On my birthday this past June, the universe gave me a present. Here is how it happened.
When I woke up that day, Kate Atkinson was on my mind. I was in the midst of rereading her great 2013 novel Life After Life and, as with everything of hers, I was getting a whole lot more out of it the second time through.
Kate Atkinson is my favorite novelist of all time. My #1 favorite novel is her first, Behind the Scenes at the Museum—a sweeping, poignant, hilarious, breathtaking chronicle of one person’s life, starting with the moment its hero, Ruby Lennox, springs to life as a single fertilized egg cell (which, since the whole book is told in the first person, from Ruby’s point of view, is quite a trick) and running through its conclusion with Ruby in her forties.
Atkinson’s latest book, A God in Ruins, a sort of companion novel to Life After Life, had come out more than a month earlier. Before tackling it, I first wanted to reread Life After Life so it would be fresh in my mind.
My wife, Ana, and I both had business in New York City that day; she had some meetings for Brandon Webb’s Red Circle Foundation, which provides support to the families of Special Operations vets (Ana’s on the board of directors), and I was there to meet with Hachette, a major international publisher.
So: breakfast, load car, drive three hours into the city, check into hotel, cab to the offices of Hachette Book Group—and there, among dozens of other books on the reception wall display, stood A God in Ruins.
Of course! I hadn’t put it together until that moment. Kate Atkinson’s publisher, Little Brown, is a Hachette imprint. The people I was there to see, the ones who were going to publish my next book, were also the ones who published Kate Atkinson’s books. Amazing!
Although, as it turned out, not yet amazing enough.
I headed into a small office, off to the side. Our meeting was booked to go for an hour, but my coauthor wasn’t feeling well, so as it turned out we concluded business quickly and broke early. I exited our little office and stepped into a larger room, where a crowd of employees stood milling about. The atmosphere was convivial, even festive. A few people held little plastic cups of champagne in their hands. I had stepped into the midst of a party.
But a party for what … or for whom?
I realized I was standing at the end of a line that meandered clear across the room. We were in line, I was told, to have books signed. This, I was told, was a book-signing party. Not for the public, just for Hachette employees, but I was welcome to stay if I liked. Someone came over and asked for my name, wrote it on a sticky note, and stuck it on a big hardcover book which they then put in my hands. They said it was so the author would be able to read my name and inscribe the book accurately. Eventually I reached the head of the line.
And there sat Kate Atkinson.
“I have to tell you,” I said, “Museum is my number one favorite novel of all time.”
She smiled. She said that was delightful to hear. I told her how much I appreciated her sitting here, signing books for us. She thanked me back. She was utterly charming, and I was not at all surprised.
I did not mention that the reason she was here, the reason Hachette had decided to hold this impromptu gathering, on this day, a Wednesday afternoon more than a month after the book’s release, at this time (just as our little meeting broke), in this room (just outside where my meeting happened), was that it was my birthday.
I didn’t say any of that. But there you go.
I was one of the last in line. By four o’clock, minutes after she signed my new copy of A God in Ruins and we had our briefest of chats, the event was over. It was the best birthday present I could have possibly dreamed up.
Which, I suppose, is exactly what happened.
When you create the reality in your mind, there’s no limit to what the universe will rearrange to make it happen.
And really, isn’t every day your birthday?
JOHN DAVID MANN is Editor in Chief Emeritus of Networking Times.