I thought I'd follow Ms. Orlean's lead and devote my last post to my personal Powell's connection.
I first visited Powell's two years ago, somewhere near the end of an absurdly long promotional tour for my first book. The tour was supposed to be ten cities but ended up closer to thirty ? every time the publisher agreed to send us to a particular town, my coauthor and I would immediately line up two or three more within driving distance. We'd just spent a year on the road making the book, so "within driving distance" to us meant something different that it does to most. If we were going to Chicago, we argued, how could we not go to Madison? And if we'd be in the Great Lakes area anyway, why not drop over into to Michigan? We were convinced that killing ourselves for three months would be the key to the book's success, and so whenever we rolled into a new place we immediately hit the streets, hanging flyers, making programs for the readings, contacting everyone we could think of to spread the word.
As often as not it didn't work, in part because many of our collaborators in this mission did not share our enthusiasm. Some bookstores barely bothered to announce that there was a reading scheduled even right before we began to read. It sometimes seemed that the book store staff either didn't notice that we were there or else were genuinely bothered by our presence.
I could hardly blame them: Book tours make everyone feel bad. For writers with years of work and hope bound between hard covers, book tours are a kind of ego annihilation, something like the Tibetan meditation practice that encourages young monks to visualize the eventual decomposition of their earthly forms. Every day for weeks they focus on a different body part; they imagine it rotting and stinking, picked at as carrion, then turning to dust. That's what book tours are like. The First Noble Truth of Buddhism is that cheery maxim, "All life is suffering." As anyone who has published a book and traveled a thousand miles to read it to an empty room can tell you, it's worse than that. You heard it here first, the First Noble Truth of book touring is this: "No one cares."
At least that's how I was feeling then. By the time we reached Portland I was ready to call it quits, not just from touring but from the whole book making business. Yet we weren't long in town before two things happened that made it all seem worthwhile.
First, Portland is the only place I can imagine where the fates would conspire to allow two guys who wrote a book about religion in America to give a reading at a place called the Sinferno Cabaret. They let us use the sound system to play such uplifting spiritual hymns as Prince's "Darling Nikki" and the Who's "Baba O'Reilly," and the sound of the latter's fiddle solo reverberating off the brass poles made me glad to be alive.
The second thing that happened involved Powell's. We didn't give a reading at the store, but because we had heard such great things about it, we decided to let its customers know about our local readings anyway. We hung a flyer by the door and chatted to whomever we could find. We didn't expect much to come of it but we were leaving no stone unturned.
Well, weren't we surprised when a Powell's employee ? none other than Dave, who often posts here ? showed up to a reading we gave at a bookshop twenty minutes outside town. Not only was he not working, it wasn't even his store, and he was there anyway. After giving a dozen readings in places where clerks checked their watches and cut us short so they could vacuum and go home, here was a guy who got off work and drove out to hear us read.
I knew then that everything I'd heard about Powell's must be true. Jeez, I thought, they actually like books.
Thanks for having me, folks. Keep up the good work.