I am not, by nature, a joiner. Do I have to? is my gut reaction when the word “community” is bruited about. Maybe it has to do with being a writer. I think most deeply and live most fully when I’m alone with the screen and keyboard. Community has always struck me as a distraction. I have friends and family and books. Why would I want to be part of a group?
But the little book signing bash that four fellow nonfiction writers and I threw at Queen Anne Book Company on December 17 has seriously jogged me out of the curmudgeonly mindset. On the face of it, this was just another holiday party, albeit with a literary twist. But something happened up on the airy heights of Queen Anne Hill that goes beyond cookies and rum-spiked cider and books. I’m not sure how to describe it, but I felt a current afoot that night that connected author with author, author with reader, and author and reader with bookseller in an inspiring way. For a couple of hours, we were a little community united by our shared passion for reading—and by our book-fueled passion for sharing. Sweet, as my 20-something daughters would say.
I can’t speak for the readers and booksellers, but for the writers the good vibrations flowed from the fact that all five of us—Langdon Cook (The Mushroom Hunters), Lyanda Lynn Haupt (The Urban Bestiary), Daniel James Brown (The Boys in the Boat), David B. Williams (Cairns) and this humble scribe (The Family)—are seasoned veterans of the book tour circuit. We all know what it’s like to sit amid the cartons and coffee cups in the back room of a bookstore, waiting and hoping that someone will show up for the reading. We’ve all clicked our way through many a power point presentation, heard our own amplified voices bounce off the shelves, eyed the crowd (or lack thereof), wondered if we were killing or bombing.
But that night at QABC felt delightfully different because we had comrades. I carpooled down with David Williams, and when we got there, Lang, who was the prime mover of the event, was already in the back room heating up cider. We stood around talking books, Bertha (the giant and currently stuck tunnel borer that David has blogged about), the Slow Food movement and holiday plans. Lyanda blew in with a sweet grin and beautiful cheese plate. Dan brought his wife Sharon and neighbors Judy and Ray Willman (Judy’s dad Joe Rantz was a member of the Husky crew team whose story Dan recounts so thrillingly in his bestseller). As the first—what to call them? guests, customers, readers, friends—trickled in, I stirred up my party-starting champagne punch, downed a cup (just to see if it was up to snuff) and the night was off and running.
Writers are hermits when we’re drafting—but these days we are expected to morph into peddlers once the book is published. Greed and narcissism exert a mighty pull. It’s hard to resist going online to check out your sales rank, scan the reader reviews, ponder the trends, see how you stack up against the competition. Even if you do resist, others keep rubbing your nose in the numbers. How are sales? people ask me all the time. Now that the book is out, it’s all show me the money.
But for that night at QABC, it ceased to be about dollars or cents or ME—instead, it was about US. How refreshing to hawk someone else’s creativity! I buttonholed friends and strangers alike to share my enthusiasm for Lyanda’s captivating narrative persona and effortless erudition about the nature of beasts. I described how reading David Williams’s Cairns is like taking a hike with the world’s best park ranger. I proudly showed off my blurb on the back of The Boys in the Boat (“This is Chariots of Fire with oars”) and touted Lang’s melding of investigative reporting and spirited food writing. I noticed a couple of people leaving with all five of our books. Sweet.
The store itself capped the enchantment of the evening. Cozy, inviting, perfectly situated amid funky cafes and small restaurants, stocked with taste and staffed with love, QABC is a true neighborhood bookstore—and a neighborhood success story. When the store’s previous incarnation closed its doors in October, 2012, Queen Anne had to endure five long bookless months. Judy and Krijn de Jonge and their partner Janis Segress brought books back to the hill when they reopened the space this past March. They tweaked the name, retained four seasoned booksellers from the old store and filled the shelves with all new stock. Segress and the de Jonges clearly love books, love Seattle and love making Seattle writers feel welcome and appreciated. Their flexible, can-do attitude was a major factor in the success of the event.
“We couldn’t stop talking about the energy in the room last night,” QABC’s events coordinator Joann Moreno emailed us the morning after. “Absolutely electric, and our customers were thrilled to have you in the store. Little did they know they were part of such a monumental debut! The 2nd annual signing party is already on the calendar for 2014.”
Not only did my fellow nonfiction writers and I build a community–we started a tradition. Surprise! It turns out I’m not only a joiner but an organizer. Next year, I’m going to double that champagne punch recipe.
David Laskin’s The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century (Viking) has been chosen as a best book of 2013 by the Seattle Times, the Oregonian and Kirkus Reviews.
Photos of the event courtesy of Martha Cook.