A Sense of Place
[This is a guest post from author Michael Shapiro while he's one tour]
It’s energy, excitement, a hum and a buzz: New York is a high point for any performer on a national tour. The city crackles with an electric intensity, and a good event in the center of the universe is about as satisfying as it gets on a book tour.
I’ve just spent a week in New York, with appearances in Manhattan ranging from a conversation with Arthur Frommer to an informal brunch salon at the apartment of some journalist friends. And I had one other event: a presentation at the Long Island senior apartment facility where my 97-year-old grandfather lives.
The trip got off to a good start for book sales. Though groggy from a late night at the Bob Dylan show in Berkeley, I talked up the book to my seatmate, who seemed to be a keen reader. I put an extra copy in his hands and told him he could read it during the flight. A half hour later he bought the book and then I noticed a woman in the row in front of me reading Tom Miller’s “Panama Hat Trail.” (Tom is one of the 18 writers interviewed in A Sense of Place, along with Bill Bryson, Frances Mayes, Jan Morris, Pico Iyer and many more.)
So I started talking to her about what she likes to read and then told her about my book. Put a copy in her hands and told her she’d be welcome to read it for a while and she ended up buying it too. So two sales before we touched down. What’s most gratifying is that it seems that when anyone gets a chance to read Sense for a few minutes, they’re hooked and want to keep reading.
Following is a brief recap of the week including event highlights from Sebastian Junger’s The Half King, and Coliseum Books with Arthur Frommer:
MONDAY OCTOBER 18 – THE HALF KING
Despite competing with an epic Red Sox-Yankees game, we had a nice turn-out of about 25 people at The Half King (not counting the bodies in the bar glued to the tv). A cozy, literary bar in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, The Half King is divided into two dark and woody rooms, the bar and a table area where I had the event. It’s a comfortable room with long booths and tables and we came close to filling the space. Several members of the audience had read the book, which was good for the discussion but not good for sales.
If any of you are wondering, no, Half King co-owner Sebastian Junger didn’t show up but it’s still a nice venue. And even if you don’t sell a ton of books they offer you dinner (upscale pub grub) and all the Belgian white beer you can drink. This can be a problem: I downed a couple of pints before the event (because they were there) and after flying the meal-free Jet Blue, my caloric intake for the day consisted of a bagel, blue potato chips and the two Belgian whites. But the talk went well and we had a lively discussion about what makes fine travel writing and what makes these writers special.
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Afterwards, I hung out with Reid Bramblett (from Frommer’s Budget Travel) and his sweetheart Frances, as well as David Farley, who told me he’d just signed a contract to edit Travelers’ Tales Prague. Matt Link, editor of the gay travel magazine, OutTraveler, which will be excerpting the Jan Morris chapter from A Sense of Place, also visited with us after the reading.
All in all a nice group and a fun way to start the East coast leg of the Sense book tour.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 21 – COLISEUM BOOKS
Some may think that Arthur Frommer is a guidebook publishing relic, but at 75 he’s alive and kicking and was kind enough to join me for a conversation at Coliseum Books in midtown Manhattan. One of the most gracious people I’ve ever met, eight years ago Frommer agreed to write the foreword to my first book about using the Net for travel planning. His fee? One signed copy of the book. Since then we’ve had a close working relationship and I’ve often contributed to his magazine Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. (Sadly Frommer left the magazine last year after selling it to Newsweek.)
I met Arthur and his lovely wife Roberta at their apartment near Columbus Circle. Arthur, ever the budget traveler, and I took the subway to midtown. We arrived early and lingered over coffee in the bookstore’s cafe as a steady stream of admirers recognized Arthur and came to our table. He was warm and welcoming to each one and invited one young journalist to sit down and join us for a while.
At 6 p.m. we moved to the front of the room where an audience of 50+ people had assembled (including a few of my friends, family and colleagues). Arthur was in fine form and regaled the audience with tales of lavish 50-cent dinners on Mallorca during the ’50s. He made strong comments on issues ranging from the dearth of vacation time in America to the importance of going beyond monuments and meeting and learning from local people wherever one travels. We sold about 20 books and I signed another 15 for the store.
After the event Arthur invited me out to dinner with Reid Bramblett and Matt Link, two of his former editors at Budget Travel who’d come for the reading. (They each get a prize for showing up twice in a week!) We heard more fascinating tales about Arthur’s contemporaries (according to Arthur, Eugene Fodor worked for the CIA and was using his travel guides as a cover to infiltrate areas such as Estonia where few people traveled). He called Fielding a talented writer who sent xmas cards every year then skewered him for taking to any destination he visited a set of Sinatra albums and eight roasted peanuts for each night he’d be away.
All in all a great night: a standing-room only audience, good sales, dinner with a travel pioneer, and then Guinness stouts with Reid, watching Clemens and Houston go down in flames.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 23
“It’s always something,” said the Saturday Night Live character Roseann Rosannadanna. “If it’s not one thing it’s another.” On this day there was no Yankee game to compete with, but I gave my presentation to the seniors at the Sterling Glen retirement apartments at the same time as a trip to the department store Lord & Taylor. Thanks in part to the popularity of my 97-year-old grandfather, I managed to pull about 20 women and two men off the bus bound for the upscale store. They listened with rapt attention, at least after I turned the mic up to 11 (that’s one louder).
It was fun to present to the over-80 set; it’s not often that your talk is hailed as the highlight on someone’s week. I managed to sell 13 books (ok, eight were bought by my mother’s cousin, but still) but the true reward was the interest and appreciation of this elder audience.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 24
Back in the heady days of dot-com madness, I worked for CNET’s Snap Online, a nightmare of inexperienced managers, unclear mission, and unreasonable expectations (we’ll give you some stock options if you give us all your waking hours). The only silver lining was that I met some cool people there, including my friend Jhoanna Wade, a writer who recently moved to New York with her husband Will, a financial journalist.
Jho and Will ran with my idea to host a brunch salon where I’d discuss A Sense of Place. They have a spacious apartment on the upper west side and invited an eclectic group of about 20 people, mostly their friends and a few of my amigos for bagels, lox and coffee. It felt a bit awkward to present the book in a living room, but I spoke about it for 10 minutes or so and sold eight books afterwards.
Mostly I just wanted to meet and hang out with Jho and Will’s friends, and generate word of mouth buzz for the book. Jho and Will have two kids and several of their friends brought their kids as well, so my talk was punctuated with screams and shrieks. But that helped me feel comfortable and at home. So my thanks goes out to Jho and Will for hosting this successful experiment.