When my first book “Off The Record” came out back in 2000, it was self-published. Having to go the DIY vanity-press route didn’t exactly fill me with confidence when it came time to call bookstores to ask if they’d let me do readings. So it was a pleasant surprise to find so many supportive bookstores around greater Raleigh, especially Nancy Olson’s Quail Ridge Books and Music.
Quail Ridge was the first place I ever did a reading. Unaccustomed as I was to speaking in public in front of people, I was kind of terrified at the prospect. But Olson and staff were kind, indulgent and willing to hold my hand and get me through it. For a krill-sized speck in the literary firmament like me, getting to do a reading at all in the same store as David Sedaris, Peter Guralnick and Charles Frazier was a big deal. And to actually be treated well there was unbelievable.
Since then, I’ve done enough readings at Quail Ridge for it to feel like my home court. The best “Losering” event in 2012 happened there, and we also had a really nice “Comin’ Right at Ya” reading at Quail Ridge last fall. I’ve seen dozens of other authors there over the years, too, local friends as well as visiting big-shots from out of town. It’s always been the best sort of artistic community space for readers as well as writers, continuing under new owner Lisa Poole after Olson sold the store and retired in 2013. Even on Planet Amazon, you can’t beat having a physical place for like-minded spirits to gather.
Olson has been battling kidney disease for several years and passed away early Sunday morning at age 75, which is a loss for anyone who loves books. But I am heartened from a detail at the end of this very fine obit — that she was reading until the end. That’s fitting.
ADDENDUM (4/10/2016): A most lovely remembrance by the great Allan Gurganus.
With Christmas approaching and holiday buying season in full effect — hint, hint — yearend best-of lists are beginning to roll in. And I’m happy to note that “Comin’ Right at Ya” has made it onto a really nice countdown alongside some very choice company in No Depression’s book column, “The Reading Room’s Best Books of 2015” as compiled by Henry Carrigan (who was kind enough to include me in another column last month about bookish influences).
“Comin’ Right at Ya” appears at No. 15 on No Depression’s top-40, right between legendary Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty and “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau. Heck yeah, I’ll take that — especially since we quoted a few of Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” reviews of various Asleep at the Wheel albums in the book.
Being at No. 15 also puts “Comin’ Right at Ya” ahead of Chrissie Hynde’s memoir “Reckless” at No. 18; my American Music Series colleague Chris Morris’ “Los Lobos: Dream in Blue” at No. 20; Texas country icon Willie Nelson’s “It’s a Long Story: My Life” at No. 35; and (how about that) my idol Greil Marcus’ “Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns” at No. 39.
As for the books at the top end of No Depression’s list, the No. 1 placement of Peter Guralnick’s exhaustive and much-acclaimed “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll” is no surprise. The same goes for Patti Smith’s “M Train” at No. 3 and Kristin Hersh’s gorgeously painful American Music Series title “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt,” plus memoirs by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon at No. 9 and Elvis Costello at No. 10.
I’d also like to note that it’s extremely cool to see my buddy Steve Knopper’s “MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson” come in two notches ahead of Ray Benson and me, at No. 13 — even though I don’t want him to be getting any ideas about that.
Tags: American Music Series, Chris Morris, Chrissie Hynde, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Don't Suck Don't Die, Elvis Costello, Greil Marcus, Henry Carrigan, John Fogerty, Kim Gordon, Kristin Hersh, Los Lobos, Michael Jackson, No Depression, Patti Smith, Peter Guralnick, Ray Benson, Real Life Rock Top Ten, Robert Christgau, Sam Phillips, Sonic Youth, Steve Knopper, The Reading Room, Vic Chesnutt, Willie Nelson