My awkward embrace with Junot

About a month ago, I walked down to the Stata Center to hear Junot Diaz read from his new book, This is How You Lose Her.

Before I tell you about the reading, here’s the conversation my husband and I had a week earlier:

Husband: So, there’s this author named Junot Diaz coming to MIT for a book reading. It’s open to the public if you want to go hear her read.

Me: Junot Diaz?!? Juno, “This is How You Lose Her”, Diaz? The one everyone is talking about right now?

H: Um, I guess so.

M: Junot is a boy, not a girl, just so you know.

[pause, while I do a little Google search]

M: What? Junot Diaz teaches at MIT? You should take a class with him. What is a Pulitzer Prize winning author doing teaching at MIT? Can’t he do better than teaching writing at an engineering school?

H: [uninterested] I don’t know.

[pause]

M: If he teaches at MIT, then he probably lives in Cambridge. We could be eating brunch at Cafe Luna and he could be sitting right next to us.

H: [still uninterested] Uh-huh

M: That would be the best celebrity sighting ever. I’m going to take a picture with him if that ever happens.

H: Um, okay. Or you could just go to the book reading and take a picture with him.

So, back to the reading. Here’s Junot dazzling the audience with his ability to drop f-bombs like nobody’s business. Including when talking about how much he loves his colleagues. And how they’re all going to survive the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

In all seriousness, this guy is smart. And gives an impressive talk.

A couple highlights:

1. In my opinion, as someone who reads a lot of books, some authors are just writers, and some writers are artists. Junot is an artist. Which made his book reading and discussion incredibly engaging and entertaining. I highly recommend seeing him speak if you ever have the chance. Possibly the best book reading I’ve been to.

2. Junot has some interesting thoughts on race in Boston. And by interesting, I mean he said something along the lines of, “Boston is the most racist city I’ve ever lived in.” Some people sitting behind me seemed to disagree. I haven’t lived here long enough to have an opinion. And as a white person, in what appears to be a very white city, I probably won’t have the same experience as Junot.

3. Junot also has some interesting thoughts on MIT’s claimed money woes. He thinks MIT claims to be poor, when they’re really sitting on buckets of money. Enough to feed the entire Dominican Republic, in Junot’s opinion. Based on the price of tuition, he’s probably right.

4. When asked why he teaches at MIT (no, I wasn’t the one to ask that, but I was certainly thinking it), his abbreviated response was: 1) MIT kids are just so nerdy, but cool; 2) MIT makes their students suffer (his word) too much and he likes to help decrease the suffering; and 3) What better place to promote the arts, than at a technical school? You can’t argue with his reasoning.

After the reading, I stood in line for over an hour to get my book signed. Unlike a typical book reading, this guy likes to have a full length conversation with each and every person who comes through the line. Which is great, unless you’re eight people from the end of the line, like I was. So I waited. And waited. And read half of the book while standing in line. And waited some more.

When I get closer to the front of the line, I look up from my book. He appears to be moving people through the line more quickly. And then I notice something. He’s hugging everyone who comes through the line. Why is he doing that? That’s strange. Doesn’t anyone else think that is strange? I’m not a hugger of strangers and I’m not really interested in getting a hug. Or a picture, at this point. I’m tired and it’s way past my bedtime.

It’s my turn. “Hi, I’m Junot.” Um, yeah, I already knew that. I shove my book at him before he can make a move. Small talk, he signs my book, I get my book back. I’m about to turn to leave, when he swoops in for a hug. Awkward. I thank him for the book signing, text my husband to let him know he can finally stop studying in the library, and we walk home.

In case you are interested , here’s the rest of the MIT writing department, riveted by what Junot has to say. Or possibly wondering why they can’t get away with dropping f-bombs left and right in their place of work. (Hint: win a Pulitzer Prize and then you can.)

Since I was too tired to take a lame-o picture that says, “Look, I stood in line for two hours to take my picture with Junot Diaz”, here’s my proof that I was there.

And, since I didn’t take a picture with Junot, I’ll end with a picture of the Stata Center, where the reading took place. And because it’s my favorite building on the MIT campus.

PS – If anyone reads The New Yorker the way that I do (i.e. you skip the 23 page long news/current event articles, glance at the cartoons, and then read every word of the fiction piece), then you’ve probably already read the majority of this book, since most of the stories were previously published in The New Yorker. But, This is How You Lose Her is still worth reading.

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