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Friday, June 27, 2008

Blog Fodder at Last--The Book Tour

OK. The secret is out. I do not have this blogging thing down yet.

I came across an article that said I should blog at least once a week or it isn’t worth the effort. Worth it to whom, I wanted to ask? Are you now going to tell me, just like my kids, that I am hopelessly behind the times in music and fashion, too? At least I know what a blog is (I think.)

So let that stand as my apology for anyone logging into my website hoping for regularly scheduled glimpses into my life. Trust me, my life is pretty mundane, filled with carpooling and rotated leftovers and cleaning out the cat box that every child swears is not their assigned chore.

This month, though, I indeed have news to blog about! For my fleeting fifteen minutes of fame, I have been on a book tour, and it has truly been life changing. Not because of any briefly blinding spotlight, and not because I had the best-ever excuse to redo my make-up and buy some new clothes, and not because I got the luxurious excuse to order room service breakfast in bed on my publisher’s dime (or twenty, as it ended up). The life change came from scanning the faces in every audience and discovering dozens that are too familiar: someone I went to grade school with, someone who knows my parents or lived next door to us when I was ten. someone who taught me English in high school or drove one of my own carpools, studiously ignoring our girl-gossip while they absorbed every word. People I have not seen or spoken to in decades came to my readings in every city. Half of them probably had to drive longer to get there than my talk lasted, and we didn’t even serve food. I could not hope for more at my own funeral!

So what is it that brought so many friends, and many strangers too, into a bookstore on these blue summer days? Much of this support is personal, I know—the same collective generosity that brings us out to weddings and baby showers and birthdays that end in a zero. There are moments the signing line comes to a standstill because I am near tears.

But the volume of congratulations goes beyond me, I believe. After all, most of these friends could not have read Oxygen yet—it is too new. Besides, I worked the same number of years on my medical degree, but only my near and dear family dragged themselves to that walk.

There has to be a more universal element at play. I wonder if it is the power of the printed book and the value it still holds for us as a culture—the legacy of a story-telling animal, a trail straight to the cogs of the Gutenberg press. The National Book Award ceremony may never get the Oscar-level prime time that makes people opt for a frozen TV dinner, but it seems we do still honor writers. Maybe my homebound book tour put human flesh on the words “published author” for these friends; a chance to talk to the story telling voice we hear with every novel we read. It makes me want to drop my home cooked dinner plans and rush out for the next book signing event at my local bookstore.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Lost in Books at BEA

I have just left Los Angeles and my first experience with Book Expo of America. In case you are afraid that the age of the printed, cardboard and paper book is dying out, and Americans have given up on pressed ink and turnable pages, one hour on the Book Expo exhibitors’ floor will re-Kindle your hopes for Guttenberg’s 600 year old legacy.

While the digital media on display was impressive (snapping at the heels of the amalgamating publishing houses), the breathtaking quantity of three dimensional books being pumped out every year is still astonishing. It was, in fact, a book collector’s orgy, with freebies on every table and authors in every aisle. If I come back next year, I will know to bring along an empty suitcase to transport my free library home.

I caught myself roaming the booths with a ridiculous, mesmerized smile on my face. Expo is a coliseum—two coliseums in fact—crammed full of people who revere books. It goes a long way toward making me feel less anachronistic in this Internet, People Magazine and cell phone dominated era. Writers—sometimes sexy, but often old, out-of-shape and unattractive—are the heroes here. Take that ESPN and Reality TV and Universal Studios! Descriptive voice, character development, page-turning plot and language reign as the idols in this bubble.

As a writer myself, though not in the hero league, I have always walked around with ceaseless narration ricocheting around in my brain. It gets quite noisy—almost intrusive, to tell the truth. Now, for all I know a lot of people do this, but I’d bet my career that every writer tolerates the same unvoiced cacophony. At Book Expo I couldn’t help wondering how this collective unconsciousness might shake up the world’s imagination, if we could only figure out a way to pipe that mental noise over the speaker system.

As I count down to the release date for my first novel, after four years of writing and rewriting and rewriting, BEA was a numbing reminder that about two hundred and fifty thousand other authors are also tussling for a spot in this year’s line up. Should I send Oprah my cell phone number, do you think??

On the other hand, how comforting to know that even if the Kindle or its like bumps books aside with the same lightening speed that the home computer eclipsed the IBM Selectric, in my lifetime I will never run out of the ruffling weighty pages of a good book—no batteries required.