "bespells doom" was a standard phrase, but there is no evidence on the internet or in Google Books that anyone other than Sedaris has ever said it.
posted by yarrow at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2009


Well, maybe one other person.
posted by yarrow at 1:48 PM on June 16, 2009


"Bespeaks doom" or "spells doom" are correct phrases. "Bespells doom" is meaningless.
posted by blucevalo at 1:48 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


But isn't the whole point of having an autographed book the thought that the author's autograph is now on their own book? If you have a Kindle, and it can change what book is on it, then what happens when you get sick of David Sedaris (hey, it could happen) and you still have your Kindle, except you've moved on to reading Proust -- but you're still walking around with David Sedaris' autograph on it?

Tangential wacky-item-at-a-booksigning-story: a friend of mine was caught short at a Neil Gaiman book signing, something Sandman-related I think, but heard the manager telling people that "Mr. Gaiman will be signing things other than the book, so that's fine." So he took a page out of his notebook and wrote up a fake contract between himself and Neil, which involved Neil Gaiman giving him about 75% of all his money and 50% of the profits of all of his subsequent books. He just wanted to see what Neil would do more than anything else.

He says that when he got to the head of the line and handed the paper to him, Neil read it. Then looked at him. Then looked back at the paper, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth. Then at my friend again. Then looked from one to the other a couple more times. Finally Neil took a pen and, where my friend had put the "Author's signature" line, Neil wrote: "In your DREAMS." And then signed his autograph some distance further down on the paper.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on June 16, 2009 [19 favorites]


I just now learned that if you look really obscure words like bespell on Merriam-Webster Online, it actually tries to sell you the unabridged dictionary but doesn't tell you the meaning.
posted by smackfu at 1:49 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Willie Nelson's Kindle is really neat, with all the autographs from folks at the Opry and whatnot. Of course, the keys are so full of shake you can barely use the damn thing.
posted by box at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Welcome To You're Doom!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:55 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Bespells doom" is meaningless.

Well, to bespell doom means to charm or enchant doom. Which I guess is pretty meaningless.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:57 PM on June 16, 2009


The OED gives "To cast a spell on; to bewitch literally or figuratively." It doesn't appear to be very common, though.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:59 PM on June 16, 2009


If Sedaris had written "This enchanting Kindle device bespells me," it would have had meaning. "This bespells doom," not so much.
posted by blucevalo at 2:04 PM on June 16, 2009


I have a used copy of Dress your family in courderoy that presumably the dust jacket (wasn't included) was signed by sedaris. I found a slip of the book signing rules in the copy as i was reading it.

The stores rules (book people here in austin) for a "hippy" bookstore are pretty harsh: Author will only sign copies of the book that you can verify that you have purchased from them. I have no idea how that woman snuck her leg past security.

I acutally had never heard of that kind of restriction on in-store signing until I read that slip.
posted by djduckie at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2009


Maybe he meant by-spell?

By"-spell`\, n. [AS. bigspell.] A proverb. [Obs.]
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc

OK, probably not.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:11 PM on June 16, 2009


"Bespells doom" is meaningless.

It's not meaningless if we all know exactly what he means.


Which we do.
posted by gyusan at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


Actually I hear that Doom is quite enthralled with the Kindle.
posted by exogenous at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Bespeaks doom" or "spells doom" are correct phrases. "Bespells doom" is meaningless.

If Sedaris had written "This enchanting Kindle device bespells me," it would have had meaning. "This bespells doom," not so much.


This sort of thing is very frustrating to me (and incredibly prevalent here on MeFi.) Saying that something is meaningless is saying that its use doesn't do anything: saying it would elicit confused stares, maybe. But when everyone involves knows what he means, it certainly means something. The fair criticism is that it does not agree with the dictionary definition of the word, which could be important given the potential to be misunderstood when using words in ways others do not accept. But you don't score any points for being In Accordance With the OED. You say what you meant to say, and others hear and understand, or something goes wrong in that process. That result is the only thing that matters, because language is arbitrary. We made it up to talk to one another and be understood.
posted by poorlydrawnplato at 2:17 PM on June 16, 2009 [16 favorites]


just add punctuation - "this bespells; doom!"

