|Tony Horwitz: His blog details the “voyage long and strange” that is a book tour.
Photo from voyagelongandstrange.com
I hit a low point on my first tour for The House of Mondavi on one of those days that come so seldom to Chicago. It was last June and the weather felt balmy, with the last burst of spring blooms still on display. Who would want to sit indoors on an afternoon like that?
Few did. At a bookstore known for its well-attended author events, only three people showed up (excluding my very patient Aunt Gene and Uncle Jack, who had sat through my book talk several times already.) I’d brought two bottles of wine – one from the Robert Mondavi winery and the other, a Charles Krug, from the Peter Mondavi side.
That was my mistake: the warm weather, combined with the alcohol, literally lulled a third of my non-family audience to sleep. The book lover who come to my talk that day had her head thrown back, producing a soft, ladylike snore.
Now I’m heading into another tour, this time for the paperback edition of my book, and I’m feeling a bit anxious. By nature, I’m an extrovert who feels comfortable talking with just about anyone. But staring out at rows of empty seats is humbling.
I feel less alone, now, since I’ve begun reading Tony Horwitz’s great blog about the tour for his latest book, A Voyage Long and Strange. I’ve been a fan of Horwitz’s for a long time, following his reporting from the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal.
Tony then became the author of such wonderful books as Baghdad Without a Map (with his wife and fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner, Geraldine Brooks), Confederates in the Attic and Blue Latitudes. I read his first three books and plan to read his new one this summer.
His first posting is about the first stop on his tour, which was New York. He writes:
“’Book tour’ is one of those deceptive phrases that sound fun and sexy, like a rock tour with klieg lights, groupies, roadies, mosh pits, backstage parties. The reality is more like the life of a Fuller Brush Man or encyclopedia salesman…”
In another posting, he admits that over the next five weeks, during his tour, he’ll talk more to his publicity manager, Emily, than his wife. “A big job for a girl with braces and pigtails …When things go wrong, which they inevitably do, Emily will also be my therapist.”
In a post titled “Evil Thoughts,” Tony recalls the experience of WSJ alum, Ken Wells, when he was on a book tour in 2001.
“My mate Ken Wells first learned of the 9/11 attacks when his plane pulled into Atlanta that morning and suddenly every cell phone in the cabin starting ringing … [He] arrived for the first stop of his book tour, which was instantly canceled. Small beans of course in the catalogue of that day’s catastrophes but the world narrows to an unseemly focus on a single question: What will this mean for my book? It’s a bit like the joke at the market-obsessed Wall Street Journal where Ken and I use to work: in the event of a planetary catastrophe, the paper’s final headline would read, WORLD ENDS, SOYBEAN FUTURES PLUMMET.”
In his latest post, Tony writes about his Mom, his biggest fan. He’s staying with her on the Washington, D.C. stop of his tour. “Mothers, of course, are also expert at mortifying their children, even when ‘the Kid’ (as I’m still called at home) is pushing 50. At the moment my parents’ house looks like Cooperstown, with copies of my book and posters advertising my talks on every available surface,” he writes.
My WSJ colleague Jim Carlton, the author of Apple: The Intrigue, Egomania and Business Blunders That Toppled an American Icon, had a discouraging moment similar to my own. An important stop on his tour was at a gigantic Barnes and Noble bookstore near the headquarters of Apple’s chief rival Compaq Computer Corp. There were perhaps two dozen seats set up, and one of the store’s managers announced his talk over the loudspeaker. “Literally, two people showed up and one of them was homeless,” Jim told me.
I can identify much more with Jim’s experience than with that of the British conservative politician-turned-novelist Jeffrey Archer. The British tabloid The Sun reported in early April that Archer, “currently holed up in Hong Kong’s five-star Landmark hotel on his book tour for A Prisoner of Birth, is not a happy bunny. ‘My room has among the most inconvenient bathrooms I’ve ever experienced,’ he complains on his blog.” Read his entry to learn why.
Leave a Reply