Last month I was on the “Secrets of Eden,” rock ‘n’ roll, get your T-shirts, running slime dog of literary capitalism book tour, and I lost zero pairs of underwear and vomited zero times on Dash 8 turboprops. In other words, it was pretty uneventful compared with other book tours I have been on. But I did meet thousands of wonderful readers across the country and enjoyed almost every moment.
This time, however, I also scribbled for posterity some of the unexpectedly candid things readers said to me on the road or those experiences that I will savor for a long, long time. The following are some of my favorites.
In Seattle, a bookseller told me that her store wasn’t putting my new novel at the front of their shop with the other new books because “our readers are very discerning.”
On a JetBlue flight from Boston to Fort Lauderdale, the gentleman beside me clapped his hands together and said in a tone that was definitely not his indoor-at-35,000-feet-voice, “Boom! Boom! Now, that’s gotta hurt!” He was watching the National Geographic channel on one of the airline’s 36 stations, and National Geographic was broadcasting a program about aviation disasters and airplane crashes. Yes, this was seemingly irresistible fare while flying … but somehow I resisted it.
Among the very first questions asked at a reading in New York City that was being videotaped for a variety of Web sites was this: “I have not read any of your books but you use the word ‘Eden’ in your title. I presume your book is biblical commentary. Where do you stand on the historiography of the Old Testament?” The follow-up to this question was impressive, too: “I’ve never read any of your books, either. I just got out of a Sarajevo prison. Anyway, what kind of things do you want me to ask?”
On a flight from Chicago to Seattle, the toddler across the aisle from me clearly needed her Pull-Ups replaced. When I happened to catch the mother’s eye, she smiled and nodded and said, “It really doesn’t bother me, so long as it doesn’t bother her. You get used to the smell.” Sadly, it didn’t begin to bother her daughter until we were west of the Rockies.
In Richmond, Va., there were 421 ticketed readers at an event at a women’s club. The bookstore arrived with 19 books. Afterward, a completely charming Southern belle observed, “You were such a delight to listen to, I’m actually a little glad I’m not going home with your new book. After hearing you speak, it could only be a disappointment.”
From a reader in San Francisco: “A lot of writers have died lately. Salinger. Robert Parker. Howard Zinn. You worried?”
From a reader in Denver: “My husband collects books. He says your first editions aren’t worth very much. Why do you think that is?”
From a reader in Los Angeles: “My husband and I went to Vermont once to see the leaves. We stayed in a beautiful inn on the ocean.”
From a reader in Paramus, N.J.: “Most of your books are set in Vermont, and I have nothing against Vermont. But someday you should write one set here in New Jersey. People are very interested in New Jersey, too, you know.”
From a reader in a Chicago suburb: “They say they have no billboards in Vermont and you get a coupon for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with your property tax bill. Is that true?”
It’s good to be home — even if we really don’t get coupons for ice cream with our tax bills.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on March 7, 2010.)