Book Tour Wrap-Up: Did I Learn Anything? Should I Have Learned Anything?
The "professional cockroach story" is told in the video above, with Finch reading here.
The video above is from the infamous storage closet reading in Atlanta with writers Will Hindmarch and J.M. McDermott. Somehow--after beginning the 44-day book tour for Booklife and Finch as a guest of honor at the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose, covering the National Book Awards and lecturing at both the Library of Congress and MIT--I had wound up at tour's end at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta, competing with a cover band in the space next-door that was playing as part of a charity event involving a contest for best mustache.
Given the adventures along the way, this seemed appropriate to me. Just the night before, I'd read with Mur Lafferty and Natania Barron at the awesome Chapel Hill Comic Book Shop, to a large and attentive audience, sharing the stage with giant microbes. That'd seemed like the true end of the tour, staying at the Carolina Inn, my dad in attendance, and going out for drinks afterwards with the audience. The Atlanta event, booked in a bar in part because of the paucity of really good reading spaces in area bookstores, was the dying fall.
With a different audience, different readers, it could've been a disaster. But I'd been hardened by so many days on the road, to the point that, bolstered by the good attendance and success of prior events, I could afford to take an amused and absurdist stance. We started out trying to compete with the band, McDermott leaning over a railing and shouting into the audience over the music, looking with his long beard like a deranged sea captain having an argument with the ocean. We retreated to the storage closet with audience in tow because giving the reading in the assigned space would've become a strange kind of mime or performance art rather than what it was meant to be.
Mur Lafferty, me, and Natania Barron at the Chapel Hill reading...
Ironically, that event, which author Philip Nutman proclaimed the craziest reading he'd seen in 30 years in the business, became the most blogged and tweeted of the tour. Reading from a utility ladder in a storage space was something different, something kind of exciting. For that, we must thank our audience, because they could've turned on us in a blink, or just left. Instead, it was a memorable experience.
As for what I learned along the way, I think it was all positive. I learned that a midlist writer, with the help of Facebook, Twitter, and sites like Booktour.com, can still pull in good-sized audiences even on a long tour. I learned that the book culture in this country is alive and well--that readers still really care about about books. I learned that bookstores still care about readings, and take pride in putting them on. Even better, in traveling to so many places I recharged my imagination in ways that will affect my fiction and nonfiction for years to come.
Here's a run-down of my prior posts from the road, for those who might've missed them. Thanks to Tom Nissley and Omnivoracious for giving me an opportunity to report back--it was a lot of fun.
Book Tour Post Summary...
Tio's Tacos and Amazon
Excerpt: The Blur is definitely something I'm experiencing now. Not remember who I've told what stories to, and in the middle of that trying to find time to just sit and not do anything. In the midst of The Blur, small details stand out: losing my voice and asking the pharmacist for a remedy, and being told "saliva replacement gum." Um, yeah. Can you give me a brand that doesn't sound so disgusting. Or moments where time slows down, like sitting in Tio's Tacos and talking with my friend Dave Wesley, Cal State San Bernardino professor Glen Hirshberg (an amazing writer), and some of his students after doing a Finch reading (one of whom expounded in rather convincing fashion on the myriad uses for dryer sheets). Tio's Tacos has an amazing "outsider art" garden of figures and animals and weird structures.
Book Soup and Traveling Up the West Coast
Excerpt: The funny thing was, the chairs were at right angles from one another, and I read at the corner, with the erotic book section behind me. I'm not sure what it says about my event that a coffee table book featuring someone's butt was directly to the left of my head...Then I drove up from Los Angeles to San Francisco, along the coastal CA-1 North route. The sunshine illuminated everything like a painting by Turner, making each landscape around each bend stand out in sharp relief. By late afternoon, a richness had invaded those same landscapes as the sun began to set. Just driving through these amazing coastal settings was inspirational. Stunning sights and sounds and textures--the mountains pouring right into the sea.
Covering the National Book Awards: A Newcomer's Perspective
Excerpt: Although I overheard several cynical responses on press row to, for example, Gore Vidal’s speech, I never thought any part of the evening lacked sincerity, and there were several moments of genuine emotion. The interplay between Vidal and Joanne Woodward, for example, was a rare example of a private moment in a public space. Eggers talking about his pirate shop in San Francisco, which serves as a kind of front for education and for reading, evoked for me a real sense of not only books still being viable and important but also reaffirmed the idea that each of us can make a difference.
Bouncing Back and Forth Between NYC and Boston
Excerpt: There's something about being alone in a big city at the beginning of winter that's invigorating. I got lost a couple of times, wandered into a somewhat anemic Chinatown, then found my bearings again just in time for, as I rummaged for my cell phone, some guy to walk past and drop a quarter in my outstretched coffee cup...which wasn't entirely empty. It made me realize my jacket might've gotten more rumpled than I'd thought.
The Library of Congress and Delaware
Excerpt: Now, quite honestly, it begins to feel like this is my life: that I travel doing performances for my books. I've begun to get used to the cycle of getting to a place, snatching glimpses of it, meeting people whose stories are unique but whose names become interchangeable, of navigating my way through odd streets and through unfamiliar landscapes. The dust on my tongue is now not from travel but from repeating the same schtick at event after event. It's not loathesome, but no longer fresh, as rumpled as my jacket and my jeans. I've taken to skipping showers in the morning to I can just get on the road to the next place and wash off the travel fatigue there. I crave coffee most of the day and need long hours of solitude, which traveling by car gives me.
Baltimore and Asheville: Gaining Momentum
Excerpt: The last week has been crazy for momentum for my two books, with a national NPR feature on Weekend Edition, reviews for Finch in major newspapers like the LA Times (warning: massive spoilers) and the Washington Post's Book World, coupled with the news that both Finch and Booklife are already going into second printings...These kinds of developments are what you hope for while you're on a book tour. Your away from home for long stretches (in this case since October 28), you're at times in a bubble where you don't get online or even are able to read a newspaper. So when you do come up for air, it's nice to see that your book hasn't been forgotten, that you're not toiling away on the road in a kind of more general obscurity, no matter how successful the events themselves are, or how many people come out to see you.
The Contrasts of Richmond, and the Poe Museum
Excerpt: 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.