photo: Emilee Booher
Going Somewhere is a memoir of a bicycle trip Brian Benson took from his home in Wisconsin to his new girfriend’s home in Portland, Oregon, and it’s the kind of story that, even as it explains just what a huge pain in the ass a trip like that could be, might well get you thinking it’d be cool to undertake a similar journey, preferably with someone you love. Benson’s certainly still up for long bike journeys—in fact, he just spent a month riding around Wisconsin, MInnesota and Illinois, stopping along bookstores and libraries along the way. What possessed him to undertake such a physically exerting method of travel from one public appearance to the next? He explains in this guest essay…
Last winter, I went to Powell’s to see a favorite author discuss her new book. For most of the event, I was enraptured. I loved listening to how she read her own work, and appreciated hearing her talk, with grace and humor, about her teaching, her process, her doubts. But then, toward the end of the Q&A, someone asked her how it felt, really, to be on book tour. And this favorite author of mine sighed, and shifted her weight, and proceeded to tell us that her publisher made her take these tours, which, really, she found to be quite antiquated. Soon enough, she was talking about flight delays, traffic, jet lag.
As I listened, I started to feel queasy. I mean, it wasn’t like I was surprised to learn that travel could be taxing. I just couldn’t believe she was saying so, out loud, to her audience. Since I (like probably everyone who attends author readings) had long dreamt of publishing a book, I tended to expect those who’d done so to spend their behind-the-podium time projecting weapons-grade gratitude. Suffice it to say, I certainly did not expect them to complain about the very thing I so deeply desired.
Over the coming weeks, I stewed on this quite a bit. But the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that I kind of saw her point. Taking a conventional book tour did seem pretty challenging—and in a very familiar way.
6 August 2014 | guest authors |
photo: Dick Avery
Richard Kramer, a writer/producer for television shows like thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, describes his debut novel, These Things Happen, as “a story about a modern family, set among Manhattan’s liberal elite.” It turns out, however, that some of its characters have deep roots in his experiences on the opposite end of the country, including the things he learned when he realized he’d been taking a key figure in his day-to-day life for granted and decided to do something about it…
The birth of the book goes back twenty-five years, maybe even more. When we were doing thirtysomething, it was so exhilarating and exhausting I wouldn’t drive home at the end of the day, but I’d go instead to an Italian restaurant a few blocks from my house. I did this four nights a week, often alone so I could work on scenes for the next day. The place became a habit, and I went there even after the show’s five years came to an end; they knew me.
The person who knew me best was the man who was combination captain/maitre d’/manager. He was around forty, dressed in a blazer and striped tie, always smiling and with some nice thing to say. I would call from the set and say I was coming in, and he’d say “Great, Richard. Do you want the patio tonight, or your usual table?” When I’d get there he’d show me to my seat and immediately send out some delicious plate with a few free somethings. Looking back, I calculate I had at least a thousand meals there, which is a lot of carbonara. And—here’s how These Things Happen comes in—I realized when the restaurant announced it was closing that I didn’t even know this man’s name. Maybe I knew it once, but what did it matter? He was there to be a prince of the pleasant, dedicated to making my life a little bit nicer. He didn’t need an identity beyond that.
Seeing this shocked me. Here I thought I was such a nice guy! But I wondered: How many other people do I render invisible because it’s too much trouble to endow them with a biography? And how many people do that to me? Why do we, unconsciously, but still with some selective design, limit our imaginations about those around us?
15 June 2014 | guest authors |