Saturday, June 7, 2008

Dear Garth,

Oh, I *have* to know what you think! Please post when you finish it! G.S.

That's what "roadgarth" had to say to an earlier posting.

It happens rarely, but I've found that the most astute and reader-centric authors tend to be eager for feedback. These perspicacious wordsmiths make use of the technologies to find out what the world might be saying about them and their works.

So for all of you, and most of all for you, Garth, I make apologies for my failure to live up to my renewed commitment to give you regular and daily blog postings.

When last I left you, I had just completed my third consecutive posting about my new friend Enzo.

Indeed, somewhere the zebra is dancing.

I was late in coming to an appreciation for Garth Stein and his masterful The Art of Racing in the Rain. I'll admit that. If I haven't related the story before, I'll do so now.

While I was aware of the book (mostly as a title from a usually reliable publisher, granted), I hadn't taken it up. We were privileged to receive an advance copy of the book at the Winter Institute (III) of the American Booksellers Association, which this year was held in Louisville at the Marriott. Ann and Mark (our senior bookseller) attended the Friday sessions while I kept the store open and I made it over at the end of the day on Friday.

Ann, I later learned, got to meet Mr. Stein on Saturday during the author appearances. Oblivious to the writer or the book that day (I was concentrating on other authors, including Warren Adler, penman of Funny Boys), I recall Ann being lured by what appeared to be "dog treats" and thus obtaining, as funnyman Steve Martin used to affirm, "a close, personal encounter" with Herr Stein.

[The "dog treat" was, in fact, cookies made for human consumption. As none of us in the Destinations Booksellers' family had a dog at that time, it was an aspirational endeavor. That wishful thinking has been ratified since. We added the lovable "Chloe" to our "family" in the last few weeks.]

As I recall it, it was a Tuesday night and I was nearing the end of a nonfiction title. Spying the attractive cover of The Art of Racing in the Rain, I warned my bride that if she did not take it up before I finished that book, I was going to "take" it. Considering that we seldom read the same book, that was a preemptive threat. Before 11:30 that evening, I picked it up, and 100 pages later I was enthusiastically planning my e-mail to Kerri Sikorski, telesales rep non pareil in the Scranton office of HarperCollins, to enter a massive order for the book.

By Friday morning, before I reached the store (I'm known to walk the 1.7 mile route with my head in a book), I had finished the book and was already worried about running out of my initial distributor order.

In fact, we did run out before the end of that day, which explains why I did not fulfill my commitment to continue my teaser campaign to you, dear readers.

I am happy to report to you the early returns. I cannot recommend this book more highly. I have been embarrassed by the thanks our patrons have expressed for my recommendation of this book. To be sure, I have been effusive in my praise while handselling this book, utilizing my rare "guarantee" that you will adore the book. No one has asked for their money back. I even sent the book to a temporarily invalid friend at a 99.999% discount, knowing full well that when she recovered, she'd gladly remit the appropriate payment.

But what I haven't done yet for blog readers (or the recipients of our well-received e-mail newsletter) is tell you specifically about the book.

Mr. Stein has expertly captured what we believe, rightly or wrongly, are the actual thought processes of "man's best friend." My friend Enzo, I will now confess, is an ultimately perceptive canine. Enzo, who we meet near the end of his life, relates the story of his life and the life of the family that becomes his in Racing.

Do not doubt that you will be captivated before you have finished the first three chapters. Despite clear portents of coming tragedy, you will find your funnybone stimulated for the first half of the book. But it's not, in any way, a whimsical fantasy. At no point did I find myself unwilling to believe that Enzo was anything but sincere and true.

Garth Stein has conveyed the emotional and intellectual life of this dog in a way that is so natural and plausible that I (and other readers) never doubted its sincerity. He captures the naivete we expect from our canine companions - that guileless faith we exploit and revere - and the ratiocination that we project onto our pets. If my intuition is true, Enzo thinks the way my dog Chipper did.

Stein reveals a philosophical side I had never suspected, but one that I found myself captivated by. I can only hope that our dogs understand us as well as the narrator of Racing in the Rain does.

I promised a "reveal," and here it is. Denny, Enzo's human companion, is a uniquely talented road racer. We do not learn whether he carried the talent to excel in championship racing, but we do discover that when it comes to controlling and propelling a high-performance vehicle in less-than-perfect race conditions [read: rain], he has few peers.

Events conspire (partly) to thwart Denny's professional ambitions, but the principles he imparts to his Enzo become a lesson to us all.

You may believe you don't care to read a "dog" story. You may believe that a story about a race car driver won't interest you. Forget it. Fuhgeddaboudit! I know of no one who will regret reading this book.

I'm not prepared to say that Stein's book will be read 100 years from now. But I will say that if you read only one piece of fiction in 2008, you couldn't do better than to read this one.

And when you do, you'll want to pass it on [SUBLIMINAL MESSAGE: Hold on to your copy. Tell your friends to buy their own - or buy it for them].

As I write this, we've again sold out of the "Luxe" larger print editions and we still await the audio version. But I will repeat my contention that before the end of the summer The Art of Racing in the Rain will be hailed as THE book of the season.

We have ample stock of the primary hardcover edition. Let me encourage you to pick it up now and get the jump on the rest of America. I assure you that you'll be proud to have discovered it long before it becomes THE gift book of the year. Go ahead and pick up two copies, because I know you'll want to give this book as a gift at Christmas time.

FYI: I will again be giving my book recommendations on WFPL-FM, 89.3, during State of Affairs' Summer Reading Program, hosted by Julie Kredens. Producer Robin Fisher has extended an invitation to Destinations Booksellers to give our recommendations on-air on Tuesday, June 17, at 11 a.m. and then for later rebroadcast.

Can you guess which book will be my No. 1?

P.S. The bestseller lists haven't yet caught on to this one. But I predict that when we usher in the New Year, Enzo will be haunting the lists. For the measuring period ending last weekend, in Lousville, Stein's book ranked in a three-way tie for 39th.

On this week's New York Times fiction bestseller list (a week later), TAoRitR is 14th. As Mom used to say, "hide and watch." Ms. Hamilton and Mr. Patterson won't be there in 10 weeks, but Mr. Stein will be. Or so I say.


roadgarth said...

Thanks for all the support, Randy! I really appreciate it. The Indies are where a non-brand-name writer like me really makes up ground, and it's thanks to great Indie sellers like you! Garth

All4Word said...

I think there is every chance that Garth Stein will be a brand-name before all this is over.

The "Art of Racing in the Rain" was 14th on the bestseller list in its first week. If New Albany's response is telling, it will be climbing those charts soon.