An Incredible Book Journey: Time Was Soft There

Over the next six weeks, I will have the joy of visiting independent bookstores in 23 cities. Follow the trip and meet the many wonderful friends, book people and random characters I encounter along the way.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

10,261 miles (16,514 kilometers) later

The thing is over. Twenty-three bookstores in 44 days. A demi-circle of North America. A blur of friends and festivities. Sugary affirmation at most every stop. A constant lack of sleep. An abundance of fine meals and beverages. And even a few books sold.

How does one measure a tour such as this? Well, as with all things in life, the first question is whether it was a happy time. And the answer is ohmygodyesyesyes. I was able to see some of my dearest friends. I made new friends, several of whom I suspect might be keepers. I was able to visit a host of new cities. I was constantly inspired by the courage and dedication of independent booksellers. In short, it was pretty much pure joy, aside from that nervous gut-sore hour before each show. And that, of course, is a very small price to pay.

But the tour was not just for fun. I was promoting a book. How did that go? Who can tell. In some cities, the bookstores reported that they had sold 30 or 40 books. A lot of these stores would have only ordered a couple of copies but instead ordered a couple of dozen as I was visiting. I also met a lot of my readers, probably an average of about 20 per show, so close to 500 in all. And, I hopefully lodged myself in the minds of the booksellers so that they remember me when the guillotine book comes out in 2007.

Another objective was media coverage, and though it is hard to tell what spawned what, this too seems to have been successful. There were reviews or tidbits in a bunch of big papers and magazines - The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The San Francisco Chronicle etc - and also dozens of hits in community papers such as the Mercer Island Reporter and the West End Word. There was also some radio work, including spots on NPR and CBC. But was that a result of the tour? In England, I have been all over the media - The Times, The Independent, The Guardian, BBC radio and television - and I wasn’t driving from Portsmouth to Newcastle like a madman. It is all very mysterious.

In the end, the most important thing is that I got dirt on my uniform. I went out and played the game and gave it my best. That is the kind of feeling that makes for a good night’s sleep. As I always say, the one thing in life you can’t afford is to have regrets. I don’t want to end up at the age of 85 sitting in my pee-stained trousers and asking 'What if I’d ...'

I did a book tour. I had a hell of a time. And I am grateful for it. Thank you for reading along with me.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Drinkin' In Canada

Yes, it is that cold here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Homecoming Gig

Of all the readings on the tour, it was the final night in my hometown of Ottawa that made me the most nervous. There is something comforting about appearing before strangers: At the end of the event, whether it be a grand success or a dismal failure, you will never see the audience again. In Ottawa, it was family - my mother, father, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin - and friends - from high school, from university, from the newspaper, from the courthouse. It's not so much that I felt I had to impress these people, but at all costs I did not want to let them down.

I think things went fairly well. The event was held at Collected Works, a great independent bookstore in the Westboro neighbourhood. As Charlie Gordon, a great writer and an early inspiration, said, it's a great place to have a reading because it is so intimate it always feels like it is a full house. In the end, we had about 25 or 30 people and there was mulled wine and a generally festive atmosphere. Afterward, we had a little party at my parents' house with more wine and beer and a great spread of cheese and such. It was, despite my initial reluctance, a perfect way to end the tour.

My father Ross, my sister Beth, my mother Patricia.

My cousin Mike and his wife Laura.

Two of my dearest friends, Will and Julie.

This was particularly amazing. Helen and Albert fell upon the wondrous Atlantis Books while touring Greece this past summer. They learned of the reading from the Atlantis site and Helen actually took the bus down from Montreal to attend.

And this, of course, is the incomparable Jake Rupert.

From Car Home to Parents' Home

After six weeks of living out of the car, I arrived at my parents' house in Ottawa to spend the Christmas holidays. Many of my friends - Quinn and Dave are two examples that leap to mind - would have kept their car meticulously organized during those six weeks. I, on the other hand, am the type of fellow who has to chain his car keys to his pants in order not to lose them. Sadly, this is what happened when I unloaded the car ...

Thursday, December 15, 2005


You always hear writers mumbling something about how they don't read their reviews. I am starting to understand why.

