To paraphrase Magritte, this is not a book. This is a cake, frosted to look like the book I've been plugging here so obnoxiously in the past few weeks, and this is one of the many pleasant surprises of doing a book tour -- courtesy of the wonderful Lauri Ver Schure at Murder by the Book in Denver. The touring novelist, who has been folded into his car so long he feels like a paperclip, wobbles into the store, talks about his book to an impressive number of almost suspiciously nice people, and then -- voila! -- the cake comes out. And everybody admires it and then wrecks it by grabbing a piece. and the whole group hits a sugar high, and the novelist tells them everything about his life except the time he almost got tattooed, and then a bunch of books get signed and it's over. Except for the 700 miles to the next store.
Is this cake cool, or what?
Look, it's even got a spine.
The question we who tour are often asked is, "Is it worth it?" Financially, no. In terms of fame and sales, no. But to see a cake like this and to meet the people I met in my 3900-mile trek -- you bet. It's a bit staggering, in fact, to realize that there are all those people out there who have made time in their undoubtedly demanding lives to read me. And who, having waded through God knows how many pages of me flailing at the story I'm trying to tell, actually want to hear me talk about it.
Mostly, of course, it's car/store/car/hotel/car/store/hotel and then more of the same. But there are always those readers, and the bookstore owners and employees, for whom there should be a special express elevator to heaven. And then there are the occasional illuminations.
Most of America is absolutely drop-dead beautiful and as empty as the space between electrons. The average number of people per acre in Montana is about 1.2. They can barely see each other. Utah is breathtaking, New Mexico is heart-stopping, I drove between mountains of salt, surrounded by pool-table-flat, stark-white salt flats outside of Salt Lake City in a blinding, lightning-illuminated storm. Absolutely extraterrestrial. Sparks, Nevada, is a dump.
Poets write some road signs, especially in New Mexico. My favorite: HIGH WINDS EXIST. I can't help but wonder what language it was translated from. And in Arizona, just west of Phoenix, the most disconcerting sign I saw the whole way:
My immediate thought was, "No thank you," and then I began to wonder what it meant. No one could tell me.
Some illuminations have mileages attached to them:
127 miles: Arcade Fire is the greatest rock band in the world at the moment and "The Suburbs" is the CD of the year. I recognized that again at about 390 miles and approximately every 400 miles thereafter. They got me through the driving.
355 miles: Cruise control is a really good idea when driving an absolutely straight, absolutely flat, resolutely empty highway (I-80, heading west) because it keeps you from suddenly realizing that you're going 145 miles per hour.
Poetry comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. The Queen of Coalville paints her face/Her teeth as white as bleaching bones/a burlap bag across her back/to hold the soft and gleaming stones/from veins that lace beneath the soil . . . and on and on and worse and worse and eventually even the urge to reach for a pencil evaporates.
490 miles: Bliss, Arizona needs a thriller set in it. You can smell the fear in the air.
And so forth and so on, and thanks for reading this far. I've been home for three days and I can still feel the car moving beneath me, and there are 120 miles to cover tomorrow.