800 People? 450 Books? Yup. Madison <3 Gabby!

Downtown Madison was all about gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas Thursday afternoon and evening. Just weeks away from her 17th birthday, the teenager visited R. J. Julia and spent some time with her friends and fans.


It wasn't even 3:30 p.m. when the booksellers at R. J. Julia looked outside to see two young women standing outside the front door, holding their copies of Gabrielle Douglas' autobiography, "Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith.''

Falyn McQuarrie and Aryn McQuarrie from Clinton were the first in line to meet Douglas, an Olympic Gold medalist, who was not scheduled to arrive until hours later at 7 p.m. at R. J. Julia.

By the time the clock hit 4 p.m., there were seven people in line from Madison, Norwich, and Wethersfield. Some were young gymnasts like the McQuarrie sisters, and the young women second in line, Hannah Lewis and Meghan Lewis from Madison. The young women introduced themselves and quickly established their common ground, offering to hold the prime spots in line while others in the group ran inside to warm up.

Also on line was the mother of a young gymnast from Wethersfield, who was sitting inside the car staying warm. This mother confessed that her daughter skipped school Thursday to make it to R. J. Julia on time. Another mother laughed about how her daughters were waiting impatiently for her to arrive home from work and then rushed her into the car. Then she confessed she was excited too. "I couldn't sleep last night," she said.

There were also adults on line, who had purchased books for themselves. Clearly, Douglas' biography resonates not only with pre-teens and teens gymnasts, but also with anyone who might have suffered from a harsh childhood, or who has faced significant adversity in their lives, or really anyone who appreciates the dedication required to excel. In her biography, Douglas writes not only about her success, but also her difficult childhood--at one point her family was homeless and living out of a van--and the father who was absent from her life.

R. J. Julia sold out of all of the 480 books it had available, and the estimate for how many people eventually turned out to stand on line during the chilly evening was 800.

Upon seeing the young children, and a few adults, standing on line so early, some of them shivering and jumping up and down to stay warm, Grace Driscoll of Madison, who works as a waitress at R. J. Cafe, hurried back to the cafe and started making complimentary hot drinks "samples" for them.

The bookstore's reputation for being a magnet that benefits other businesses in town was proven true when people in line, after asking others to hold their place, ventured out and checked out some of the other places to shop and dine.

The McQuarrie sisters went over to Willoughby's, got themselves some hot drinks (hot chocolate for Falyn and Earl Grey tea with agave nectar for Aryn), then went back to the front of the line to chat with their new friends, while together they waited for Douglas. 

Read more about Douglas' visit in the New Haven Register. Madison reporter Ebony Walmsley interviews Douglas about achieving her dreams at a young age and her future plans.

