It was not without reluctance that the wonderful Octavia Books in New Orleans agreed to host a reading of GONER. I fully understood owner Tom Lowenburg’s hesitation. That lovely little bookstore, tucked a few shady blocks off Magazine Street, sponsors several readings a week, many of them for the literary giants of our times. Jesmyn Ward read at Octavia ten days before I did. It makes me light-headed to even think that I leaned my forearms on the very same podium. Ward’s two latest novels SALVAGE THE BONES and, now, SING UNBURIED SING are the best of the maybe twenty really good novels I’ve read in the last five or six years. Independent bookstores, understandably, don’t care for books only carried by Amazon. At Tom’s advice, Melissa and Lynn got GONER into Ingram Spark Publishing with a brand new ISBN. Let your local bookstore know that we’ve seen the error of our ways and have mended them!
Whenever we drive down to NOLA, Rick and I leave the riverside about 5 in the morning and head straight from our house to Frankie and Johnny’s where the N.O. family always holds a table for us. No matter the time of year, the journey south and west bears witness to a slow change of seasons. This mid-November we made it from Appalachia’s damp grays and browns to the blooming fall blossoms of The City of Dreams (The ‘slow’ trip sped by as we listened to Hillary’s WHAT HAPPENED; some chuckles and tears amid the horror). We had eggs and granola for breakfast, glistening raw oysters and spicy boiled shrimp for supper.
A supper we would have willingly passed up, had we known that Mark Helprin—Rick and I share a passion for his writing—was reading at Octavia while we were slurping oysters! We would have dragged the family over and lined up like the Helprin groupies we are. The very well read (& deeply opinioned) guy behind the desk at Octavia told us that only about 8 or 10 folks attended Helprin’s Friday night reading. How could that be?
The next night, Saturday, different chapters of my life walked into the bookstore as the 6PM reading time approached. I was so delighted and so grateful. Where Helprin had an audience of 8 or 10, Goethe had 35 or 40! I could hardly summon my voice, looking out over a room of people who meant so immensely much to me: Of course my son Paul and his son Jay, grand daughters Alanah and Iris, and my ever stalwart Rick, but also friends I’d known since age five. Donaldsonville friends, boarding school friends, New Orleans friends, hand-me-down friends from my sisters; cousin Rodney from Bunkie and his literary son and daughter-in-law from Australia, their British friends. The crowd asked good questions and laughed in all the right places—as folks from South Louisiana tend to do.
Our dear friend Becky Lloyd not only talked Tom into letting GONER through the door of his bookstore (next door to Becky’s Yoga studio); she also hosted the after reading gala. Rick was, again, blending the frozen whiskey sours, grand daughters Iris & Alanah (OK, mostly Alanah) provided exotic vegan nibbles; all our fine Louisiana friends and a few Octavia patrons mixed and sipped and nibbled and reminisced. Oh happy night of my heart!