I am on the road, in a southern state, in the perfect autumn moment. Sky is blue and the leaves are wearing exciting colors. If I stand still and look up, I can watch them let go and dance down. In the 10 days I am here, I will drive 800 miles and visit 4 bookstores. Two down, two to go.
A few days ago I parked in front of a very large chain bookstore, took my briefcase and purse, and opened a tall glass door. Inside it looked like a cross between expo concourse, university library, and Whole Foods. I stopped eating ice cream a few years ago, so bookstores like this bring out my sorbet sensibility. I can almost taste the delicious, shiny covers.
There were long isles of fiction and non-fiction, a large children’s section and food court. It was Sunday afternoon. As I passed the information booth a woman’s voice called out, “Tamam?” I turned to meet Cheryl, my host, who recognized me from my photo. In the next 20 minutes, after stashing my coat and briefcase (one of the perks for bookstore-presenters) I browsed, glancing at the display of my book and the twenty or so white chairs. Every now and then an elderly person would sit there to rest. I am a lucky author. At least 18 people have come to each of the dozen or so readings of Untold so far. But what if no one shows up, and my friend – once State Poet Laureate and prize-winning author – has no one to introduce me to? Cheryl smiled at me again. “Things run late in this town,” she said, soothingly. Suddenly it was happening. Fred arrived with friends and the first two rows filled up. A couple people sat in the back. Fred introduced me on the wobbly mic. I stepped up to the lectern and tossed out the “raisins” of information about the book and my life. I read some poems. The audience was smiling. They asked good questions. They were still smiling. Sarah Lindsay, an enormously gifted poet grinned at me. I signed books and hugged Cheryl good-by. <>
A few nights later, I drove an hour and a half to a well-known indy bookstore. But, it was Amy Sedaris Time and the place was papered with the delighted news of her performance and reading event the next evening. Her book, Simple Times, Crafts for Poor People was a sensation or she was a sensation or both. The $10 tickets to her event were going fast, and Dave, the man who was to introduce me was quite busy with that, and the downstairs was crammed with chairs and a kind of balcony with a lectern and a hefty mic. I hastily put up the PR that my publicist had sent the store, and scribbled “tonight!” on it, then left for early dinner. Dave moved the lecturn down from the stage and introduced me. He was kind and helpful. The handful of attendees moved closer to me and the reading began. A smart and attentive fifth-grade girl named Aliya was listening to every word. I felt deeply honored.
Each of these events is such a unique opportunity to speak to 5 or 40 people, to smell the books and appreciate the kind attention of the bookstore staff, the generosity of my friends and curious passers-by. I am surrounded by thousands of books for an hour. They don’t make a sound. For those of us that love bookstores, this is reward enough, but then comes the make-my-day moment when the bookseller says, would you like to choose a paperback as a gift from us? (in that case I sold 18 books for them) or “How about our store tee shirt?” green, with the logo – the consolation prize for selling only one book. The man who bought that book asked me to inscribe it to the local library… Nice.