Notes from the Mr. Peanut tour — Part II

Before I get to Part II of my tour, I have some news about addi­tional upcom­ing events.

On August 12, I’ll be appear­ing in New York at the Lin­coln Tri­an­gle Barnes & Noble, 66th & Broad­way, at 7:30 p.m. Also, if you’re one of those lucky New York­ers who escape to the Hamp­tons, that week­end I’ll be doing two events out there: a reading/Q & A at East Hampton’s BookHamp­ton Fri­day, August 13, at 5 p.m., and Authors’ Night at the East Hamp­ton Library on Sat­ur­day, August 14, begin­ning at 5:30. It’s dubbed “the pre­mier lit­er­ary event of the Hamp­tons” with numer­ous authors present to sign books and meet with read­ers, but its less glitzy, more prac­ti­cal func­tion is to ben­e­fit the East Hamp­ton Library, a place dear to my heart for a lot rea­sons, most imme­di­ately that over the past cou­ple of years, I spent many hours of my Augusts work­ing on Mr. Peanut in its stacks (while my wife and kids played on the beach and felt lit­tle, if any, pity for me at all). If, by chance, you find your­self in Scot­land in late August, I’ll be doing a mod­er­ated dis­cus­sion and read­ing with Leanne Shap­ton at the Edin­burgh Book Fes­ti­val on August 29, at 8:30. On Sep­tem­ber 23 at 6 p.m., I’ll be at the Grey Par­rot Gallery in Atlanta, GA, and finally at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, the Cen­tral West End store, on Octo­ber 20. I’ll post the time of that event when I have it.

Speak­ing of time, it’s some­thing of which I had pre­cious lit­tle while tour­ing. I was in New York on July 12–14, doing a ton of media in the run-up to my read­ing that Tues­day at McNally Jack­son book­store on Prince St. My agent, Mark Kessler, had flown in from Paris, where he lives, to accom­pany me over the next sev­eral days and also just to hang out, since our rela­tion­ship is almost entirely con­ducted on the phone. On Mon­day, we made our way out to Brook­lyn, to sign stock at Book­court and Green­light, two ter­rific stores, though admit­tedly I was sad at the lat­ter not to get a chance to meet Daryl, who’d reviewed the book for the Huff­in­g­ton Post’s Indie Book­sellers’ Top 15 Beach Reads (Mr. Peanut was sub­se­quently voted #1), so that I could thank her in person.

The high­light of Tues­day was sit­ting down with Edward Cham­pion at Le Pain Quo­ti­dien on 57th St., host of The Bat Segundo Show, a bril­liant, supremely eru­dite guy who has inter­viewed every author out there it seems (his library of con­ver­sa­tions is remark­able) and whose pod­cast reg­u­larly airs on his web­site. The inter­view isn’t up yet, but it was the most philo­soph­i­cal talk I’ve had about the novel’s struc­ture, not to men­tion the most in-depth with regard to its inter­tex­tual use of Hitchcock’s films, par­tic­u­larly in the Shep­pard sec­tion. Be on the look­out for that, and, if you haven’t lis­tened to Champion’s show before, check him out. Any­one inter­ested in books needs his site on their list of favorites.

Wednes­day was eas­ily the wildest day of all, com­pli­cated by weather (it was pour­ing on and off), traf­fic, and the fre­netic sched­ule. Early that morn­ing, Mark and I made our way deep into the Moth­er­ship to do an inter­view on Fox’s The Strat­egy Room, worth the trip just to feel the sheer hum of infor­ma­tion beam­ing from that build­ing and to eye the shock­ingly tall, stag­ger­ingly gor­geous women anchors, all of whom have clearly been drink­ing a dif­fer­ent brand of vit­a­min water than I have. I’m no shorty, but every time we stopped at an ele­va­tor bank, I felt like I was back at a sev­enth grade dance, eye-to-sternum with a dream­boat. Next, we took the train down­town to do The Leonard Lopate show, a sub­stan­tive inter­view that lasted over fif­teen min­utes but felt fast-paced—Lopate, the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional, has a remark­ably light touch in con­ver­sa­tion, and has an amaz­ing abil­ity to keep the con­ver­sa­tion broad and deep at the same time. Being there was one of those writ­ers’ bucket-list appear­ances I’m thrilled to have checked off (though I hope to appear on Mr. Lopate’s show again). After­ward, we headed down to War­ren St. to sign books at Mys­te­ri­ous Book­shop, then I did a phone inter­view with Alec Har­vey from The Birm­ing­ham News sit­ting on a stoop on 96th and Lexington—we had to head all the way back uptown for rea­sons too embar­rass­ing to discuss—then jumped back on a sub­way to Prince St. for drinks with my wife and friends before the read­ing at McNally Jack­son. I’m happy to report that the New York sub­way sys­tem is in fine work­ing order; it took us a mere 18 min­utes to get uptown on the express from City Hall. We had time on our hands after­ward and took the local down­town to enjoy the air-conditioning. As for me, I dozed.

