Thursday, October 25, 2012
If there's one thing that Quail Ridge Books excels at--and there are many things it does right--it's the way in which it showcases titles the staff really, really, really wants you to read. Sure, "Staff Picks" are almost de rigueur in independent bookstores these days, but there's just something about the spirit in which Quail Ridge puts its books front and center that makes it stand out from most of the other stores I've visited on this Fobbit book tour.
I was a half hour early to my reading at the store in Raleigh, North Carolina last night and so I wandered the stacks, happy as a nose in a perfume shop. In addition to the usual bestseller and new arrivals displays near the front door, I also found a table devoted to political books (biographies about the Obamas, screeds from political talk-show tonguemeisters, etc.). It was neatly divided in half into "Red Books" and "Blue Books." Clever. Another tier of shelves displayed books by authors who were scheduled for upcoming appearances at the store--a nice way of building buzz before the event and encouraging customers to buy and read the book before the big night. Deeper in the store, there was an entire section devoted to North Carolina writers, and I was thrilled to see a very nice display of literary magazines--including The Greensboro Review where yours truly had one of his first short stories published back in the early 90s.
Nancy Olson and her staff are to be commended for cultivating a spirit of Book Love at Quail Ridge. There is a fierce independence in the atmosphere of the store which sends a message to e-tailers and big-box bookstores: "We love words and the people who make them." Books are not a number or an algorithm, they are warm and alive and served with as much care and pride as the tastiest plate of Carolina bar-b-que.
Quail Ridge also has a very nice reading space for visiting authors. A large area was cleared in the middle of the store (the middle! not off to the side near the children's book section) and I was given a podium with a crystal-clear microphone so everyone could hear me read about what it was like to go to war "with a duffel bag full of Dickens" and emerge on the other side of the experience with a novel of my own.
For the most part, audiences at the Fobbit readings have been populated with e-friends I've "known" for years but never met. Last night, there was an especially large group of acquaintances from Facebook, Twitter and other social media communities who'd been supporting me for years. I was thrilled to finally meet Holly Goddard Jones (author of the short-story collection Girl Trouble and the forthcoming novel The Next Time You See Me--which I straightaway pre-ordered and I suggest you do the same, pronto) and Mary Lambeth Moore (author of the novel Sleeping with Patty Hearst). Also on hand were two members of my Book Pregnant posse: Barbara Claypole White (The Unfinished Garden) and Anne Clinard Barnhill (At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn). Barbara, Anne and I met for the first time last weekend at the South Carolina Writers Workshop where we were joined by fellow Book Pregnant members Lydia Netzer (Shine Shine Shine) and Brenda Bevan Remmes. Of the quintet, Brenda is the only one who is still "with book child." The blessed event for her novel, Miss Ellie's Cafe, still lies somewhere in the future.
All in all, it was a great feeling to stand there at the microphone and look out to see all those smiling, supportive, friendly faces. Thanks, everyone, for coming out to hear me talk about Fobbit.
Picking my Book Tour Bookstore Book was tough--not because I couldn't find something to suit my taste or pique my interest, but because I had to keep my promise to only buy one book at each stop (my luggage can't handle more than that). One of the books that Quail Ridge so insistently put "in my face" last night was Misfit, the new novel by Adam Braver from Tin House Books. The publisher's jacket copy tells us the book "centers on the last weekend of Monroe’s life, which she spent at Frank Sinatra’s resort, the Cal Neva Lodge, in Lake Tahoe. Melding facts with fiction, Braver takes moments throughout Monroe’s life—her childhood, her marriages with Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, her studies with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, and her role in The Misfits, the film Miller wrote for her—and explores how they informed her tragic end." I'm a huge fan of Braver's work (his novel-in-stories Mr. Lincoln's Wars was one of the best books--fiction or non-fiction--I've ever read about the iconic president). Braver does some very smart blending of fact and fiction to create fresh portraits of historic figures. Think E. L. Doctorow, but fleshier. I can't wait to read this latest work about Marilyn. And, I hope you'll agree with me that the cover for Misfit is spot-on perfect.