I was on the road from October 28 through December 12 traveling up and down both coasts promoting my books Finch and Booklife with a series of gigs at indie and chain bookstores, universities like MIT, the Library of Congress, comic shops, and even a bar. This is the latest in a series of reports from events like the National Book Awards. You can read the others on my Omnivoracious contributor page.
Weird Southern Juxtapositions
Richmond's one of those studies in contrasts that makes your head spin. You can drive into the city through a semi-battered industrial section and see a weathered, pollution-blackened pseudo-doric column with "Entering Richmond" chisled into it against a backdrop of a burnt-out car and yellow grass struggling up through cracked asphalt. If you stand in one of the more famous cemeteries, you can see not just the roiling river and its insane rapids, but also the 1970s-style concrete of the university buildings surrounded by old-style Victorian and Southern Gothic statuary, beyond which loom factory smokestacks. Standing amid a bunch of dead confederate war heroes, looking out on a multi-cultural college, and then later wandering through some cool bohemian shops only minutes away from huge stone stallions rearing up with folks like Stonewall Jackson atop them...well, that's parts of the South for you, I guess. (Another statue depicts Arthur Ashe, but the way he wields his racquet, it truly looks like he's beating the crap out of the adoring marble children looking up at him.)
Richmond also has a fabulous institution, the Fountain Bookstore, now run by Kelly Justice and ably assisted by, among others, Doc, Heather, Tess, and Steve. Not only did they have the cool display for Finch when I came in, they also were playing the Murder by Death soundtrack for the novel. Tess actually is a third-generation indie bookseller, and when I mentioned the movie Santa Sangre, Doc immediately came back with the name of the director, "Alejandro Jodorowsky." Which is when I knew I was in good hands--and I was right. The Fountain folks were among the most knowledgeable and friendly of any bookstore I read at during the tour. As the holiday party special guest, I thought I ought to entertain, so rather than a straight reading I told the Romanian "professional cockroach" story (direct link to podcast here), which pertains to part of Finch, then read the part of Finch that was inspired by the incident, followed by the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Evil Monkey Guide to Creative Writing published as an appendix in Booklife. It was a good event, and I was in an excellent mood, with Finch having made the year's best lists of the Washington Post and the Barnes & Noble Review, among others, and been on the Wall Street Journal's holiday gift book guide.
I even shot my first promo in the bookstore basement, which is undergoing a makeover. "We thought it looked a lot like your fantasy city of Ambergris," Kelly told me, before positioning me, teetering on boards, in front of some messed-up bricks. It's a measure of how comfortable I became on the tour doing things on the fly that it was all one take, reproduced below for your amusement (note the blooper at the end).