"I'm totally geeking out," Beth Simpkins says as she clutches her forehead in the lobby of McIntyre's Fine Books in Pittsboro. In celebration of her birthday, she and her husband Casey drove from Newport News, Va., to hear and meet author Laurie Notaro. "This year my gift was the gas money down here," she explains as she recovers from meeting her literary hero.
Casey Simpkins, the giver of the birthday gift, adds, "And last year I got Laurie to send an autographed picture which I put into a scrapbook with pictures from our cruise vacation and photos of our dachshund." He says this proudly as he balances five of Notaro's seven books in his arms, including her latest, The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death: Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia and Laser Hair Removal.
Fellow "idiot girls" have come to tonight's reading in full force, undeterred by thunderstorms looming over the Triangle. The objects of their enthusiasm, Notaro's books, are mainly nonfiction essays that recount the hilarity of her life as the self-described "queen of the idiot girls." She talks loudly and proudly about her neck hair and laughs so hard she can barely speak when recounting the fact that she's gained 15 pounds on her book tour. She apologizes for her dorky reading glasses (but seems to secretly love them) and says "Hold on! Let me suck in my stomach!" before photos are taken. During her 45-minute reading and question-and-answer session, the following words and phrases were used more than once: areola, fart chart, girdle, pooted, tinkle and boob shelf.
Notaro occupies a distinct literary niche, but she says it was unplanned. "I didn't set out to make a theme to my books," Notaro says in an interview before her reading. "I was drunk one night, and the phrase came out, and it was a good fit!" And how do you spot an idiot girl? "I can always tell when one comes into a bookstore ... she's a normal looking girl that looks like she'd be a blast to hang out with. She also probably has a stain on her shirt or maybe her skirt is tucked into her underwear," she says laughing. "The girls from The Hills would never be idiot girls."
When asked why she feels her books connect so strongly to her readers, Notaro remembers when her first book, The Idiot Girls Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life. "When it came out we had no publicity for it, and the cover designer picked a picture of fat legs in roller skates. I think people saw this girl, with calves the size of planets, and thought, 'That's my kind of girl,' and connected with it and picked it up."
That same connection is key to Notaro's reading. She speaks quickly and in long descriptive sentences, punctuated with side stories and hardy laughs. Being able to follow her spoken storylines is a litmus test as to one's true idiot girlness. Before she begins taking questions, she takes out three one-dollar bills. "This is three dollars for the first three questions. Because sometimes people need a little encouragement to speak up, and I find that this works. I'm going to put it up here on the podium to tempt you ... kind of like a stripper! But no lap dances. Sorry, folks."
An older woman (idiot girls have no age limits) shouts, "Laurie, can I ask my question now?" and the audience laughs. People ask the normal book reading questions—How did you get started writing? What are you working on now?—but the idiot girls who've read all her books dive deeper. They want to know about her family in Arizona; her dog, Maeb; her broken treadmill; or if she's had anymore dreams like the one she writes about in Flaming Tantrum, when her vagina falls out in the middle of Africa and Noah Wyle from ER has to help her reattach it (Confused? Don't worry—you're just not an idiot girl).
In 2005, Notaro's books spurred the creation of an idiot girls Web site (www.idiotgirls.com), where they share their idiot girl moments, plan get-togethers across the country and connect with others who believe idiot girls will one day rule the world.
Many of the idiot girls in attendance at McIntyre's heard of her reading through the idiot girl Yahoo! group and drove hours to see her at her first book reading in the South. Emily Smith and her friend Elizabeth Jones came from Fayetteville to see her. When it is Smith's turn to have her book signed, she stutters at first before gaining steam, "You are what I want to be, and I'm working for a small paper now, and I want to write like you, and this has totally just made my year!" Jones points out that she'd just gotten married the other week, to which Smith replies, "Oh, my husband understands."
Many of the idiot girls not only tell Notaro how much they enjoyed the book, but more than one admits to snorting out loud, choking on her spit or peeing her pants. Notaro is enthusiastic with every fan, signing long personal passages in each book and asking them about their own family, friends, pets and problems. She's shocked to hear how far people have come to see her. One idiot girl drove from Myrtle Beach with her mother, while another from Ohio planned her first visit in three years to her grandparents in Raleigh to coordinate with the book reading. Kim Armburst from Asheboro tries to explain the excitement. "You get to reading her books, and you realize, 'Oh, that's happened to me!'"
Notaro agrees. "The more real and truthful a piece is, the funnier it is." This genuineness and Notaro's lack of apologies for it are what bonds her readers to her. In a world that shows us cosmos and stilettos, she makes space for cupcakes and ass-kicking boots. She wishes all her visitors safe drives homes and waves as they head out of the room, shouting, "Stop at the Waffle House on the way back—it's my favorite!"