Sunday, February 14, 2010

Number One in Nevada? A Mystery.

Photo by Alaskan Dude

Several weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a clip from that my book was the Number 1 bestseller in Nevada.

“Do you know anybody who actually lives there?” she asked as if this far-off desert state was an alternate reality, traveled to only through some string-theory portal.

I had to laugh and remind her of the Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover that showed Manhattan as the center of the universe and very little civilization past the Mississippi.

“Where is that . . . that place?” she continued, her usual editorial precision softening into an uncharacteristic vagueness. “Is it a state?”

I howled. “Of course, it’s a state -- right next to Utah. Ever heard of Las Vegas?”

“Oh,” she said, her wit returning. “Well then, maybe it’s the Mormons who are making your book a bestseller.”

“Maybe so,” I mused. “Mormons don’t believe in the Rapture, either.” Then I had a thought. “Could it be survivalists who mistake my book for some guide to surviving nuclear blast?”

“Well,” my friend remarked, “they will be very surprised when they read your book.”

I smiled. I didn’t once write a novel called Duck and Cover for nothing. To those of you out there in the painted deserts and serene mountains of Nevada who are buying my book, I send a call-and-response of much gratitude.

At the wonderfully buoyant Third Place Books reading, one of the audience members had an idea of why the book might be faring so well in Nevada. She wrote me an email:

I was born in Reno and growing up we’d travel down to see
family there about twice a year. I noticed that for a city who’s
main industry is gambling, there are a lot of churches there. (We,
of course, went to my Grandma’s Southern Baptist church.)
There is a dichotomy that just seems woven into their identity.
After all, it is the ‘Biggest, Little City in the World.’ Perhaps so
many evangelicals flock there because they know they’ll find
plenty of sinners.

Maybe the Mormons and Survivalists will not be surprised or disappointed when they read my new book. It is, after all, about survival and finding my spiritual way. How I survived the extreme weather of Southern Baptist fundamentalism and still love the Earth. Mormons love the earth, so do Survivalists. And I’m sure there are many Nevadans who cherish this world and do not want to leave it. (Las Vegas, and its escapist or otherworldly charms notwithstanding.)

So my hat’s off to Nevada. You’ve kept my book in your top five bestsellers for almost three weeks. If I were a gambling woman I’d place my bets on you!

In fact, when I was a child and my family drove through Las Vegas in the middle of the night, we saw a shining city shimmering in the desert like a mirage or some Biblical neon mansion.
It was a sinful city, I’d heard. And to prove that point, my father stopped at a gas station with slot machines.

“I’m going to teach you all a good lesson for life,” he told us. “Give me your allowances.”

We resisted, but eventually handed over our quarters. With dismay we watched him plug them into the slot machine. He did let us pull the mechanical arm. Our little silver savings disappeared, coin by coin.

“You see,” my father said with satisfaction. “That is what comes from gambling.”

He plugged in the last quarter. There was an electric whirring as the slot machine spun its mismatched magic apples, pears, stars. Suddenly mechanical whistles and percussive bleeps – Jackpot!

Silver coins shot out of the slot machine like manna in the wilderness. We kids jumped up and down, hooting. What a good lesson in life.

“This NEVER happens,” my father said sternly. “It’s not real. Forget it.”

But I haven’t. And these many years later I thank the readers of Nevada who are gambling and placing their bets on my new book. Because of you, the book is a winner.

Thanks also to the Seattle Times for a wonderful review this week and welcome to all the Huffington Post readers clicking through. 

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