Please welcome return guest Martha Conway! Martha’s first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award, and her novel Thieving Forest won the North American Book Award for Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has been published in the Iowa Review, Carolina Quarterly, Folio, and other journals, and she teaches creative writing for Stanford University’s Online Writers Studio and UC Berkeley Extension. Martha grew up in northern Ohio and now lives in San Francisco. Her latest novel is Sugarland.
I love libraries, and I was excited when a number of librarians in Ohio asked me if I would hold a reading at their library. Later I realized that my library tour had some advantages over a traditional bookstore tour, which I thought other authors might want to know about.
Are Libraries the New Bookstores?
Last year I was about halfway through my book tour in Ohio when I noticed something strange: I had not yet laid eyes on a bookstore.
I was traveling with my father and my sister through northwest Ohio. My novel Thieving Forest, which prompted the tour, took place in this area in 1806, when it was known as the Great Black Swamp. Today the swamp is mostly drained except for a few state parks and forests, and what has taken its place is farmland. Miles and miles of farmland.
“Hey, have you noticed there are no bookstores anywhere?” I asked my sister.
She said, “But there are a lot of libraries.”
That was a good thing, since I was on a book tour of libraries—eight of them. Every reading I held except for one (there’s always one) was extremely well attended with an audience full of avid readers. They had interesting questions, insightful comments, and we always engaged in a lively discussion. It was every writer’s dream. And then, after each reading, my sister and I sold my books—at a discount, since there wasn’t a bookstore’s cut to consider. The readers were happy and I was happy, too.
It turns out that just because there were no bookstores didn’t mean there were no readers. They were all at the libraries.
I love bookstores, but I have an even deeper attachment to libraries that began in childhood. Like most compulsive readers, my branch library was my second home. After I read From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I fantasized about running away like the two siblings in the book, only instead of living in a museum as these characters had, I wanted to live in my library. [Read more…]