“So,” Jason asked me Friday. “Have you been in the wilds yet?” His way of asking had I been to a book store so I could view my merchandise in its natural selling habitat.
Not yet, I said, but I'm headed there.
Good timing had me abandoning my hermit-ish existence and meeting some former colleagues Friday night in what we Long Islanders call the city. It allowed me three brief excursions before joining the party.
Penn Books in Penn Station. Cramped fixture of my commuting experience. Sometimes sports books meander to the front of the store. The Torre book and a new book about Walter O'Malley were in evidence immediately, but not Faith and Fear. Walked laterally (it's really cramped) to the back, to the sports shelves. No particular order, not even alphabetical, but blue and orange tends to stand out. Yup, there it was: my first sighting of my first book in a retail environment. It was next to a book about a team I can't stand by a writer I'd cross the street to avoid based on what I've read, but as with your relatives, you can't necessarily choose your contemporaries. I literally high-fived my book's binding. It's still saleable.
Borders at Penn Station. I've had lots of good luck finding gems in this Borders and other Borders. I had no luck finding Faith and Fear. Place was way crowded. Rush hour plus Knicks game must have equaled store traffic. Went to a DIY computer, typed in my title and it told me “Likely in store.” Thought about badgering a clerk to go get it. I had to do that once for a DVD that had just been released at this Borders, and someone I know had to the same at a Suffolk County Borders earlier in the week to get FAFIF. If it were less busy and I didn't have an engagement, I might have, but I wasn't buying a copy of my own book at that moment, so I let it go…not without angst that it's wasting away in a storage room. Next trip in, I will be on them like Olerud on base. Still, encouraging to see that in this economy, people flock to book stores.
Barnes & Noble in Union Square. When I worked eight blocks south and then nine blocks north, Union Square was my midway, midday oasis, no place more of a lunchtime refuge than the giant book store on E. 17th St. If I were to get up and count all the books in this room right here that were purchased at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, I'd probably not finish, 'cause I'd pick one out and start reading.
So I enter the place I consider The Capital of Books. Maybe I'm with new non-fiction or new releases or New York…nah, let's not get greedy. Let's just head up to the second floor, to where they keep the baseball, to where I used to scour the shelves, absorb the breadth of titles, roll my eyes at how many frigging Yogi Berra books get published and wonder if someday I'd see my own unwritten, sketchily conceived book about being a Mets fan here.
Someday came Friday night. There I was…I mean there it was, Faith and Fear in Flushing, facing out from a top shelf (luck of the alphabet). A little high for immediate consumer eye contact, but who wants to be down near the floor? There's three copies of me/it, then some other stuff, then Tony La Russa's uninviting mug.
It was like Endy Chavez made a nice catch. Not a great catch, but a nice catch at an important moment. When he would do that, I might jump up (not as high as Endy) and shriek (not as high as Endy could jump), but I knew I'd seen something. I saw something. I saw my book at the book store where I bought other writers' baseball books for eight years. I jumped and, yeah, I shrieked.
After calling Stephanie to alert her to my discovery (noticing I was leaning on a table of baseball remainders…how foreboding), I went back to my shelf. I reached up there, pulled my three copies out a little further so they'd be more prominent than La Russa and was on my way to meet my friends. When I returned to Penn Station many hours later, I went back to Penn Books to check on FAFIF's status. A second copy had materialized in the course of the evening. Maybe it had been there all along. I hope it wasn't from an unsatisfied customer.
My sister and her husband wanted to take us out Saturday night to celebrate the release of the book: dinner, then a trip to see the damn thing in action. We wound up at a diner, which was fine with Stephanie and me and extraordinarily appropriate given the Long Island-bred nature of the author and his work. Just down Glen Cove Road from where we dined is my de facto hometown B&N. I don't live in Carle Place, but it's close enough. Another busy store that's gotten its fair share of my discretionary income over the years. My sister asked me where the sports books are kept, for she had never, ever had cause to seek them out previously.
A nice big table hosted all kinds of baseball books by the stack. One stack was a nice tall pile of Faith and Fear in Flushing. While I was marveling at its presence, Stephanie was over at the shelves. And, in alphabetical order just like the night before, there it was. But more, lots more. I began to wonder if I should be more concerned than happy that so many were here. Why weren't we moving more units? Then I remembered it came out like three days before. Patience, rookie. Patience.
Suzan whipped out a camera and handed it to Mark. I posed with the book and with various members of my family, sort of like Friday night when I brought a copy with me for my Facebook-driven reunion with old work friends. I've written and occasionally still write for magazines. I write various forms of corporate communications. I write a blog. Nobody asks to pose with those. A book, even now when digital reigns supreme, is different. Seeing the book you wrote in a book store is way different from seeing it anywhere else, except maybe in the hands of those who care enough to grab a copy.
We hung around longer than necessary. Stephanie and Mark each went to browse for other things. I gave Suzan a brief tour of the baseball inventory vis-à-vis the other authors I've gotten to know, the other books I've read and reviewed, the books wherein our blog and I have been acknowledged. We had to keep inching away from the Faith and Fear display, lest we block others from a clear view. As we were about to leave, I noticed a woman in a Mets jacket was in a nearby section. Stephanie — not a salesperson by nature — picked up a FAFIF and marched over to her. “This is my husband's book. If you're a Mets fan, you'll really like it.”
“We're not really going door to door,” I felt compelled to add. “But as long as you're here and wearing that jacket…”
She promised to take a look.
Friday, March 27, 12:30 PM, I'll join Mark Healey for Baseball Digest Live, airing from Foley's NY, on West 33rd Street in Manhattan, between Fifth Ave. and Sixth Ave., across from the Empire State Building. Stop by if you can or listen online.
Coming Wednesday, April 1, 7 PM, I join Mike Silva and Howard Megdal on NY Baseball Digest. And the next night — Thursday, April 2 at 8 PM — I'll be on the bill (introduced by the fabulous Mr. Fry) at Gelf Magazine's Varsity Letters sports reading series, at the Happy Ending Lounge on the Lower East Side, a venue with a name that meshes quite fortuitously with Chapter One of the book.
Hope you'll be listening/calling/attending to any and all of these events as applicable. More such stuff To Be Announced. Watch this space and this space.
Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets: available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a book store near you.