On Tuesday morning, I sat down at my computer to find my inbox flooded with the loveliest messages of congratulations. It took me a while to figure out why. My well-wishers seemed to think that A Tale for the Time Being had been longlisted for the Booker Prize, but I figured it must be a mistake. Only the day before, I'd learned that a kind reader had nominated the book for the Guardian's Not The Booker Prize, and so I assumed that my friends had gotten the two prizes confused. Silly friends. How awkward. But then it occurred to me to check the Man Booker Prize website, and I discovered that in fact they were right, the book had been longlisted, and as usual I was the last to know. This is what happens when you live in Desolation Sound.
Thank you, everyone, for your kind wishes.
I just got back home to Whaletown after a wonderful trip to Spain, France and the UK, doing promotional stuff for the novel. It was fascinating to realize that while I think of the book as A Tale for the Time Being, that's only its English name and identity. In other countries, it has different identities, since each country has its own take on both the title and the cover design.
Here is the French Belfond edition:
They're playing with the line from the English translation of Dōgen Zenji's essay, Uji, which reads "For the time being, the entire earth and the boundless sky." The wave and the grey sky reflect this beautifully.
And Planeta has done something entirely different with the Spanish title and cover design:
They're playing off of the notion of the "Butterfly Effect"—the flutter of a butterfly's wing in Japan. It's a lovely image.
Canongate's UK editions have been stunning. The hardcover has an exposed Nepalese binding on the spine, which I love, because of the way it echoes one of the themes of the book, which is the hacking and deconstruction of the book-as-object. The paperback is equally clever, and it has an augmented reality feature which you activate with smart phone app called Blippar. The cover image animates, literally comes to life, and leads you to various online resources, and this again recalls the virtual realities evoked in the story.
There have been several interesting articles written about the design, which you can read here on the Canongate.tv website.
The occasion for the UK tour was that A Tale for the Time Being won the 2013 Independent Booksellers Award, which is a special prize given by the UK Indie booksellers during Independent Booksellers Week. I was honored and delighted to receive this award. I love Independent bookstores. They are a lifeline for writers like me, and I doubt I would be publishing books without the support of the booksellers who are so passionate about books and know their customers and can take the time to hand-sell the titles they love. I wrote an essay for The Bookseller weblog, which talks about independent bookstores as the keystone species that determines the health of the cultural ecosystem.
Oh, and here's a picture of me receiving my award from Patrick Neale, at the lovely Jaffe & Neale Bookshop in Chipping Norton.
The UK Indie Bookshop Tour was really wonderful. It seemed to me that although many expressed concern about the sustainability of indie bookstores, the ones I visited were thriving. They'd built devoted communities of readers, were sponsoring all sorts of interesting events and offering a brilliant range of customer services, including book clubs and book spas and personal consultations with bookish professionals. And British bookshops serve wine at author readings...it really helps!
One of the highlights of the UK Indie Bookshop Tour was the visit to Bath and my reading at Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights. It's an absolutely lovely bookshop, and they were celebrating its 7th birthday. (Among Mr. B's specialized customer service offerings is a Proust Support Group. They are on Volume III, Chapter 2. How can you not love this? It's enough to make me want to move to Bath.) After the reading, we had sushi and wine and a beautiful birthday book cake (which I'm cutting it here, wearing my "fictional character" shirt from Village Books, in Bellingham, WA).
But the highlight of the evening for me took place before the reading, when The Bookshop Band performed two songs inspired by A Tale for the Time Being. The band is a trio comprised of two guitarists, Poppy Pitt and Ben Please and a cellist, Beth Porter, who write songs based on books they read and then they play them at bookshops before author readings. They started out performing mostly at Mr. B's, but since then they've gotten quite famous and now they travel all over. The two songs they wrote about my book were heartbreakingly beautiful, and as I listened to them sing, big fat tears just kept rolling down my face.
And it seems I'm not the first author to be so moved by their performance, and here's why. To a writer, a book is a gift. It comes to you more or less unbidden. If you're paying attention and you're willing to put in the hard work and the long years, maybe your book will find its way onto the page, into the bookshops, and into readers hands. At that point, your work is done and the book is no longer yours. You've given it away, because that's what you do with gifts. That's the nature of gifts, to be freely given.
But then, by some remarkable serendipity, a lovely trio of musicians reads your book and they are moved by it to write beautiful songs, and these songs are gifts, too, and they are unspeakably precious because rarely do writers get to experience their work so exquisitely received.
Thank you, Bookshop Band!
Thank you, Booker Prize judges!
Thank you, Independent Bookshops!
Thank you, dear publishers & editors & translators & book designers!
And most of all, thank you, dear Readers, because really, it's all because of you.