Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild Iris, Wild Goose, and other untamed experiences on book tour

So I’m back from the road. “Book tour” was the word that Peterson and I used to describe our two week trip to Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Kentucky; Cookville, Tennessee; Gainesville, Florida; and Pittsboro, North Carolina. But given the news media’s complete indifference all the interviews my publicist and I proposed, it ended up feeling more like a road trip, with book events on the side.

I wasn’t chatting to radio hosts—I was floating down the Ichetucknee River in Florida, in a rubber tube, past live oaks and great white herons. I was catching up with old friends. Not maybe the best for book sales, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Book-wise, my best event by far was at Eastern Kentucky University, where a crowd of twenty or so old friends and colleagues came out to see me read at the Crabbe Library. They were thrilled, enthusiastic, and bought lots of books. This response reminded me of the book marketing adage that there’s nothing quite like “connection” to bring people out to an event.

But the other, smaller events were interesting, too. At Westminster-Thurber retirement home in Columbus, a circle of about twelve or so old folks seemed entranced to hear my memories of lions and elephants. At Wild Iris Bookstore in Gainesville—apparently one of only thirteen remaining feminist bookstores in the US—I met Erica Merrell. She instantly became a hero to me because of her work trying to keep literary culture alive in the age of Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. Who are these people, who love books so much they are willing to work for almost nothing to keep selling books, getting them out into the world? And at the Columbus Barnes and Noble, I met Stjepan, a retired gentleman who now spends most of his waking hours reading—and buying—quality literary fiction and nonfiction. He had read The Jack Bank based on its review in Publishers Weekly. I felt like I’d encountered a kindred spirit.

Then it was off to Wild Goose, the progressive Christian arts festival held near Pittsboro, NC. I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been to Greenbelt, the European festival that served as inspiration for this one. But I wanted to support Peterson in his performance, and I was excited about sharing my story with a new audience—that of “emergent Christians” with an interest in social justice.

About thirty people showed up for my reading, and I read the scene from The Jack Bank where I make my deposit in prefect John’s accounting notebook, where he records our beatings and offers us interest. I was a bit worried about freaking out my listeners with these recollections of mad sadomasochism, but they truly seemed fascinated, and I really loved reading it aloud and re-experiencing all the horror, love, and sadness I felt writing those. This section of The Jack Bank is really the “theological” core of my book, where I meditate on how easily and naturally evil comes to human beings. In other words, how deeply we always are implicated in the things we recoil from. I was hoping this piece would speak to an audience concerned with the big questions about life.

I think it did. They asked great questions about reconciliation in South Africa—I am more cautious in my support than most people imagine. They asked about the role of spirituality in my life journey. I wish they’d bought more copies of The Jack Bank, but I do understand that there was a great deal of competition for their book dollars that weekend, from people who are living legends in this movement. Folks like Richard Rohr and Peter Rollins, fabulous speakers, both.

I discovered new music at Wild Goose. I thought Christian music was supposed to be corny? But two new favorites, from the festival night stage: the moody, angry, charismatic Derek Webb, and the sublimely meditative David Bazan.

This week I teach creative writing summer camp at Susquehanna University. Next week I read at Friends General Conference in Grinnell. If I have another chance to blog this week, I’ll weigh in on the big controversy among my friends at Wild Goose, namely: By including gay and lesbian speakers like me and Peterson in a Christian festival, did Wild Goose strike a blow against what is arguably THE cardinal religious sin of our time, homophobia? Or did the effort to include everyone on this issue—from people who believed homosexuality was a sin all the way through to out-and-proud gay people—make a mockery of the festival’s proclaimed commitment to social justice, at least around the issue of sexuality?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Glen. Must look up that music. Can't wait to read the next post!