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Dave Eggers Breaks Hearts, Staggers Geniuses at The Book Cellar

By Patty Wetli | February 3, 2013 8:14am

LINCOLN SQUARE — Dave Eggers is the literary world's equivalent of a rock star and his fans reacted in kind during his appearance at a meet-and-greet Saturday morning at The Book Cellar.

"I'm never going to wash this hand again," proclaimed Claire Ruberg, 27, of Lakeview, after locking appendages with Eggers, best known for his breakout memoir "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."

Ruberg and pal Amelia Tomkin, 29, of Lincoln Park, had snagged one of the first positions in line during the event and spent a handful of minutes chatting up the author while he signed their copies of his books.

"I was surprised how personable and truly interested he was," said Ruberg, who also had Eggers sign books she planned as a gift for her mother — "She's his biggest fan" — to which he complied with an added flourish of  "Happy Mother's Day."

"It was so sweet," said Ruberg. "You feel you know [authors] through their books and it's nice to find out what you thought about them was true."

A steady stream of 50-60 Eggers acolytes continuously cycled in and out of The Book Cellar as they patiently waited their turn to meet their idol.

Some, like Ken Gerleve, 36, and Todd Summar, 37, walked a few blocks from their homes in Lincoln Square. The two are writers — Gerleve works as a studio assistant for author Audrey Niffenegger — and were hoping to pick Eggers' brain.

"I'm actually interested in his process of writing both novels and screenplays," said Summar.

Then there were people such as Gosia Labno, a student at the University of Illinois, who hopped a train from Champaign-Urbana to her parents' home in Jefferson Park just to meet Eggers.

"We have a cult following of his," said Labno, who first encountered Eggers' work in high school and hugged a copy of "A Hologram for the King" for him to sign. "I found out on Thursday and bought a [train] ticket in class."

Even in the era of Amazon and e-books, book signings remain a crucial way for authors to gain a following, particularly mid-list and new writers.

"It's important to have a place to connect and get a fan base," said Suzy Takacs, owner of The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave.

For authors of Eggers' stature, who have a built-in audience, meet-and-greets are still an important opportunity for personal conatct.

"This is how you do it," said Adam Krefman, associate publisher of McSweeney's, Eggers' publishing imprint, who organized the book tour. "He shakes a hand, signs a book and he's got a fan for life.."

Pointing to the line snaking around The Book Cellar, he noted, "That's a lot of books to sell."

Eggers makes a point of touring independent bookstores exclusively, Krefman said. "Suzy [Takacs], who owns this bookstore and her livelihood depends on it, is going to do a better job than the branch manager of a chain. It's the community hub."

Takacs recalls the exact date — Jan. 17 — she received the request to host Eggers.

"I was in L.A. and one of the people that works at my store sent me a text," she recalled. "I'm like, 'What!' No worries, we can do it."

With so much of the book trade having moved online, Takacs didn't mince words in estimating Egger's impact on her business.

"What does it mean? Everything."

For fans, the experience was no less overwhelming.

Said Ruberg, "I'm just going to be smiling all week."