Although the reading was scheduled to begin at 1:00, I arrived at 12:20, thinking I would be early enough to get a seat in the front section of the audience. I should have known when the parking lot was full that I was not the only Barbara Kingsolver fan able to attend one of her readings on a Thursday afternoon. The checkout line at the front was a bit long, but being an experienced Book Passage customer, I wound my way to the back register to purchase her new book there. You see, in order to receive a ticket to the event and snag a seat, one must buy the book on the premises.
After I made my purchase, I proceeded to the reading area, which was roped off and guarded by a young man who was checking for tickets. He directed me to Molly, who was handing out the golden seat reservation slips that hold your spot while you either browse or get something at their cafe.
I could see a few people scattered among the front 100 or so seats, but it still looked pretty open. That is, until I reached the front and turned around. I saw a sea of golden squares holding hostage every single folding chair in the front section. Dejected, I headed for the back forty, where tables of children’s books had been pushed aside to make room for several more rows—the seats I’d assumed were kindly set up for those who wanted to see Barbara Kingsolver but didn’t want to buy the book in order to get a good seat. Apparently these were chairs for the Kingsolver devotees who couldn’t show up at 11:30 when they began handing out the coveted seat reservation tags.
But I had an idea. I found Molly again and asked if I could sit on the side where there is a sort of carpeted shelf-like bench built into the wall beneath the windows where I know people sit during popular, crowded readings. She said she wasn’t sure if they were going to open up that area yet. I pleaded with my eyes and explained that I’d much rather sit there on the uncomfortable makeshift window seat, only a few feet away from one of my favorite authors of all times, than way back where she would only be a speck in the middle of any photo I could take with my iPhone. I think she saw the literary devotion in my eyes and told me I could reserve a spot under the window.
I walked proudly past all the cushioned folding chairs and taped my golden square to the carpeted step adjacent to the front row.
Then I walked back around to the cafe where the line was snaking out of the eating area and into the book store proper. I stood in line for ten minutes to order but realized that by the time I got my food I wouldn’t have time to eat it before the reading started. So I left the line and went back to claim my little stretch of industrial carpet, hungry but happy. I could always eat later.
Kingsolver began by thanking us because we were Californians, who she sees as leading the way in exploring solutions for many of the world’s current predicaments. Then deftly holding her book in one hand and a microphone in the other, she read the opening and a selected portion from her brand new novel Flight Behavior, which is set in her home territory of Appalachia and deals with a topic she feels is the most important issue of modern times—climate change. (I’ll review the book in a later post after I’ve had time to read it.)
She answered a wide array of questions that covered her career as a writer and her love of reading. She shared with us the very first word she ever read—orange—and the thrill she felt at unlocking its mystery. She was reading chapter books before she ever started school and she wrote her first novel when she was 13, which she claims was awful.
When one audience member thanked her for her wonderful body of work, Kingsolver graciously responded by thanking us all as readers, quipping that she just writes the book—but it’s all of us who keep independent book stores alive by buying and reading the books.
I’d say it was a team effort, and one I’m happy to participate in.