Monday, April 18, 2011

A simple pleasure: bartering books for pears

Now, with The Jack Bank at last in bookstores, I just feel, more than anything, happy and grateful. Happy to be sending words, dreams and memories out into the world. Extraordinarily thankful to the people, most of them completely strangers, who are buying my book, reading it, reviewing it, and emailing me about it. It's a privilege, both as an author and human being, to be connecting, even for a moment, so widely and deeply with my fellow temporary passengers on this planet. It's both surreal and moving to have people care enough to pay attention in this ultra-busy life we live nowadays.

No doubt my infatuation with book publication will quickly fade and give way to the hard realities of having to raise a child, metaphorically speaking--to shepherd this literary labor into the world. Books don't keep afloat by themselves. Publicity is a lot of work. But for now I am just touched by the fact that anyone would want to read me at all.

This point was brought vividly home to me last Saturday morning, when Peterson and I went shopping at the Sunbury Farmers Market. One of the things we both love--and sometimes rail against--in our home region is how old-fashioned everything is. The clothes in the downtown stores look they come from the 1970s. The fresh Amish-grown tomatoes at the end of summer are $6 a bushel. Local entertainment includes wooden roller coasters, a drive-in cinema, and a cow-patty bingo fundraiser for the Lewisburg Public Library.

But what struck home Saturday morning is how exotic and unusual book publication is in this country town. We brought along copies to show our market trader friends, and they went beserk. Teaching creative writing at a college, and hanging out with writer types, it's easy to forget how special literature really is. But at the farmers' market, our regular salespeople all wanted copies. They didn't have much cash, so they offered to trade eggs and fruit for books. This is a literary memoir dealing with sexual oppression and liberation in South Africa; it's hardly the most logical reading for rural, religious central PA. But that didn't matter. Like the earliest readers of creative nonfiction, the folks who gobbled up Hazlitt, Shonagun, or Montaigne to get the dirt on their neighbors, these folks wanted to support me and find out about me, because they knew me.

Books--stories, words, gossip--for pears and broccoli! Hardcovers for eggs! Hard to imagine any future book sales that will satisfy me so viscerally.

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