Lynette Schlichting and I are well into our drive-across-America tour. She’s driving now and listening to her iPod while I blog, rolling along toward Billings, Montana. We expect to go on to Bozeman (see photo) by dinnertime. She’s the navigator. I surrendered to her navigational expertise the first day, and now I’m relinquishing the steering wheel more and more often as well.
As book tours go, this hardly qualifies. Months of planning are required to line up book readings, and even then you can’t be sure anyone will show up, so I am just content to appear at bookstores, with or without prior announcement, and contact the manager. If she has ordered books ahead of time for me, she’ll give me a table and chair, where a stack of my books is displayed. I sit there two hours, smiling at potential customers and discussing my topic with anyone who betrays a capacity for curiosity. If someone buys a copy (which is rare) I sign it and stick in a business card. I have more conversations than sales, of course. I never expected to attract many readers. Some of my interlocutors say they will come back later to buy, and perhaps a few of them do.
The most recent such handselling event was yesterday in a mall in Fargo, North Dakota. Most shoppers, especially during the five-to-seven dinner hour when I arrived to handsell, do not tarry for any conversation. However, one pair of professional-looking women stopped to talk. One of them teaches in middle school. She agrees that TV probably makes kids smarter, but she doesn’t think iPods are good at all. She says kids are constantly downloading music and listening to it in solitude with earphones, so they don’t want to interact with anyone, including their friends. I hadn’t thought about that.
I’m finding lots of excellent places to shop for clothes, should I happen to need any. The stores all carry plenty of large-sized garments, unlike the situation in Canada. As the shoppers passed me, I counted the people who are overweight, who constituted about fifty percent of both sexes. I had not paid much attention to all the journalistic stories about the “fast food nation” and the “epidemic of obesity,” but there really is something going on that needs to be explained and reversed. Despite being a member of the relevant category myself, I cannot explain the body shapes of the shoppers in the Fargo mall.
I had downloaded a bunch of podcasts and audiobooks onto my own iPod before leaving home, imagining that we’d listen to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Great Gatsby, Crime and Punishment, and Quirks and Quarks all across the prairies and mountains. There’s a gadget that allows you to play the sound through the car radio so we can both listen together. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work properly with my iPod, and Lynette’s iPod doesn’t contain the spoken word files. However, I’ve been able to use it with my laptop, so we listen to the stories that way.
We have been hearing Crime and Punishment, though we both have trouble following it. The Russian names throw me off, and then there’s the problem of understanding the emotional orientation of the characters. I remember encountering that challenge in the past, whenever I have read a Russian novel. The characters are highly expressive, given to sudden rash acts, but their motivation is always obscure. I have trouble empathizing with them because I can’t imagine undergoing such extreme mood changes and and vacillating intentions. That's the Russian soul in action, I suppose, but it seems so irrational that I am constantly puzzled. Lynette says she ceased paying attention a hundred miles back.
Perhaps there is some real change in the environmentalism of the American mentality. There are signs for example, urging people to recycle oil. Apparently, oil is contaminating the thousands of lakes in Minnesota. Another sign of the times appeared on our beds last night, for the Days Inn Motel had put notes there informing us that the changing of the sheets every day wastes detergent. They invited us to leave the note on our pillow if we want our sheets not to be washed after we leave. I did so, perfectly willingly, though I’m not the appropriate person to ask. Logically, it should be for the next guest to decide whether to sleep between the sheets that I have previously occupied.
One of my stops in Minneapolis was at the Mall of America – a place comparable in size to the Edmonton Mall, I guess. The Barnes and Noble guy had been very welcoming on the phone but when I arrived they had no books and did not expect me. It seemed necessary to counteract my unpleasant impression of the city, so Lynette and I had a nice dinner, saw “A Prairie Home Companion,” and then took a ride on the water chute. The center of the mall is an entertainment park with rides, and I had never been drenched in a water roller coaster before. That will be my only such experience in this lifetime. I loved it. I don’t think Lynette did, though she was bold enough to go through with it.