The Kindle must be able to "bespell" people; didn't publishers see what happened to record labels in the transition from physical, hard-to-duplicate vinyl to digital formats? Why would publishers want to take the same route in their industry? To increase sales? If you aren't the kind of person who reads for fun, having a digital version of a book seems unlikely to change that.
posted by dubold at 2:17 PM on June 16, 2009


On posting, I see that gyusan has the short, less nerd rage-y version.
posted by poorlydrawnplato at 2:18 PM on June 16, 2009


The fair criticism is that it does not agree with the dictionary definition of the word, which could be important given the potential to be misunderstood when using words in ways others do not accept. But you don't score any points for being In Accordance With the OED. You say what you meant to say, and others hear and understand, or something goes wrong in that process.

Fair enough. Maybe I'm just a hopeless pedant.
posted by blucevalo at 2:23 PM on June 16, 2009


This will bespell well.

My only kooky autograph story was when we went to get Bruce Campbell's for his "If Chins Could Kill" tour, my wife (then girlfriend) planted a big kiss on him.

I probably should have been more upset at the fact that she was kissing another guy right in front of me, but all I could think was "Awesome! My girl kissed Ash! Fuck yeah!"

I'm not actually sure what that says about me.

posted by quin at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2009


... language is arbitrary. We made it up to talk to one another and be understood.

But to do away with the rules and regulations we place upon language would make words pliable to the point of uselessness. At first it's all fun and games, haha lookit my wordymagic! But soon ye shall find yself nekdeep in thee bryny pt of casul typn n idl chatr n meanin br8ks dwn al2gthr

A suitable anecdote from college: one student is speaking to others, talking about how great a particular book is, but using terms like "ballerthon" and "fat." To summarize, he says "Yeah, so this book is just sick." Another student asked, "is that a good thing?"
posted by filthy light thief at 2:58 PM on June 16, 2009


Paging languagehat!
posted by ericb at 3:04 PM on June 16, 2009


I"d totally bespell that, yo.
posted by davejay at 3:05 PM on June 16, 2009


Don't worry, David, the ebook is the new IBM PC Jr.
posted by jfuller at 3:08 PM on June 16, 2009


But soon ye shall find yself nekdeep in thee bryny pt of casul typn n idl chatr n meanin br8ks dwn al2gthr
"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."
posted by ericb at 3:08 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Don't worry, David, the ebook is the new IBM PC Jr.

Ah yes, with the Chicklet keyboard!
posted by ericb at 3:10 PM on June 16, 2009


Well speaking of Neil Gaiman I bought a copy of one of his books as a birthday gift for a nephew, and as I waited in line for his autograph I noticed a lot of people had several first-edition Gaiman titles each for him to sign; and it seemed to me that the object is to turn these books into collectibles, and to protect them from damage they're put away somewhere safe, never to be read again. I was told once that my autographed first-edition Game Of Thrones by GRR Martin isn't worth much because it's been read and reread a buncha times. There's even a coffee stain on it.
So perhaps the man's Kindle has appreciated in value, if the autograph doesn't get rubbed off from handling; if he seals it in a plastic bag for protection, then he'll have to get another Kindle for actually reading. Seems silly.
posted by Restless Day at 3:15 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you do not know what it means that the book is "sick," (or whatever other word) that failure to communicate does still have some meaning, or at least imparts some information to one party involved in the conversation. Obviously, using such words is helpful in sussing out who you're talking to -- although, perhaps more commonly, such words are used as a preemptory strike to let others know you're claiming some form of hipness.

As far as bespell goes, I agree with the people who say lighten up. You know what it means. The Kindle (or writing on the Kindle) is an object (or a ritual) that conjures doom. Is it confusing, when you think about it? Yes, but no more so than some common phrases. Is there, to twist dictionary/cataloging speak, literary merit? Yes. Is it still funny? Yes.

Do I feel like kind of an asshole right now, with the questions and the linking to google books? Yes, that too.
posted by theefixedstars at 3:19 PM on June 16, 2009


I once went to a Sedaris reading with a copy of The Fountainhead for him to sign. I was just going to put it in front of him without comment. To see what happened. But he is SO gracious and engaging, when he does pre-reading signings, that I lost my nerve, after seeing how he relates to his readers in person.

