Book readings, by their very nature, project an image of dusty bookstores and quiet libraries where only intellectuals find interest. This stereotype is exactly what Cindy Dach, an events coordinator for independent bookstores in Tempe, Ariz. set out to change when she organized the First Fiction Tour three years ago. “I was in a bar,” she said, “listening to a terrible band and looking at a really crowded space and thinking ‘Ok, what is it? Is it the fact that we’re in a bar, is it the fact that there’s beer here?’ And I thought the problem is that bookstores are amazing community centers, but they’re not these fun, loud places, and why can’t literature be like that?” This year, the third annual First Fiction Tour will be traveling to six cities across America and will be visiting Ann Arbor on April 5.
Frustrated first-time authors, who are often given little or no budget for publicity, have found an ally in Dach, whose enthusiasm for literature has provided a venue where they can get their books into the public eye. “Authors go through so much work of writing the book, getting agents and selling the book,” Dach explained. “They go on these tours and there are horror stories from so many first time audiences of having no one at their events.” By placing book readings in a lively bar setting, Dach increased audience size, and interest. “We didn’t invent this … Historically, if you go back to Shakespeare’s time, there were always readings in bars … In a way I feel like we’re going back to literature at its roots.”
For Dach, the tour became less of a publicity event and more of a unique and exciting experience. “The authors formed support groups for each other,” she said. “By the last night, the readings were extraordinary and the friendship … they were like a band.” This camaraderie enhanced the overall experience of the tour itself. “There’s an ally in the audience listening … and it’s not about book sales, and that was something I was just so excited to see happen.” Dach also mentioned the enthusiasm of the listeners, saying that she’s “gotten e-mails from people who want to drive from one state to another … and people who think it’s cool to tour with an author now. The audiences were really exciting.”
Spaces and enthusiasm usually reserved for bands have become the new fiction scene. “Reading rates in this country are dropping drastically,” Dach said. “I sit here and I look at this country and I think ‘What do we think is cool?’ and it scares me. I don’t know why reading isn’t cool.” With its growing popularity, the First Fiction Tour could indeed make books hip again. “This is where I think it could start changing the face of literature somehow by saying ‘You know, we’re going to go do something good, we’re going to read in a bar, and reading is cool,’ ” Dach said.
There is an impressive and eclectic line-up of authors for this year’s First Fiction Tour. Miranda Beverly-Whittemore will read from “The Effects of Light”; Matthew Carnahan from “Serpent Girl”; Marya Hornbacher from “The Center of Winter”; and Edward Schwarzchild from “Responsible Men.” Shaman Drum Bookshop is coordinating the tour’s Ann Arbor stop.