book signings - are they utterly stupid?

April 13th, 2008

So it turns out that authors have "book tours" (yeah, it sounds crazy, doesn't it?). You would think that everything they had to say was already in the book, but they do this to sell more books. They go around to various cities and they talk about their book and sometimes participate in panel discussions with other authors.

An integral part of this is the book signing. Now suppose you read a book that was very good and you really appreciate the ideas of this person and their ability to express them in such a way that they have. What benefit do you possibly see in having it signed by the author? First of all, their name is already on the book (the cover, in fact), so it's redundant. So what do you benefit from knowing that this person wrote their name on this paper? What difference does it make?

It's stupid celebrity worship every day of the week. I can sort of understand more how people ask sportsmen for autographs, because when you meet an athlete then you don't really have anything "of theirs" to keep. So even an autograph (which again is meaningless, who cares about the calligraphic skills of a sportsman? that's not what you admire them for) is something. With an author this is turned on its head, because the item being signed is the very work that you appreciate, so you already _have_ their best output in your hand.

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5 Responses to "book signings - are they utterly stupid?"

  1. erik says:

    Agreed. What astonishes me just a tad more though is that people will ask athletes and movie stars for an autograph on a random piece of paper or even on their body somewhere. What is the point of that? If you have an autograph album in which you collect autographs of famous people, alright, I can see how that's a hobby. But on your body? It'll wash off. On a random piece of paper? You will lose it.

  2. numerodix says:

    You're right. In fact part of the reason I bring this up is because I was keen on autographs too once upon a time. When Italy played a qualifier or a friendly (don't remember which) in 1990 in Oslo we were standing outside the hotel to get autographs. Later in 1997 when Juventus came to Trondheim I got quite a number of autographs by sneaking into the hotel. Finally in 1999 in Milano Real Madrid was playing a pre-season friendly against Milan and I met a couple of the players on the street by complete coincidence, again got some autographs. Now years later I ask myself 'why did I do that' and I realize that I had no good reason and I only did it because everyone else seemed to be doing it, which is never a good reason to do anything. I still have those scraps of paper somewhere, but I never had any kind of plan of what to use them for.

  3. John H says:

    I have one autographed book. I'm a fan of Bill Bryson. I've read and own a number of his books. Last year, he visited by university, where he spoke about his life and answered questions from the audience before receiving an award from the debating society. Then he signed books for a large number of people. That I have his handwritten signature on a book is meaningless for me, but having a memento of meeting a man whose work has given me such pleasure is nice.

  4. numerodix says:

    I think what you mean is that the experience of meeting him meant something to you. And the signature reminds you of the experience. But if someone just gave you a book with his signature in it, would that be the same? I don't think so.

  5. John H says:

    Yes. How many people queue up for a book signing to give the book to someone else though?

    Even if someone were to get a book signed, intending it for a friend or loved one, the thought and effort put into getting that done would itself add to the gift.

    Ultimately though, I think you're questioning the value of vague things like sentiment and association, which are often tough for very logically minded people to understand. You know, like programmers (and engineers).