Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Launch

On Tuesday, March 2, at 7:00 p.m., I’ll be launching my 2010 Great American Book Tour for my new Civil War novel, Walking to Gatlinburg, at Linda Ramsdell’s wonderful Galaxy Bookstore, in Hardwick, Vermont. That will be the first of about 100 events I’ll be doing over the next several months, in New England and nationwide, mostly at America’s great independent bookstores.

One of the questions I’ve been asking myself as I’ve pored over my sun-faded Rand McNally road atlas, trying to figure out whether I can drive from Denver to Phoenix in two days and from Minneapolis to Milwaukee in a day (yes, I can), is whether book tours, in this strange electronic era, are still worthwhile.

I think that they are. Independent bookstores got me started and have kept me going. A tour gives me a chance to thank indie booksellers, and their customers, for enabling me to write fiction.

For novelists who may spend years chained to their desks to complete just one book – Walking to Gatlinburg took about 7 years, counting research time – a book tour provides a terrific break from the isolation of writing.

What’s more, traveling the country alone in a clunker, eating at diners and staying at cheap motels, is a great way for a writer to accumulate new material. And there’s something about driving, I don’t know exactly what, that seems conducive to break-through ideas for stories and stories-in-progress.

There are far worse ways to spend a spring, summer, and fall than riding the roads of America from one renowned independent bookstore to another. This time out, I’ll be chronicling my trip via Blog, Twitter, and Facebook. You may expect regular reports on where I’ve been and where I’m headed next, what new literary discoveries I make at our great indies, what I’m reading nights at my motels, and, of course, humorous encounters along the way.

My friend the acclaimed writer Garret Keizer, whose marvelous new book on noise, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, will be in the stores in just a few weeks, made an interesting observation to me about books and the electronic age. When I told Garret about my Great American Book Tour and how booksellers, authors, and readers are availing themselves of electronics to get out the word on books and book events, he said, “Wouldn’t it be ironical and wonderful if the very technology that was supposed to kill the book as we know it helps keep books alive?”

Yes, it would!

Please check this blog, Facebook, and Twitter for “Dispatches from Bookland” as, once again, I light out for the territories, as Huck Finn might put it. I can’t think of any better territory to visit than America’s independent bookstores. It’s pretty exciting just to think about. (Don’t forget to check my website appearances to see when I’ll be in your region!)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Three Cheers for Good Independent Bookstores!

Recently, as I was setting up my “Great American Book Tour” itinerary for Walking to Gatlinburg, a bookseller asked me to define “a good independent bookstore.” I’d like to share my reply with my blog readers and fellow fans of indie bookstores everywhere:

In response to your inquiry, I believe that a good independent bookstore always puts good books and good customers ahead of the bottom line. Interestingly, by doing so, passionately and knowledgeably, many (though, sadly, not all) independent bookstores have managed to stay in business in this economically depressed era when even chain stores are suffering.

Of course, one of the reasons that chain bookstores are having their own difficulties is that many of them do not place a top priority on books and customers. In fairness, though, I have to say that, from time to time, in chain stores, I meet very independent booksellers who love books and respect customers and like to match them up.

Good independent bookstores – like Tolstoy’s families – are all different. But they are very happy places. When I walk into one, the colorful jackets of books that are my old friends or may become new friends excite me the way walking out of the dim concourse of a major league baseball stadium onto the bright, geometrical familiarity of the diamond below excites me.

Good independent bookstores are always welcoming. Customers are invited to browse. Booksellers make time to talk about – books! Go into any university English department at the end of the day. All you hear is people grousing about poor students, parking restrictions, pay freezes. Booksellers should be so lucky. Still, they’re as enthusiastic about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed and the new Raymond Carver collection at the end of the day as at 10 a.m. They just plain love books.

And there’s something else about independent bookstores. Something important. They keep writers like me, and hundreds of others, going. They don’t overload their stock with just the best sellers. Most of my favorite writers – Richard Russo, Chris Bohjalian, Annie Proulx, Richard Ford, Ivan Doig – got their start in independent bookstores. What’s more, by championing freedom of speech, our constitutional right to privacy, and freedom of the press, the indies help preserve America’s precious political and cultural heritage.

Thank you, independent booksellers!