I landed in Washington, D.C. and went to the Lincoln Memorial where I did a short reading and Q&A for Barrel House Magazine. It was a quickly put together event and there were only maybe ten or eleven people. We went out for a drink after and it was fun but it also reminded me to protect the wind in my sails. That wind is valuable. I spent the night in a friends house then drove to Richmond for a reading in an area known as The Fan.
Richmond is a fascinating place. The home where I did the reading was one street off Monument Boulevard, lined with giant tributes to Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee. I was raised in Chicago and I’ve always thought of these men as people who got a lot of people killed defending the south’s right to decide whether or not they would have slaves. Of course, there’s other ways of looking at it, or maybe not. Either way the monuments are beautiful.
There were twenty people in the home that night, middle class or upper middle class. Some artists and teachers. It was an educated crowd and it was the first time I’ve ever sold more books than the actual number of people in attendance.
The house was built in 1905, had hard wood floors and I had a bedroom on the second floor with its own bathroom and porch. There was a small dog that that bit my leg. I’d been arguing with Andrew over artist’s compensation and it seemed as if Andrew was controlling the dog’s mind. My basic point about artist’s compensation is take as much as you can get and no one should make more from an artist’s work than the artist, but really nobody owes us anything. I don’t like it when writers think they’re entitled. We chose this life and there should be sacrifices to be made for it. I say much more on the topic in this essay.
Back to Richmond. The hostess’ boyfriend was an incredible musician, a saxophonist and singer for a band called Chez Roue (the link does nothing to get at the magic of seeing this band live). And that night, following the reading, we saw them play and I thought, here is an undiscovered Tom Waits wailing his heart out.
The next night I read in a home in a suburb of Richmond. The streets were winding and the homes were recently built. All of the stores were in shopping malls along the main street, which was a highway. In other words, there were streets you lived on and bundles of stores on lots where you did your shopping but no streets where you could live and also shop. The people at that second reading in Richmond were interesting and nice, just like the first event, but they were also different. Again there were about twenty people, but nobody at this reading had ever been to a literary event before though several told me how much they loved to read.
The host for that event had first found out about The Adderall Diaries on Chuck Palahniuk’s blog. She signed up to receive an advance copy and that’s how she came to invite me to do an event in her home. She was a nurse and many of the attendees worked in the hospital with her or went to her gym. There was a trainer from the gym there, an expert in Brazilian Judo, who used to compete in ultimate fighting events and told me he was more fit at 38 than he had been at 20. He reminded me of my old friend Pat Kelly, the most charismatic kid in my neighborhood growing up.
It was a population, I thought, that had been abandoned by the literary establishment much the way John Kerry abandoned so much of America in 2004. These were smart, engaged, middle class people living away from the urban center. The only books they were likely to find out about were the big sellers, and Chuck Palahniuk who is one of the few literary writers to penetrate the “other” America, which is really most of America.
Maybe I’m not being nuanced enough in my presentation here. But what I think is that publishers only try to sell literary books in urban centers and to aspiring writers. The giant MFA literary industrial complex has created a specific but limited market for a certain type of book. But what about the readers that don’t want to be writers? The readers that read only for pleasure. How do we introduce our books to everybody else?
I didn’t like one Richmond reading more than the other. They were entirely different. Every time I read in someone’s home I’m reading to a reflection of that person’s life. But that house outside of Richmond was the doorway to a much bigger world that I worried I was not connected to in any way. I found myself wondering how to get more books to that population.
From Richmond I continued to Charlottesville and today I’m back at Dulles about to fly down to Ft. Lauderdale. I stayed in a hotel last night. It was a $70 extravagance on a shoestring book tour but there was free breakfast in the morning and the air outside feels cool and good.