With over half a million copies in print, Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is quickly becoming a modern classic. Jamie recently caught up with Reader’s Circle from Seattle, where the novel is set, and tells us about the many different kinds of people he’s met on the road who’ve fallen in love with the book.
Oh, the places you’ll go.
In the last year I’ve spent one hundred nights on the road: one hundred nights! I’ve had so many layovers at the Salt Lake City and Minneapolis airports that I can probably claim partial residency. And I’ve been on so many planes I’m sure I’ve developed a dangerous peanut allergy (or at least a worrisome addiction).
In my wildest authorly dreams I never imagined I would travel beyond my own mailbox. What a delightful, delirious journey it’s been, and still is. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in a comfy, cozy chair in the tearoom of Seattle’s Panama Hotel, where my novel began. The hotel itself is actually on the corner of 6th & Main, which I must admit is not nearly as sexy as Bitter and Sweet, but they still brew a great cup of lychee.
As I’m watching another wide-eyed book club wander in, I can’t help but marvel at the diversity of readers I’ve met: the kindly souls, the tender hearts, the unforgettable stories. Here are a few of my favorite moments from the road:
The Pilgrimage: When a gentleman from the Nisei Veteran’s Association invited me to the annual Minidoka Reunion, for former internees and their families, it was an honor I couldn’t pass up. Not only was the weekend a touching and memorable experience, but there was a karaoke night where former internees, many in their 80s, sang, Don’t Fence Me In. Kinda gets you right there, doesn’t it?
Night at the Smithsonian: I was invited to speak at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute in conjunction with The Art of Gaman, an exhibit of fine art created entirely within Japanese internment camps. I’ll never forget speaking to a packed house, in an ornate gallery, surrounded by incredible artwork, while my teenagers toiled in the back thinking their dad was still terribly un-cool.
Boys Night Out: This may surprise you, but I’ve actually run into a handful of Men’s Book Clubs, a fascinating phenomenon and something I once imagined to exist but had never actually seen in the wild, like a unicorn. Single-malt scotch, chicken-wings, and literature–who knew?
Generation Y: I had the privilege of speaking to the freshman class of Gustavus Adolphus College, a roaring crowd of 700. Many of my readers are from “The Greatest Generation,” while this was a much younger crowd. And yet they loved the book, even with its lack of vampires and shirtless werewolves. Don’t underestimate the young readers of today (or tomorrow): they will do much good in this world.
Back to School: Speaking of students, on one ambitious New York afternoon I spoke with four different inner-city high school classes. We shared stories of family problems, racial tensions, and our collective dislike of The Scarlett Letter. But we also touched upon aspects of history often glossed over in textbooks.
The Melting Pot: When I was first asked to visit an ESL class (English as a Second Language) that was reading my novel, I expected undergrads from China and Japan. Instead, the students were from Bahrain, India, Kenya, Laos, and Brazil: evidently the themes and struggles of assimilation know no borders.
The Bitter and the Sweet: And lastly, every author fears that one book event where no one shows up: where it’s you and the janitor. Most of my book gigs are robustly attended affairs, but the location and timing of one particular event conspired against me. On that night, only one woman was there, with her husband. Her father had passed away two days earlier and she took time away from funeral preparations to attend. She was Sansei (3rd generation Japanese American) and her father had been interned at Minidoka for four years. She had read my book to her father during the last week of his life and the story had meant a great deal to both of them.
Despite a wide reading audience, I don’t try to be something to everyone. I try to be everything to someone. On that one night, I succeeded.
I think that calls for another cup of tea.