Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Great American Book Tour, Beginning of Week 3

It continues to be of great interest to me how the Electronic Age, which many of us feared spelled doom for the book as we know it, is helping to keep the book alive. Please ready my interview on the Brown University blog,, and watch for an upcoming review of Walking to Gatlinburg on Suzanne Levin’s popular

What’s been keeping this clueless, touring writer going over the past few days, however, is reading, usually late at night, usually in cheap motel rooms. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be selling books, not buying them. Still, when Richard Russo writes that Steve Yarbrough’s new novel, Safe from the Neighbors, will “take your breath away,” that’s a book I have to read immediately, and it did. Take my breath away.

Yarbrough’s Safe from the Neighbors is one of the very best new novels to come out of the South, or anywhere else, in many, many years. Set in contemporary Mississippi and ranging back to the Kennedy era and the integration of Ole Miss, Safe from the Neighbors is a beautifully-written story of how history, local and national, both shapes our lives and challenges us to understand our darker selves. And, oh, the stories Steve Yarbrough knows from the little towns and cotton farms and woods of the South. His farmers, barkers, schoolteachers, and newspapermen are incomparable.

“If only I had more time to read” is a refrain I’ve heard a dozen times in the first two weeks of my book tour. Know what? There are some books we don’t have time not to read. Safe from the Neighbors is one of them.

I’m fifty-some pages into Helen Simonson’s magnificent Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. You will love the 68-year-old Major, who just can’t bring himself to be the curmudgeon he thinks of himself as. It, too, is a small-town story, the town being in the English countryside. And wait until you meet Mrs. Ali, the attractive Pakistani widow and bibliophile who runs the grocery shop down the hill. Simonson’s novel reminds me of Lucky Jim and Pride and Prejudice, and I have every confidence that it will continue to delight me. Next on my list is Thomas Cobb’s Crazy Heart, which the award-winning movie of the same name was based on. A report will follow soon.

So. What’ been my favorite event thus far? Well, of course, my book launches at my personal independent bookstore, the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, VT, are always the most exciting and best-attended. Then, I think, each new event at each new bookstore on the Great American Book Tour is my favorite. I’d spend a week, or a summer, in Westport, MA, just to hang out at Partners Village Books there, likewise Dartmouth MA’s Baker Books. You won’t find a better college bookstore, or a more independent one, in these United States than the Brown University Bookstore, which serves the greater Providence community of booklovers as well as the college. Books on the Common, under the sign of the copper heron weathervane in Ridgefield, CT, has as eclectic and carefully-selected fiction section as any bookstore I’ve ever set foot in.

Hey! There are worse ways to spend a few months than reading one’s way across America from one great indie bookstore to the next. I feel pretty lucky – especially since, thanks to my wonderful team at Random House and the independent booksellers I’ve been meeting, Walking to Gatlinburg seems to be selling like hotcakes itself. Move over Karl Rove and Bill O’Neilly. Morgan Kinneson, the 17-year-old Vermont sharpshooter from Walking to Gatlinburg is on his way. And believe me, you do not want to cross him.


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Marie said...

I just finished Major Pettigrew and loved, loved, loved it. What a fabulous novel!