Blurring the “shadow lines” between reader and author

Personally, I am reluctant to meet someone famed or with a celebrity status because I am afraid of being disappointed. Authors’ celebrity status is in a rather grey zone. They are much loved and appreciated, but they are also often out of the limelight. They hide inside of book jackets and disguise themselves with their words. And I’ve expressed before how it’s best for a reader to separate the author from their personal lives and let their works do the talking. But with Amitav Ghosh I was ready to ignore that rule. He was my foray into literature and I have grown mature as a reader with his books. I’ve expressed my love for his writing before, and when I heard that he would be talking at the Asia Society Texas Center, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mr. Ghosh’s talk, on the growth of opium trade between India and China in the 18th and 19th century, was informative, fascinating, and funny. His eye for detail and his expansive knowledge about the history of that time was so awe inspiring. In those 30-odd minutes, he didn’t just give a talk, he taught. In a situation like this, it is hard not to be transformed into an eager student. The lecture actually helped make sense of the first two books of the Ibis Trilogy. While I have yet to finish reading River of Smoke, I am tempted to start with Sea of Poppies all over again.

After the lecture, there was a book signing. With a thumping heart, I approached Mr. Ghosh and showed him my ancient copy of The Shadow Lines. “First edition!” he exclaimed. It had an embarrassing cover from ages ago that I didn’t take off. I showed him my notes from the back of the book and told him how much the book meant to me, and my journey as a student of literature. He was warm, gracious, and genuinely listened to me. I can only imagine what a chore these book-signings must be. Mr. Ghosh did not make it seem that way. Most importantly, I feel like he actually understood why that old book meant so much to me and was just as fascinated by what I had to say.

My copy of The Shadow Lines has always been valuable; now, it’s priceless:

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