The read­ing at McNally was attended by nearly a hun­dred peo­ple and it was over­whelm­ing to look out over the audi­ence and see friends from ele­men­tary school, high school, col­lege, and Nashville; to have fam­ily present as well as many of the great peo­ple I’ve worked with at Knopf. To see Larry David wan­der­ing the store, who is, like the anchor-trons at Fox, very, very tall. There was a party at the apart­ment of my edi­tor, Gary Fisketjon, after­ward, and which car­ried on late enough to make catch­ing the early flight to Boston pretty rough.

But Mark and I made it, it was a gor­geous day up there, the humid­ity had abated, it was bril­liantly clear, the Charles River was crazy with sail­boats, and I arrived in time for an appear­ance on The Literati Scene with Smoki Bacon and Dick Con­can­non, a cou­ple who, like Stephen Usery and Edward Cham­pion, are doing great things for the book world in their own local way. There was lunch after a six-minute video­taped inter­view with Mr. Con­can­non and the con­ver­sa­tion about e-books over the meal was lively, but I had to split for another inter­view with Robert Birn­baum, whose work appears reg­u­larly on identitytheory.com. (As with The Bat Segundo Show, I’ll post the inter­view when it’s up.) Birn­baum is a barrel-chested guy, has a full head of white hair plus a full beard. All the dude needs is a captain’s cap and you’d think he was Conrad’s Mar­lowe. His inter­view focused a great deal on my work with Gary Fisketjon, as well as the edit­ing process of Mr. Peanut. After­ward, I signed a beau­ti­ful book he’s been putting together for his son, Cuba, full of inscrip­tions and pic­tures of the writ­ers he’s inter­viewed over the years, as well as a base­ball. (Note to self: steal ver­sion of this idea for your own chil­dren.) Next, we piled into a car and signed books at four dif­fer­ent stores around Boston (New­tonville Books, New Eng­land Mobile Book Fair, Brook­line Book­smith, and Porter Square Books). The Big Dig has been a suc­cess, by the way. Traf­fic wasn’t too bad.

I read at Har­vard Book­store that night–the event was taped for WGBH–and not only was Bookdwarf’s Megan Sul­li­van in atten­dance (her early spring post about the novel was respon­si­ble, I think, for a lot of its ini­tial buzz), but so was my child­hood babysit­ter, Alex Macar­ron, who brought her lovely fam­ily in tow. The read­ing went great, the Q & A was a riot (there was some ban­ter about the Clinton’s mar­riage vs. The Gores), and Mark and I ate at Grendel’s Den afterward—a place my wife and I ate at many times dur­ing the sum­mer we lived in Boston.

Con­clud­ing this leg was a visit to Alabama Book­smith in Birm­ing­ham, a plea­sure on numer­ous lev­els, though I’ll admit I find that town about as con­fus­ing to nav­i­gate as an Escher design. I did morn­ing tele­vi­sion, ABC 33/40’s Talk of Alabama, and later that evening got to hang with local book maven and Book­smith owner, Jake Riess, whose store has a tremen­dous fol­low­ing, a huge First Edi­tions club, and a remark­able gallery of writ­ers who’ve appeared there over the years. Our friends, Car­o­line and Stephen Gidiere, were co-hosting the event. They sup­plied wine, beer, party bags of peanuts, not to men­tion a ton of cool friends. Even bet­ter, I got invited to read at a local book club (which is a per­fect excuse to come back to Birm­ing­ham) and to the South­ern Voices Con­fer­ence in Feb­ru­ary (another excuse). I read the scene where Mar­i­lyn and Richard Eber­ling have brown­ies at her home with Chip—a scene I’ll be read­ing reg­u­larly in the com­ing weeks—followed by din­ner at Botega, another Frank Stitt work of genius. How come Birm­ing­ham has so many unbe­liev­able restau­rants? Why is it that it takes two days to recover from a hang­over when you get older? And is my dead­line for Ladies and Gen­tle­men, my book of short sto­ries, really com­ing up? I was just start­ing to get the hang of this “being an author” thing. Now I have to sit down and be a writer again.

* * *

In a final bit of Mr. Peanut news, I’ll be appear­ing at the Perth Writ­ers Fes­ti­val in March 2011. Mean­while, I’ve included this pic­ture from Mis­sis­sippi of a truck that does high­way sig­nage repair and looks, to me, like some kind of bug on wheels. Another gift of touring…