I had a backup copy of one of his books, which he signed with some sort of personal inscription, and then gave my daughter some fancy shampoo and conditioner that he'd picked up at the last hotel.
posted by Danf at 3:29 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Perhaps This bespells doom is simply a more concise way to write Doom is bespelled by this, for it would be a very useful aid to his dastardly plans.

USAGE: PERFECTLY CROMULENT
posted by Sys Rq at 3:40 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


My little rant on language was not against "bespell" in particular, or "This bespells doom," (which could be interpreted a number of different ways, as it is not wholly clear what "this" is referring to), but the notion that language is flexible and can do what anyone wants it to. There are parameters, and some understood and agreed frames to use, and some flexibility is allowed from there, but to say "words mean whatever I want them to mean" is a few steps beyond for me.

Yes, yes, plate, beans, overthunk and rehashed.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:52 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]



... language is arbitrary. We made it up to talk to one another and be understood.

But to do away with the rules and regulations we place upon language would make words pliable to the point of uselessness.


Isn't it that the only ways in which language isn't arbitrary are the ones which are hard-wired into us? The ways in which people (who are making a genuine effort to communicate) change language can always be, if not always immediately understood, at least understood with a little experience. Is it even possible for humans to make language useless to each other?
posted by frobozz at 3:59 PM on June 16, 2009


filthy light thief bespells the truth. Doom on!
posted by smackfu at 4:11 PM on June 16, 2009


Am I the only one who hears this phrase as being shouted at Marty McFly by Doc Brown?
posted by davejay at 4:31 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


filthy light thief: "But soon ye shall find yself nekdeep in thee bryny pt of casul typn n idl chatr n meanin br8ks dwn al2gthr"

i ddnt hv ny prblm rdng ths, whts yr pnt?
posted by mullingitover at 4:45 PM on June 16, 2009


I wonder if this is a signpost on the road to purely-digital media? I wonder what it says about the relationship between an author and his audience, which has typically been tied to a physical delivery medium, albeit one toward which many readers have grown extremely affectionate?

Maybe there's a debate about proscriptive grammar or a Simpsons quote or a story about Neil Gaiman that will shed light.
posted by donblood at 5:00 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am become death.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:10 PM on June 16, 2009


Yes, yes, plate, beans, overthunk and rehashed.

Actually, they'd be refried. Taters, though, can be rehashed.
posted by ericb at 5:17 PM on June 16, 2009


Bespell me a stiff drink, please.
posted by blucevalo at 5:19 PM on June 16, 2009


That NYTimes image looks like it was snapped with an iPhone. Double-doom.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:44 PM on June 16, 2009


The stores rules (book people here in austin) for a "hippy" bookstore are pretty harsh: Author will only sign copies of the book that you can verify that you have purchased from them. I have no idea how that woman snuck her leg past security.
Huh. I don't remember that from when I went to a Terry Pratchett reading/signing there a few years ago. I think you were maybe required to have at least one book purchased there, but you could certainly also have other books signed, up to a certain limit.
posted by kmz at 6:45 PM on June 16, 2009


Actually I hear that Doom is quite enthralled with the Kindle.

He quite appreciates being able to dissimenate his classic tract, "The Accursed Richards And The Blight He Brings To Society," in new media formats.
posted by mightygodking at 7:21 PM on June 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


Can I say I was bespelled by DooM way back in the shareware days? I'm sorry.

I just hope the guy had his book actually on the Kindle at the time.
posted by Talanvor at 8:13 PM on June 16, 2009


Well that was weird, I had I'm sorry in tiny font in the preview. How odd.
posted by Talanvor at 8:13 PM on June 16, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: "If you have a Kindle, and it can change what book is on it..."

Except in my case, wherein the soul purpose of my Kindle is to transport every Neil Stephenson book around without the assistance of an oxcart.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:02 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


He should have signed it with the LongPen.
posted by saucysault at 7:52 AM on June 17, 2009


I really like the digital autograph book idea. Someone should make an iPhone app that would upload them to your Facebook.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:59 AM on June 17, 2009


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