STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
DOYLESTOWN >> It was the literary equivalent of a rock concert as about 500 people attended a Judy Blume book signing event Wednesday.
In fact, Norristown resident Pamela Heffner connected the adoration of girls, teens and women that came to meet the author of famous books such as “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” “Forever” and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” to the rock star idols of teenage boys in the ‘80s. “It’s like a Rush concert,” she said while trying to find a spot in a long autograph line.
Author Meg Wolitzer (“The Wife,” “The Ten-Year Nap,” “The Uncoupling,” “The Interestings”), who conducted an on stage interview with Blume in the auditorium at Central Bucks School District’s Lenape Middle School, referred to her as “the undisputed champion of misunderstood 12-year-old girls everywhere.”
Presented by Doylestown Bookshop, the event had an informal air to it, generously punctuated with audience laughter. At one point, one of Blume’s earrings accidentally fell out and she paused to pick it up. At other points, she’d talk from the stage to her husband, George Cooper, seated in the front row.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, with questions submitted ahead of time in writing, Blume engaged a fan in the audience that expressed angst about not watching the movie version of the 1981 book “Tiger Eyes.”
“Trust me, I made the movie. My son directed it and I was on the set every day,” Blume said. She then revealed that when she saw the film for the first time in 2012, she broke down crying because she came to the realization that “Tiger Eyes” “was about me losing my father.”
“I’ll watch it and I’ll email you,” the fan replied.
And just like Blume’s writing — which made her a censorship/book ban target over the years — there were some frank remarks regarding the topic of menstruation, linking 1970’s “Are You There God?” with her newest, “In the Unlikely Event,” an adult-oriented novel set in the 1950s that’s a fictionalized version of a suddenly-jarred-loose, unsettling childhood memory.
Growing up in Elizabeth, N.J., three planes that took off from Newark “fell out of the sky” in a span of 58 days during the winter of 1951-1952. “This was the Cold War, when all you heard was: ‘Communists!’ … ‘Communists are coming to get us’,” Blume said. “The smart girls — I wanted to be one of them — said it’s sabotage. Sabotage — such a sexy word — and I had no idea what it meant.”
Five years in the making, “In the Unlikely Event” has real-life “vivid memories” that, Blume said, came from interviewing her friends from back then.
She said the dentist in the story, who has the unenviable task of identifying the dead by their dental records, is based on her father, who was an “encouraging and adventurous” dentist.
Blume’s daughter, an airline pilot, reacted to the book with horror. “Mother! … How could you not have told me that?,” the author recalled her daughter saying.
“People assume I am Miri (the new book’s 15-year-old narrator). I am not Miri; I am Sally J. Freedman,” she said to appreciative laughter, referring to the intentionally biographical “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself.”
“I am a little like Margaret … actually a lot like Margaret. You know how many letters I get (asking): ‘Please write a book about ‘Margaret in Menopause?’ No, no, no, Margaret will always be 12.”
The 77-year-old Blume said that one of the driving forces behind her unvarnished approach to writing about sexuality was that in the ‘50s, the adults treated it as taboo. “The message to the kids was: ‘we’ve been through war; we’ve been through the Depression … just be happy.’ That’s a heavy trip to put on a kid because we all know that we’re not happy all the time. So you pretend … that things are all right when it isn’t,” she said.
New Hope resident Barbara Arbani said she was surprisingly moved by what Blume had to say. “I had tears in my eyes,” she commented.
Archbishop Wood High School student Rachel Hill said she liked an anecdote Blume shared about randomly flipping through a phone directory to find a last name with a lot of consonants for a character in 1993’s “Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson.”
“Where can you even find a phone book now?,” quipped Hill’s mother, Joann.
Philadelphia resident Lorrie Kim said that she started writing to Blume when she was 9, and formed such a friendship that the author came to Kim’s graduation from Bryn Mawr College because there was a chance her parents would not attend.
When asked about the bond his wife has with her fans, Cooper matter-of-factly said: “She’s part of their childhood.” He marveled that Blume takes the time to sign personalized autographs, but wondered how she would hold up because this was the first stop of a 25-city book tour. “It’s great fun. It’s really great fun,” he said of attending the book signings.