Pem McNerney (Editor) December 07, 2012 at 03:27 PM
A suggestions from one of our Twitter followers: "It was actually pretty frustrating, Pem. They should have staggered it so that we weren't sitting in the cold for 2 hours!"
Sarah Page Kyrcz December 08, 2012 at 03:53 AM
I will add to the above comment. We stood in line for 2 hours then got to the door to be greeted by a sign that said only people who buy three books can get a photo with Gabby. Then to add insult to injury when she signed the book no salutation, no personalization. Just her signature. I think the whole ever was handled extremely poorly.
Madison resident December 08, 2012 at 04:05 AM
It's all about the money, disgraceful way to treat the people that keep them in business!!
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 08, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Oh for goodness sake ... no one made anyone stand out there Thursday night. If it was too cold for any of the kiddies (and it was about 40 something degrees, so not dangerously cold, just a little uncomfortable), or if the wait was too long, or if just a signature wasn't sufficient, the moms and dads could have decided to keep them home. That's a decision for the parents to make, not a bookstores. The reason why people stood in line that long is because they wanted to meet this remarkable young woman. RJ Julia is to be commended for providing that opportunity. But she was just one young woman, and 16 years old too, so if RJ Julia came up with ways to expedite the process of meeting 800 people, good for them. 450 books and she was supposed to write a personal note in each one and stand for 800 photos? Sometimes I think we here in town think we're entitled to more than we are ... (me too sometimes I admit). Many of the people standing in line took the opportunity to meet the other people standing in line, brought chairs, brought appropriate clothing and treated it as the fun and funny thing that it was ... 800 people standing in line to meet a teenager. If RJ can make it easier next time (shifts? I don't know how that would work .. ) great. In the meantime, let's keep this in perspective. Anything that puts a book into the hands of hundreds of people--and keeps our bookstore in business--is good by me.
M. C. December 08, 2012 at 01:37 PM
What could a 16 year old possibly write about in a book?
Bob Roper December 08, 2012 at 01:49 PM
She's a kid. Think about that aspect of it.
Talkinggut December 08, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Nicely said Pem. It is so refreshing to hear a little common sense prevail, the whining can really get a little much. We wonder what is wrong with the kids today I say look to their parents?
Talkinggut December 08, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Yes Madison Resident, Let me get this straight your point is that it is absolutely disgraceful this local bookstore would go to the trouble to arrange a book signing with this remarkable young woman when they knew that people would have to stand out in the cold, wait their turn, and not even get more than her autograph, all just so they could sell books!! Outrageous!! Imagine they think we would ever be satisfied with the opportunity to meet such a remarkable young woman at all. Sell books, keep our local bookstore open for us to enjoy on a daily basis. Absolutely outrageous! Really? Is that what you teach your kids?
Talkinggut December 08, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Perhaps you have some good ideas on how to make the next event better. After all criticism without offering solutions is really just whining and I am sure you are not just a whiner.
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 08, 2012 at 02:13 PM
MC ... I thought the same thing. But apparently she writes movingly about her family's struggles, and her absent father, and her success. I was genuinely moved to see the excitement on the part of children and adults alike to meet her. I have not read the book, but I intend to (am going to have to get in line behind the others on back order at RJJ ... fine ... please don't anyone order it from amazon.com after reading about it re RJJ's event ... ) ...
M. C. December 08, 2012 at 02:16 PM
@ Talkinggut...your missing the point. Why tell them at the last minute, and ask them to buy THREE books to get a picture. It's what our society has become...mislead the people as much as you can to maks as much money as you can.
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 08, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Here's what disgraceful .... that there are so many homeless families. We can help them, you know. That seems a better thing to worry about than long lines to meet teenagers ... ... here is a local organization that does a great job helping our neighbors in need, include those who are homeless and threatened with homelessness ... read about 'em and give if you are so moved ... http://themadisonfoundation.org/ .... here is an article about how to help the homeless on a national basis ... https://www.justgive.org/donations/help-homeless.jsp You know what, I don't like standing in line either. For anything. But sometimes ya just gotta offer it up ... or suck it up, for you secular types out there. =)
Talkinggut December 08, 2012 at 03:09 PM
MC Thanks for the clarification and I understand the frustration but It is my feeling that given these economically tough times if my local book store can find resourceful ways to compete with the ever growing online and discount stores to remain open for me a little while longer. Have at it, if I want the photo I'd buy the book. Having said all that, I still have to consider RJ's motivation behind the 3 books might have been more about time than money. Let's see 450 pictures at say 2 min a picture, that would be about 15 hours right? I suspect if 100 people showed up a photo would have been a non issue.
Sarah Page Kyrcz December 09, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Pem. You are absolutely correct. No one was forced to wait in line, but that said, I personally feel theose that did deserved a personal note. To .... Gabby Douglas. No a lot o ask to make the purchase personal and special. I have been to many signings and never experienced one that doesn't offer personal salutations. It is considered a perk of buying th book and waiting in line. As for the photos I can't figure that one out, either.
Christopher Jennings Penders December 09, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Sarah Page Kyrcz said: ...when she signed the book no salutation, no personalization. Just her signature. Not that this will comfort anyone, but being in the book field myself, being a writer as well and having many friends who are established in the field, I will offer two conclusions here: --Sometimes the author's handlers apply the rules. Only a signature, etc. The bookstore may have nothing to do with that rule. So don't place the onus on the store. --The other advantage to getting just a signature is that it makes the book more valuable. A couple of things to keep in mind. -- Chris
Sarah Page Kyrcz December 11, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Since my comment I have spoken with RJ Julia and I have been educated on the author signing events. I have newfound respect for the constraints publishers place on RJ Julia for the honor of having their writers come to Madison. We are fortunate that so many famous authors come to our little CT town, constraints and all! Thank you, Madison Patch, for encouraging this discourse, I am now better educated!


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