Thursday, May 5, 2016

The One That Got Away, But I Can't Resist This Photo--Shawn Vestal and "Daredevils"

A lot of folks ask me how I read so much. And all I can think of is that like most booksellers, I feel like I am reading only a small fraction of the amazing books that come out every year. And not just generally amazing--books I really want to read. So when Penguin Press announced Shawn Vestal's Daredevils last fall to booksellers, I was pretty sure it was going to get to the top of my pile. Our book editor Jim Higgins is a big fan of the story collection Godforsaken Idaho (here's a link to a think piece inspired by one story).

The story collection won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction. Here's news from The Spokane-Review. Needless to say, Spokane was pretty happy. I'm sure it's been glum since The Crescent Department store closed. Sorry, that's the way I think about cities.

And then there was the Evel Knievel angle. I'd even read and enjoyed Pauls Toutonghi's Evel Knievel Days, which also played off the Snake River big jump for a novel. Toutonghi's got a memoir coming up called Dog Gone in June. There are two dog memoir events coming up in the Milwaukee area (Book and Company is hosting  Free Days with George on May 12, 6:30 pm and ours is Juli Barton's Dog Medicine on Friday, July 22, 7 pm, at Boswell) so I guess the Canine Canon continues to thrive, but I digress.

Jon Michaud explains the premise in The Washington Post: "Near the start of Shawn Vestal’s elegant debut novel, Daredevils, Jason, a teenager raised in a Mormon family, sets off for church with his grandfather, but they never get there. In an act of duplicity that opens Jason’s eyes to the ways of the world, his grandfather drives them instead to the Snake River to watch Evel Knievel jump the canyon in a steam-powered rocket. 'A little mischief is good for the soul,' Grandpa tells him. Though Knievel’s jump is unsuccessful, this real-life daredevil serves as a beacon, luring Jason away from 'the ugly tether of family' and the Idaho dairy farm where he grew up."

Vestal moved with Ed Park from Little A (the Amazon literary imprint) to Penguin Press and this was a priority book. The reviews have been very strong. Caroline Leavitt wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle "This on-the-road novel takes twists and turns that are on no literary map you’ve ever seen. A 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize winner (note: we already know that) and on the short list for the Saroyan Prize, Vestal plays with points of view at a dizzying speed, so that at times the novel feels like a symphonic chorus."

I should also note that this book, a coming-of-age story set in 1970s Arizona, has an interesting premise. An LDS girl with a Gentile boyfriend is married off by the family and sent to a fundamental polygamist in Idaho. Complications ensue.

And how about this promotional tie in, an Evel Knievel cinch bag? Here's our buyer Jason and our rep Stefan reveling in the glory that this truly is.

And then we got the call, there was a slot for us to host the author. There were two slots possible, based on how the tour laid out. This is my big moment! You know I love pushing developing literary authors. But I know how crazy our April and May were this year. And when the dates were already booked, it meant the only thing we could do was go outside the store, which works for ticketed events because we can throw a lot of resources at them, and it works in a library when their circulation numbers are good but it's tough for a first novelist.

So I had to say no. And even though I couldn't make the dates work, I'm still kicking myself. Ouch.

And now I still haven't read the book. But it's still on my pile. That's why I pick the books for our book club. I still have another chance.

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