I finished up the tour to promote Big Boy Rules
this week, after developing a new appreciation for performers of all stripes, independent booksellers, and Ambien. Over a period of about four weeks, I traveled to Hong Kong, Buffalo, Annapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Portland, and Seattle. The tour ended in the basement of the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, a sprawling corner bookstore with a glowing red neon sign imploring people to: "READ."
It still seems strange and slightly miraculous. Just a few months ago, this book essentially existed inside my head. Now it's a product, available for Christmas. It's also utterly humbling. To walk into Powell's in downtown Portland, a bookstore that in fact should be a tourist destination, is to see the vast sea of books — miles and miles of books, an entire world of books — into which Big Boy Rules has been cast. There's a shelf of Romanian language books at Powell's. There's a whole wing on film and music. The children's section is as big as my house. I spent the afternoon wandering the aisles, reading, marveling that anyone would pause for even a second to consider my book, then just feeling honored that I had been allowed to set foot in the place, much less invited to speak.
It's a grind moving from city to city, from time zone to time zone, always trying to being "on." Early one morning, in Oakland, I unwittingly conducted a television interview with cappuccino smeared on my nose. I did a 60-minute radio interview with an expert on UFOs and paranormal activity. It's also completely exhilarating. To write a book, to live with it for that long, requires most of the passion one possesses, and to be able to share that with others who are chasing not things but ideas and words, is totally inspiring.
I think my favorite moment came in Buffalo, the hometown of Jonathon Cote, the main character in my book. Jon was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He completed combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Jon was 23 and beautiful, inside and out, and it was for myriad complicated reasons that he decided to return to Iraq to take a job as a mercenary — an industry that existed only because of our government's disastrous failures in Iraq.
That decision cost him his life.
On a snowy night last month, some 200 people turned out at a Buffalo banquet hall to honor Jon Cote and launch the book. His brother Chris, his father Francis, and I took turns reading. To deal with his pain on the night that Jon was pronounced dead earlier this year, Chris had turned to the words of Norman Maclean, who wrote A River Runs Through It, his classic novella on fly fishing and his own murdered younger brother, and which was later turned into a movie.
Maclean's words appear near the end of Big Boy Rules. They sum up the ambiguity and truth that often can only be found in life and in books:
Each one of us will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed. For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us.
But we can still love them — we can love completely, without complete understanding.