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Should books be signed?

Q&Q contributor Sarah Weinman outlines her troubles with the whole notion of getting books signed in a blog entry on the Guardian site:

The last vestiges of excitement about inscriptions disappeared when I became a freelance writer. Now there were scads of books arriving on my doorstep, more than I knew what to do with and most of which I did not want to read. And even though reading for a living is definitely the best job in the world, it’s still accompanied by the stress of paying the bills and chasing down errant pay-cheques. My snobbery about separating church from state, so to speak, worsened – to the point where I’ve skipped book parties and signings because I’d rather avoid the awkwardness of not having a book to present for a signature. When I heard National Book Award-winning novelist Richard Powers read from his work-in-progress and then explain that he didn’t sign books because it fostered a connection between author and reader that did not exist, I thought it was liberating.

Now I wonder if I’ve taken the proverbial wrong turn at Albuquerque, brought home with embarrassing clarity after a recent interview of an author I admired very much. I’d just shut off the tape after 40 minutes of nervous, disjointed conversation. A copy of his new novel sat to my left, propping up the two sheets of paper filled with questions I’d ended up not asking during the conversation. I’d begun packing up my things, certain the interview hadn’t gone well at all.

And then he asked, “Do you want me to sign your book?”

Instead of saying “yes, thank you” or politely demurring, I mumbled some incoherent twaddle about not wanting a signature because it had no meaning for me. He took my comments with reasonable humour despite the fact that he had ample justification for pointing out my rudeness. On the way out, conducting small talk on autopilot, I cursed myself for my idiocy and pondered why I had been so flippant, why I had missed the boat so badly. The dynamics were odd, yes, and I was more nervous than usual because I was in his home and didn’t want to come off like a blithering fool, but would a signature have really breached the invisible line between professional journalist and enthusiastic fan? Is this “bah, humbug” defence mechanism, adopted as a means of keeping distance, actually detrimental?