On my trip to Ohio I discovered two excellent independent bookstores. The first was Paragraphs in Mount Vernon, a cozy store run by the energetic Lois K. Hanson, who brought in two groups for my talk, one at 6 and one at 7, so I was able to sell every book that Lois had ordered. It was my first career sellout.
Three nights later I read at Mac’s Backs-Books in Cleveland Heights. It was a miserable evening – cold rain that eventually turned to snow – and I got an understandably small turnout. But the owner, Suzanne DeGaetano, took a seat and made me feel like a wise and entertaining author. Afterwards, with few books to sign, I scanned the shelves and was impressed not just by the number of books packed into the tight space but by the quality. I was honored to think that The Joys of Travel would join them.
I returned from my bike ride the other night and saw a small package leaned against the door. Opening it, I found Sitting Up with the Dead, Pamela Petro’s exquisitely written and immensely entertaining book about the South and its storytellers.
Pam – a dear and longtime friend – had told me that the book was being reissued, and I was delighted. She is one of the finest travel writers working today, and Sitting Up with the Dead is one of the best travel books of the last few decades. It intersperses colorful accounts of Pam’s travels through the South with the stories of the storytellers she listened to and talked with. It’s really two books, each one evocative of a place that is more a place, as Pam points out, than perhaps any other region of our country. How the two are connected is subtly explained in the prologue:
“Chaucer knew that stories are the surest guides on any journey. They are, in fact, journeys themselves, leading out of the graspable, sweaty present into the vanished or imaginary worlds that support it.”
In New York I visited fourteen bookstores. In the smaller ones, an assistant would sometimes ask me "Is there something in particular you're looking for?" and a sheepish grin would appear on my face and I would say, "Yes, my book." Then I'd reach in my bookbag and pull out a copy of The Joys of Travel. I would explain the concept and extol the cover, which, I said, might attract customers looking for gift books during the holiday season. Most booksellers were receptive and said they'd order a few copies. The owner at 192 Books took time to discuss his favorite travel writers with me and then thanked me for bringing my book to his attention. If my life were a Hollywood movie - a Hollywood Christmas movie - I would return to New York next month and find my book filling the windows of every bookstore.