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On my increasing nervousness as publication of my book draws near
PLUS WHERE TO FIND ME IN PERSON THIS SUMMER
It is now less than two weeks until the launch of my second book, The World Behind the World: Consciousness, Free Will, and the Limits of Science. One grows rather nervous in these days. I have heard there may be some reviews in major outlets, and I am cautiously excited. At the same time, trepidatious. The ancient debate unfolds internally: is it better to be reviewed, but poorly, than not reviewed at all?
You’re the worst author I ever heard of!
Ah, but you have heard of me.
I remind myself that this is just my personality, to expect the worst. I will put on a brave face for podcasts. Be like Steven Pinker—expectant, assured of success and attention, indolently confident in the work my twenty busy bees of Harvard-educated research assistants have done.
You might think such nervousness is unwarranted given that I’ve spent my life researching these subjects, but keep in mind many books, especially popular science books, are not very personal. They are sort of expert (or amateur!) investigations: here’s the latest on the science of attention, or here’s the latest about gravitational waves. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but mere reportage can always be separated from the person reporting.
The World Behind the World is a very personal book since the research and thoughts in it have grown over a twenty-year span thinking about subjects like consciousness and emergence, and these thoughts have been shared little, if at all, with anyone else—not even on here—and now these ideas are going out into the world to either sink or swim. It is a very tough thing to produce a text that is actually original—scientifically, philosophically, I mean—but also readable and fun and occasionally even literary. And therefore, one has last minute doubts. It is a slim volume and yet, if anything, it contains too much. The idea of scientific incompleteness I put forth could alone fill a book, and it’s a chapter. The theory of emergence I outline—worth another book, and yet only a chapter. I tell the history of civilization itself through the lens of consciousness science in three chapters. I have compacted myself too much, I worry. What will I have left of my brain to sell? Perhaps it should have been two books. Or five books. Or one hundred books. Or shouldn’t have been a book at all, perhaps it should have just been soliloquies, spoken alone, to only the green world around my porch.
If you have ever waited onstage behind a curtain, you understand what I mean concerning this nervousness. Or, to make the metaphor even more apt: it is not you behind the curtain, but your child, and you are watching from backstage. And she is out there, centered on stage, looking to you slightly awkward in her outfit, facing where the crowd will be. The light from underneath the curtain spills like a pool across the black but doesn’t touch her toes. You want the audience in the seats to be large, so that she’s paid the attention she deserves. At the same time, you want it to be small, and private, in case something bad happens. After all, this is a child who you’ve watched for years knock over cups and drop food and fall and hit her head and do all sorts of endlessly embarrassing things and you still feel all that protective love about her, and are painfully aware of her fragility, but it’s too late, the curtain is opening, the time has come. And then your child begins to dance. All thoughts of audience drop away. For you knew—you’ve seen it before, after all—you knew she could dance like that. But in a way, you didn’t know she could dance like that. Not until right now.
Ok, enough melancholic metaphors, both hopeful and depressive. Some things are like other things, except they’re not, not really. Allow me the grace to secure the mask back on and adopt the traditionally triumphant tone of soon-to-be-published authors. Ahem. Give me a minute.
PREORDER! PREORDER! PREORDER! Ah there we go.
Did you know that all preorders count as sales for the first week, so the best chance to get on a bestseller list is from preorders? Well, now you do.
Also, here’s where you can find me this year!
I rarely make public appearances. But they do happen, so if you want to meet me, you absolutely can, with a bit of legwork. Unfortunately, it’s harder this year since so far both appearances are on the East Coast.
Debut book launch party at The Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport Massachusetts, July 29th at 7PM
Newburyport is beautiful port city about 50 minutes north of Boston.
You can find details on Jabberwocky’s event page here. It’s my mother’s bookstore, which is downtown (not too far out of frame on the right of this photo). The familial relationship is obvious in their announcement:
In the bookstore, we think perhaps the most important thing about Erik Hoel is that he literally grew up right here in The Jabberwocky Bookshop. Some of our customers might remember 30 years ago hearing the dinosaur song sung from under the counter, or 25 years ago the little boy with a sword and shield chasing bad guys through the bookshelves, or 15 years ago the lanky teenager curled up in one of our comfy chairs reading his way through the science essays, the philosophy section, and the classics. Yes, he is Sue Little's son.
It’ll be a reading, and I’ll be taking questions, talking to people, and doing some book signings. Mild party vibes. Cute bookstore dog present. Newburyport is a wonderful city to visit anyways, so it may be worth a trip if you’re in the area. Oh, and here’s my mom holding me as a baby in the store, and then us in the same location when my first book came out 30 years later.
Harvard Science Center at September 21st, 6PM
The excellent Harvard Book Store in Cambridge is organizing this event. Here are the (yet to be 100% confirmed) details:
Date: Thursday, Sept. 21
Event Start Time: 6:00pm (doors at 5:30)
Venue/Location: Harvard Science Center, 1 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA
Introduction and welcome from Harvard Book Store/ Harvard University Division of Science
40-45 minute author reading/presentation/conversation (including 10-15 minute presentation)
20 minutes audience Q&A
If you come to either of these, please introduce yourself! It’s good to say hi. I promise I am friendly and affable in person. Do this even if you feel uncomfortable or shy about it (although you can also just listen to the reading and discussion and get snacks and drinks). You can talk to my mom at the first one, who is the most gregarious person you’ll ever meet. In fact, you don’t even need to speak, you can just stand near her and she’ll fill the time. Trust me.