Back then I couldn’t imagine I'd be a bookseller, how many stories and authors I’d discover. Now I watch readings as research for when I'm behind the podium, and to express my appreciation for the writer's work.
Thankfully, Stephen King didn’t read from the mighty Under the Dome. I’ve seen enough authors read to know that very few of them perform successfully. Further, books were meant for a reader, not a listener. He was interviewed for ninety minutes by Susan Rife of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. He was witty, intelligent, and interesting, and Cleopatra and I enjoyed ourselves completely. Not enough to wait out the crowd for a lottery ticket and a remote chance at perhaps possibly getting a signed copy if maybe we were unbelievably lucky, but we enjoyed ourselves.
What struck me about Stephen King was not the reading, but the people with whom we spoke about it afterwards. We told everyone we met what had brought us from Miami to Sarasota, and everyone had read at least one of his books.
Only if you work in the book business can you understand how rare that is. I’m so used to getting blank stares when I mention Ethan Canin, or Amy Hempel, or whoever I'm in love with at the moment, that the sentence is pre-diagrammed. “Do you know so-and-so? Doesn’t matter, here’s what s/he said…” This even happens among booksellers. Tens of thousands of books are published every year, with readers for each one. Co-workers all read fifty to sixty books on a yearly basis and might not overlap a single one.
The best we can do is something along these lines:
Bookseller A: You’ve never read Lolita? What's wrong with you? How can you call yourself a bookseller?
Bookseller B: Well, you’ve never read The Secret History just because it was published after 1970. Really open-minded, by the way.
Bookseller A: Lolita is a classic. It’s on more must-read lists than you can name.
Bookseller B: Secret History is a modern classic. Fifty years from now, readers won’t know there was ever a distinction between how the literary community regarded them.
Bookseller A: Okay, then I’ll read Secret History if you read Lolita.
Bookseller B: Fine.
Bookseller snobbery be damned, the leathery blonde woman managing a mechanic shop was a Stephen King fan.
The scraggly outdoorsman working at the Big Cat Habitat loved Stephen King.
The career waitress at Hob Nob had read a few Stephen King books and enjoyed them.
Everywhere we went, his books had come before us. Most critics sniff when his name is mentioned, as do many booksellers and "serious" readers, but you have to respect someone whose work has reached so many.
While in Sarasota, we checked on Cleo Pater’s 1960 MG at a mechanic shop specializing in restoration of British classics. A toothless, scrofulous blonde man pulled himself from under a car frame right out of James Bond. He walked up to us wiping his blackened hands on a filthy rag and said, “Can I help?” In his rugby-inflected English, it came out “Can’ai ‘elp?” I wanted to put a shovel in his hand and force him into a grave so we could discuss skulls.
|talking her way inside; squint and you'll see her butt|
At Hob Nob, Cleopatra ate a very healthy-looking chicken wrap. I slobbered down the greasiest food I’ve ever put in my mouth. This grilled ham and cheese dripped down my arms and soaked three layers of napkins. Just watching me eat it made Cleo gag around her smart food choices. Hob Nob apparently caters to all types.
There was romance on our adventure as well. An intimate hotel room, glasses of wine on a deserted beach watching a meteor “shower” (I saw a meteor shower when I was a kid; three comets does not a shower make), coffee chat in fuzzy robes under the morning sun, a brief art walk, and more wine while watching the sun set over Sarasota Bay.
With perhaps twenty minutes to spare, we left our bench on Sarasota Bay in search of an unobstructed view. We found a sparsely-populated white sand beach and enjoyed a lemon-bitingly beautiful sunset. Clouds streaked in fiery gold, flocks of gulls, a crisp breeze, and someone special to share it with. How fucking romantic.
A friend from my hometown of Syracuse stayed in Sarasota for four months doing theater; she called it the “slowest place she’s ever been.” So if you're wondering how slow Sarasota is, a lifelong Syracusian called it the slowest place she's ever been. Coming from a denizen of a college town whose economic hub is a mall, that's damn slow.
But it’s the kind of slowness that’s made for lovers. Go there. Bring someone special. Take a breath. Watch the sun set.