It can be worse than a crack trip. All up up up and then suddenly down and then up and then down and then ... well, you get the idea. When I was being interviewed on the BBC or by Vogue Australia or by NPR, I felt quite pleased with myself. Perhaps not a star, but a nicely glowing piece of space rock. Kind words in places like Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, The Ottawa Citizen and the San Francisco Guardian left me with a medicine ball head. Then, there was a distasteful review in Canada's leading newspaper and an article in The New Statesman that described me as something of a rube backwater Canadian. I almost let myself get depressed.

The truth of the matter, of course, is that I am blessed as hell just have my work discussed in so many distinguished forums. One of the reasons I write is that I want to have my voice heard when I rant about all the issues of the day. (Because, clearly, I could cure all of the ills of the world if people just listened to me.) Thanks to this book, my soapbox is suddenly a little bit higher, a little bit more sturdy.

And, as I have known all along, the true test of the book would be what people who know the bookstore and know George Whitman thought. From early readers, such as Luke Basham and Adrian Hornsby, to the dozens of people I have met on this book tour or received emails from, the people who really understand Shakespeare and Company generally agree that I did a decent job. Perhaps most amazingly of all, the other day my editor received a hand-written note from Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti is one of the world's most important poets, one of George's oldest friends, and one of the people whose opinion I was most anxious for. I was even scared to go into City Lights while in San Francisco in case he didn't approve. Instead, I received some of the most soothing praise yet. This is a portion of what he wrote:

"Jeremy Mercer's tale of George Whitman and his beloved bookstore is
a book of revelations, for it tells the hard-to-discover true story of
George's life and of the twenty-thousand-and-one nights of this enchanted
place that continues to be for its habitées as well as for its creator, a
way of life." -Lawrence Ferlinghetti

So, there we go. Affirmation upon deception upon affirmation. I really look forward to escaping to the quiet island of Santorini ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The last US tour stop

Has it really been 43 days on the road? And 23 bookstores visited? Tuesday night was my last American gig on the tour, at the famous Books & Co in Dayton. The owner, Sharon (red hair, seen here with Vivian the event manager) has made Dayton a must-stop for authors and is the most wonderful host. It was a good show with lots of positive feedback, but there was a lingering sense of melancholy. Sure, there is a homecoming show in Ottawa, but that is going to be more of a celebration with friends and family. This is the last time I will be up before strangers in a strange city for a while.

The people that you meet ...

On of the best part of visiting the homes of random and not-so-random strangers is that you are constantly surprised by the goings on of other folk. Take Jennifer in Indianapolis. Thanks to a Craig's List posting and an email correspondence, she invited me to stay with her on my way through Indianapolis. A lovely young woman with a fantastic sense of humour and a quick wit. But guess what she does at 3.30 in the morning. That's right. She plays with the bones of dead animals.

All right, I confess. This is part of her bio anthropology project for university, not some strange semi-Satanic ritual. But still, kind of odd.

Saint Louis Stars

Did you know Saint Louis is named after the French King Louis the 14th? I didn't. And he isn't the only celebrated personality connected to this fine city ... Introducing a portion of the Saint Louis Walk of Fame ....

You may not recognize this last fellow, but a star he is. I met AJ for the first time in Greece back in June 2004 at Atlantis Books. His brother Craig, who loyal readers of this journal will remember, is one of the founders of the bookstore project and Craig arranged for me to sleep at AJ's house.

AJ is in Saint Louis attending Washington University - one of the top ten schools in the United States, though the one on the list you are most likely not to have heard of. He lives in this incredible mansion-house with three roomates and epic rooms and stained glass windows. Among his other endeavours, he is an a capella singer and I have a fiendish idea. Remember my friend, the burlesque star Lily Vanderloo? She is currently putting together a new show. What would be better than a burlesque show with an old school/new school barber shop quarter performing between acts? I am totally getting on this idea ...

One final note of pride. As a rapidly again fellow, I was somewhat intimidated to be out carousing with vigourous young college men. I am pleased to report that I not only beat AJ at darts, I also drank him not just under the table but into the bathroom as well.

Monday, December 12, 2005


You know how people say you should get off the Interstate so you can see some real America? Well, you should, 'cause then you see cowboys.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

People and Animals

Ever noticed how happy animals tend to hang out with happy people? In Denver, I was hosted by a lovely woman by the name of Nancy who had this incredible friend Buddy (pictured). Nancy works with wildlife in Colorado and is a tremendous traveller, having just spent two months in Europe. I have been endlessly blessed to have these types of people open their homes to me.