Ági Szabados Does Not Need To Apologize To Me
So, at the opening ceremonies of the Budapest International Book Festival this year, a couple of people gave prefatory remarks before I received the Budapest Grand Prize and participated in my own relatively brief question and answer period. One of them was actor Ervin Nagy; the other was Ági Szabados, who is a newscaster and bookseller who runs a nationwide book club in Hungary (think along the lines of the Oprah Book Club or the Reese Witherspoon book club). At the time of the event, I listened to her remarks (via a translator) and thought them perfectly uncontroversial; among other things she talked about the importance of reading, which is, rather obviously, something I agree with.
Apparently I was one of the few who found the remarks uncontroversial, because shortly thereafter Ms. Szabados was sharply criticized for her remarks in the press and online, and was accused, more or less, of making her speech about herself and not about me, who was the putative subject under discussion. This caused enough of an uproar in Hungary that Ms. Szabados felt obliged to offer an apology for her speech, and in particular noted that she hoped that I had not been offended.
With that as preamble, and with the further notation that no one in Hungary, and certainly not Ms. Szabados, has asked me to say anything about this or, indeed, even knows that I am about to say anything about this:
Folks, I was not offended at the time, nor am I offended now. And while I appreciate that Ms. Szabados has offered an apology generally, and also to me specifically, in my particular case, I don’t think an apology was needed. Again, I found nothing objectionable in her comments to the opening ceremony audience. I suppose she could have talked about me more, but then, I was there to talk about me, and did, for about 20 minutes at the opening ceremony, and then for over an hour at my own spotlight event two days later. I dare say that no one who attended the book festival came away lacking information on the topic of John Scalzi. I assure you, I am very good at talking about me. Ask literally anyone who has ever met me.
Ms. Szabados otherwise talked about reading, and the importance of taking the time to read, and, well, I have no problem with that. As I understand it, the name of her book club translates in English to “No Time To Read,” and the title of the book club rather puts a point on the matter: People are often of the opinion that they don’t have time. To the extent that Ms. Szabados encourages people to find the time to read, I appreciate her efforts. And the fact that she chose the Hungarian translation of Old Man’s War as her club’s September read, in advance of my arrival at the book festival, was of actual benefit to me: She introduced me and my work to a whole bunch of readers who might not otherwise have ever checked out my novel. This is not just supposition; several people at the festival who came to see me told me that her book club was how they found out about me. Some of them were clutching copies of other books of mine as they did so.
Which is to say that from my point of view, long before Ms. Szabados stepped onto the stage last Thursday, she had already done more to introduce me to new readers in Hungary, and to spur conversation about my work, than almost any other single person in in the country, short of my actual publisher, and the organizers of the book festival. So not only does she have nothing to apologize to me for, at the end of the day the emotion I most feel regarding Ms. Szabados is: gratitude. She did a very good thing for me, and the introduction she made at the opening ceremonies — where she talked about the book club that introduced me to many readers! — was only the smallest part of all of that.
Now, I realize that there’s probably more going on here. I am not privy to all the social undercurrents in Hungary that flow beneath this particular story. I can only comment on what I know and my own perspective on it as an outsider. Additionally, I don’t know Ms. Szabados in any meaningful way; we were introduced briefly prior to the opening ceremonies, and saw each other again a couple days later, where again we chatted briefly and took a picture before we both went to do our respective things. In the very brief time I had with her, she seemed lovely. I was glad to meet her.
So, please. People of Hungary, if you are angry or annoyed at Ms. Szabados on my behalf, thank you, but don’t be. Don’t take on a burden that I myself do not carry. I appreciate what Ms. Szabados did for me, at the festival and before it. No apology is necessary for any of it. Not to me, and, may I suggest, not to anyone else.
(Photo of Ms. Szabados taken from here)