CLOSE
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

6 Book Signings That Went Awry

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

When authors and publishers are high on the commercial potential of a new book, they’re often willing to invest the time and expense necessary to arrange for in-person signings at bookstores, conventions, or other events. Fans can get a (fleeting) chance to interact with their favorite writer, and writers get a reasonable chance of developing early-stage carpal tunnel.

Unfortunately, not all of these meet-and-greets go smoothly. Take a look at six times book lovers and authors got more than they bargained for.

1. THE PALTROW INCIDENT // CHRISTINA OXENBERG

Despite a literally royal lineage—her mother is Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia—author Christina Oxenberg (Royal Blue) was feeling something other than revered during a 2013 book signing at the East Hampton Library. In this multi-writer event, Oxenberg was seated next to Gwyneth Paltrow, who was publicizing a recipe collection titled It’s All Good. The problem, as Oxenberg later noted in a blog post, was that the celebrity of Paltrow totally consumed her immediate vicinity, with fans of the actress entombing Oxenberg’s table and blocking her from the view of passersby. When Oxenberg went to get something to eat, Paltrow’s bodyguards blocked her from returning to her seat. Instead, she crawled under the table and admitted to making "a plate of miniature sloppy hamburgers, stinky steak sandwiches, and the like and hauled it back to my piece of table" in an attempt to annoy her neighbor.

2. THE INK ATTACK // VAL MCDERMID

Author Val McDermid photographed during a public event
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Scottish crime writer Val McDermid was giving a lecture at Sunderland University in 2013 when she noticed a peculiar woman in the audience. The woman was wearing a wig and glasses, a fairly obvious and clumsy disguise. When McDermid segued into signing books for the crowd moments later, the woman approached the author and asked her to sign a copy of her 1995 nonfiction book, A Suitable Job for a Woman. After McDermid complied, the fan produced a bottle of ink and tossed it at McDermid. At a hearing in which she was found guilty of assault, the woman—identified as Sandra Botham—appeared dismayed at a paragraph in the book that described a person named Sandra as being shaped “like the Michelin Man.” Botham asserted McDermid was referring to her, despite the fact the two had never met.

3. THE SPIT CRITIQUE // JANE FONDA

In 2005, noted actress/fitness icon/activist Jane Fonda released her autobiography, My Life So Far. In it, she details her life and career up and through her public denouncement of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. The latter apparently didn’t sit well with a Kansas City man, who waited patiently in line during a signing so he could have the opportunity to hawk chewing tobacco in Fonda’s face when his turn came. After being charged with disorderly conduct, the man—a 54-year-old Vietnam veteran named Michael Smith—told the press that he didn’t regret the incident and labeled Fonda a “traitor.” The man was hauled off; Fonda continued to sign books for those remaining in line.

4. A FUR-RIOUS REACTION // KELLY ROWLAND

Singer Kelly Rowland
Rich Fury/Getty Images for VH1

Former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland published a parenthood memoir titled Whoa, Baby in 2017. Signing the book in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Rowland was confronted by several animal activists who had pretended to be fans in order to enter the store. Once inside, they produced signs and began chanting “Fur trade, death trade,” insisting Rowland “has blood on her hands.” Their ire was directed at the fact that Rowland had been photographed in the past wearing fur clothing. After some awkward discussion between Rowland and her associates, the protesters were escorted out. Singer Patti LaBelle experienced a similar incident while she was promoting Desserts LaBelle at a Barnes and Noble in New York.

5. THE LESSER-KNOWN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT // MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

In 1958, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was signing copies of his book, Stride Toward Freedom, in the shoe section of a Harlem department store when a woman approached. After she confirmed the man was indeed King, she produced an eight-inch letter opener and plunged it into his chest. Surgery saved King’s life, though doctors feared that if he had so much as sneezed, he might have died—the weapon's edge had settled on his aorta. While in the hospital, he told a reporter that his attacker, Izola Curry, was in need of mental help. “I’m not angry at her,” he added. Curry was committed to mental and assisted living institutions before her death in 2015.

6. THE FLYING TOMATO // SARAH PALIN

Sarah Palin signs her memoir
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin proved to be a divisive presence during the height of her notoriety in 2009, when she published a book titled Going Rogue. As she signed copies at Minnesota’s Mall of America, a man positioned himself on a balcony near her table. When the moment seemed right, he began lobbing tomatoes in her direction. Instead of hitting Palin, he managed to splatter the vegetable on a security officer instead. Busy autographing books, Palin didn’t even notice the airborne food—she had to be told about it later. The attacker, 33-year-old Jeremy Paul Olson, was arrested. Police discovered additional tomatoes on his person.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
iStock
iStock

People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Cost Plus World Market
arrow
Smart Shopping
18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
Cost Plus World Market
Cost Plus World Market

Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

Buy on Amazon.

3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

Buy on Amazon.

7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

Buy on Amazon.

9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

Buy on Amazon.

10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios