There was a moon full Thursday night, September 19th, and its light cascaded gently down upon the cars twisting through the rugged smoggy streets of L.A. I know this to be true because I was there. I was in attendance with an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd at the tiny Skylight Bookstore on Vermont Avenue. We had gathered to spend some time with the up-and-coming writer named Aimee Bender. It was a rare opportunity to share some respect for her work and maybe even have a moment or two with the author.
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I arrived early with a copy of her latest collection of short stories called The Color Master (2013) tucked under my arm. I was lucky and grabbed a front row seat. It wasnít long before the other 50 seats began to fill.
A modest podium was setup between the stacks and cases full books. Unfortunately there was no where near enough seats to accommodate the mostly middle-aged upscale audience. But no one really seemed to mind sitting on the floor or leaning against the bookcases - the sounds of the excited conversations rising to the rafters of the little bookstore. The program began about 7:30pm.
After a brief introduction Aimee Bender stepped to the podium. She was dressed casually in blue jeans and a brightly colored hip length flower printed cotton top. She wore tan sandals and her dark brown hair hung just past her shoulders. She sounded bright but seemed tired. Then she announced that she had recently given birth to twins and absolutely had to leave no later than 9:30pm. She was needed at home, she said, and she began to read.
Ms. Bender selected Tiger Mending, the story of two sisters who travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds. Itís one of my favorites from The Color Master. The story reminds me of Richard Brautiganís famous novel called In Watermelon Sugar (1968). The reading was slow, precise, and well received. She then opened the floor to questions.
Most of the questions were of a generic nature:
Do you have a writing schedule?
Why donít you use quotation marks?
What is the difference between writing a short story and a novel?
Then I got my nerve up and asked Aimee Bender a question that had been on my mind for some time:
I asked Ms. Bender if her feelings had been hurt by an LA Times book review that compared her creative writing style to that Ernest Hemingway on an acid trip?
Surly it was an insult, I suggested, to compare her genuinely creative style to that of a washed up old celebrity who had killed himself while his wife was fast asleep upstairs in their ranch house in Idaho. Ms. Bender responded with a flash of anger. She explained that the author of that LA Times review was a friend in tonightís audience and she justified her feelings by stating that any comparison with the great Ernest Hemingway could only be a compliment. Then she quickly resumed answering a few more humdrum questions.
At 8:25pm a small table was set up and Ms. Bender started autographing books. She signed my copy of The Color Master and I took the opportunity to tell her how much I enjoy her work. We locked eyes for a moment and she smiled and thanked me. I wished her well. Then I slowly made my way out of Skylight Books and into the moonlight filled night and home.