I'm in Chicago right now, for ALA: the annual meeting of the American Library Association. I've been to a couple of them before and have always had a marvellous time -- once, with people like Art Spiegelman and Scott McCloud and Colleen Doran explaining to curious librarians what graphic novels were and why they should have them in their libraries, another time getting to visit New Orleans for the first time Post-Katrina, when I went to two dinners with Poppy Z Brite, and one of them was the first time Poppy's husband, chef Chris DeBarr, ever cooked for me*.
When I was in Melbourne, five years ago, Poppy was a guest of honour with me, and somewhere back then it was decided that we would be going to Alinea, a Chicago restaurant of remarkable coolness. The years went by and I was never in Chicago for long, and Katrina happened, and once Poppy went back to New Orleans she did not want to leave, but we knew one day it would happen.
And tonight it did. Poppy flew up from Chicago and took me to dinner. It was expensive, and, I only discovered at the end of the meal, Poppy was paying. (This is a big public thank you.)
The service and friendliness and sense of enjoyment from the Alinea staff was remarkable. I've had, on rare occasions, food that was as good, and, rarely, I've had food that was better, but I do not ever recall any meal that was as much fun to eat. 23 Courses (hmm, very illuminati) of things that melted or popped or squrunched in your mouth in astounding ways.
I think my favourite not-actually-putting-something-in-my-mouth moment was when the table was covered with bubbling belching dry-ice smoke, and I asked Poppy very nicely if she wouldn't mind saying, "Tonight, my creature, I shall give you Life!" for me, and, bless her, she did.
If anyone reading this is at ALA, I'm doing two signings at the HarperCollins booth 2011, one at 1.00pm on Saturday, the other on 9.00am on Monday (which should have some amusement value). Also a panel on Monday at 1:30pm on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The rest of the time is filled with interviews, receptions, speeches and such.
I'm actually here to receive the Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book. Which will be presented on Sunday night, and for which I have written (and already recorded) a speech. (Which will be played if I forget how to talk on Sunday night. It's possible.)
And I want to thank Harper Collins for indulging me, and keeping up the free version of The Graveyard Book on the mousecircus website all that time. You can still listen to (or watch) me read The Graveyard Book, chapter by chapter, across America, at http://www.mousecircus.com/videotour.aspx. You can also buy it.
(And to answer a sharp-eyed questioner, yes, there are a couple of changes in the latest printing of The Graveyard Book; I fixed an error in astronomy I'd made, and a misspelled foreign word, and fixed some paragraphs in the acknowledgments that were truncated in the original US edition.)
(And that reminds me: yes, I will be at San Diego Comic Con briefly on Friday July 24th, to do a panel with Henry Selick about Coraline, and a one hour signing afterwards. I'll be at the Eisner Awards for a bit that night, then will zoom across town to the Benefit concert that Amanda Palmer and Vermillion Lies are doing for the CBLDF.)
*Chris says people have been asking for "The Mezze of Destruction", the code-phrase that tells him they were sent from this blog, at the Green Goddess, and getting special extras -- restaurant Easter Eggs, as it were, and I have been getting happy messages from people who have eaten there who tried it. And, almost needless to say, lived.