Friday, November 19, 2010
A Great Good Place to Buy Books-- book tour
On my book tour for my memoir that just came out in the States called AFTER THE FALLS I went to Oakland, California. The day I got there everyone in Oakland was told to stay home and the police closed the Bart subway system. I was bewildered since I had flown thousands of miles from Toronto to give to talk to people who were not allowed out. Bad Karma.
When I asked the doorman of my hotel why there were police on every corner and the streets were empty, I was told that Oakland expected a race riot. A Black Man had been shot and killed by a white officer. A trial ensued and the judgment, which was a light sentence for the white cop was handed down on this day of November 5, 2010-- the same day as my talk. The doorman said "Everybody knows that policeman deserved more time than he got and the community is going to rise up and tell the world about it." I said "I came out here to give a talk and now no one will come since they have been told to stay home." The doorman yelled, "Sorry honey. I guess it is not all about you today!" He had a point.
So as the evening approached, I packed my speech to give to an empty room in my bag and headed on the vacated police lined streets to my venue. As I drove down the huge forlorn highway a policeman pulled me over and asked where I was going. When I told him, he suggested I turn around and go back to my hotel and stay in until morning. I told him in no uncertain terms that I had flown thousands of miles to give this talk and I planned to make it to the book store no matter what and if no one was there, I would talk to myself. He nodded and said to another approaching policeman, 'No point talking to her. She thinks she some bell of the ball at some book store."
It was probably the only night in years that there was no traffic. I pulled onto a narrow side street and saw the small independent bookstore in the Montclair district of Oakland. It was bigger than a shoe box and smaller than a real room. I'd say it approached the size of a box car. When I walked in people screamed and shouted my name. There before me were a gaggle of girls that I'd gone to high school with at good ol' Amherst high over 40 years ago. They had 'gone out west in the 60's. There were also many others who came from hours away and all congregated at the small store. They had braved the ominous atmosphere and made it to the store.
Then the owner introduced me and told the following story. The previous owner of the store had loved my first book called TOO Close to the Falls and had actually managed to hand sell 500 copies. For those of you not familiar with book sales that is an amazing amount. She kept asking an employee to read the book. However the employee, who was also a stubborn Irish Catholic, refused to read it saying things like "just because you liked a book doesn't mean I will." Then the owner got cancer and the employee read the book as a tribute to her and loved it. When the owner died, the employee bought the store and continued to push the book, just as the previous owner had. They are now up to 700 copies sold.
I just loved this store and the people who ran it. I don't think there is any store in the nation who has sold 700 copies of my book and that includes my home town. It was such a joy to walk into a shop off a desolate street and see such warm hearts. Thank God for the independent book store and this one in particular. At first I though the title of the store called A GREAT GOOD PLACE TO BUY BOOKS was hokey but by the time I left I thought the name was inspired.