We asked the booksellers at Eagle Harbor Book Company to document Jonathan Evison’s kick-off event for his recently released second novel, West of Here, for which the fanfare and uniformly rave reviews from booksellers have reached such high pitch, it almost feels like a parody. Jane Bowman, the store’s events manager, sent us this account of Evison’s event, which drew 200 people:
Here on Bainbridge Island, where Jonathan Evison makes his home, he’s a local favorite—because of his natural enthusiasm for connecting with people and because of his books (All About Lulu and now West of Here), which have made recurring appearances on our Staff Picks wall and Book Group shelf.
At the bookstore we fought each other for the early release copies of West of Here, each of us wanting to finish it first. We discussed and debated it at length. The book is monumental and accessible, which is not an easy combination to achieve. A fictitious history of the Olympic Peninsula is presented through two time periods and through the lives of dozens of colorful characters. The story begins in the town of Port Bonita in 1890’s and then moves to the present day culture in the same little town. The book provides drama, cultural history, magnificent settings, intriguing characters, and it even has Bigfoot!
Ambitious plans were made for the book launch event, knowing that it would be big. A local woodworker, David Kotz of Coyote Woodshop, designed 100 red cedar boxes for the books for us to sell in the store. The publisher, Algonquin, provided tote-bags to give away, and Evison designed T-shirts.
Since the early release date of West of Here in mid-January the initial buzz has grown into a virtual tsunami. In the days preceding the book launch requests for reserved seating flooded in by phone and e-mail. Nearly all of the boxed editions were sold before the event. Long-time loyal customers were put on an extensive waiting list. By the time we opened the doors for the event, a crowd of over 200 people squeezed into our small store.
Wearing his signature fedora, which once belonged to his grandfather, Evison didn’t disappoint. He had the crowd early when he helped with an auction of the first box of the limited edition boxed set. After a lively bidding war, $400 was raised to benefit KidsUP, a local child care facility that Evison supports.
Evison read from two chapters and talked about the experience of researching and writing the novel. “I never meant to write a historical novel,” he said. “I wanted to write a novel about history. I was talking about dozens of limited points of view overlapping like a kaleidoscope. Instead of looking through a telescope, you’re looking through a kaleidoscope. And I thought it was going to be kind of avant-garde, but the characters and the land and all of the connective tissue sort of took over. It became a living history, which was exactly what I was trying to accomplish. It drove me crazy, but I think it worked.”
It was during the Q-and-A, though, that Johnny rocked the house with his quick and funny answers and self-deprecating humor. We were thoroughly entertained with his stories of Bigfoot expeditions. Then there was his response when asked the obvious question about whether a movie would follow the book. He summed it up with a statement that received thunderous applause. “It’s not that I’m down on movies,” he said. “I’m just up on novels. I can’t name a single movie that changed my life, but I can name lots of novels that have.”
We asked Evison to name a few of those novels and he listed: “David Copperfield, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Call of the Wild, The Grapes of Wrath, The Brothers Karamozov, Ask the Dust, to name but a few.”
We also asked him to name a few novels he’d include in a dream display of West of Here. He chose: “Angle of Repose. The Grapes of Wrath. Call of the Wild. Anything about Bigfoot.”
The accolades for West of Here will continue to pour in, and that might be, in part, because of Evison’s indie-centric tours and the relationships he’s cultivated with independent booksellers. “Indie booksellers are still the pacemakers,” Evison says. “Everybody’s talking about how the paradigm is shifting in this industry, but right now at this moment, as far as I’m concerned, it’s indie booksellers.”