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The book fair that got my goat

© 2011 Fay Jacobs

With my book publishing business I can go from sublime to ridiculous in a flash.

The reception I've gotten at home in Rehoboth and around the region for the new book has been wonderful. Books are flying out of my garage warehouse from sales, both online and inline at local bookstore signings. I'm humbled and happy.

But possibly to ensure that my head doesn't bloat I have been treated to some matchless experiences hawking the books - and a book tour, however delightful New York, Chicago or P-Town can be, has its ups and downs.

Literally. I've traipsed up and down creaky staircases lugging cartons of books until I've actually screamed "for frying out loud!" And I've survived readings for a just a handful of hardy audience members, filled out, fortunately by my own blood relatives.

And all the travel isn't exactly glamorous. Thank goodness for GPS when I found myself careening through the narrow streets of Staten Island, NY, seeking a tiny GLBT bookstore sandwiched between Household of Love Church and Our Lady of Pity Ministries. Loved the owners, loved the crowd, can't say much for the neighborhood.

Not that I'm having an Our Lady of Pity party. It's been a real blast networking at book conferences and meeting readers in bookstores, signing and selling lots of books. Gay Days at Disney was a hoot, and at some readings I get laughs like I was doing stand-up. Of course, Women's Week in P-Town was grand.

Then again, it's sobering to be partying with readers and selling books Saturday night to find myself reading on Sunday in a dark, dank, mostly empty bar, still reeking of the previous night's beer blast. Oh, that would be the bar reeking of beer, not me. Then again, it was Women's Week P-Town, so it's tricky to judge.

But it wasn't hard to be judgmental about a book fair in Dover at the Delaware Agricultural Museum, a place, as you can imagine, I had no idea even existed. It houses antique tractors, cotton gins and all manner of rural artifacts. And it sits across the street from the NASCAR track, which might have been a clue for urban me.

I arrived to discover I was to set up my display in front of the museum's goat breed exhibit, which I found instantly hilarious and appropriate. After dragging a six-foot folding table, lawn chair, and book cartons from the parking lot to the door I felt pretty much like an old goat myself.

As I unpacked, I noticed I was underdressed. There were authors in full Civil War garb, writers who appeared to be dressed for a White House state dinner and a couple of women who might have been palm readers and/or still dressed for Trick or Treat.

The man next to me boasted of having published 30 different volumes about Hessian soldiers in the Revolutionary War, though his plastic spiral-bound books seemed to have been published by Kinko House.

I was surrounded by authors peddling badly bound copies of books with titles like Last Chance for Jesus and Sex with Unicorns - How I Talk to God.

A young woman came up to my table, read a blurb about A&M Books and asked "What exactly is a feminist press?" I sized her up. She seemed to have most of her teeth and wasn't dressed for a Rebel encampment so I took a chance.

"Actually, it's a lesbian press, but in the 70s no printer would touch a lesbian book," I answered. The woman said nothing but actually took a giant step back, apparently afraid to catch, as Rachel Maddow says, "the gay."

Once everybody was set up, a dribble of patrons came through the doors. People would walk by, pick up my book, smile at the cover and turn it over to read the back. I could tell the exact moment they got to the word gay. They plopped the book down like it had cooties.

Instead of twiddling my thumbs waiting for somebody to come up and insult me I spent time checking out the goat display. Goats are kept for milk, meat, or hair, and some are also kept as companions. All goat breeds are very hardy, curious, and intelligent. Hey, maybe they'd like to read some essays or at least eat the book cover. Nothing else was happening.

One woman flipped through my book, stopped, looked up and said "You wrote 'pray for Obama Care', I really can't talk to you, you're a Commie." She slammed the book down as if it contained Anthrax. It made me want to back up and get in the pen with the intelligent taxidermied goats.

One bright spot had a man picking up the book, oohing and ahhing at the photo and then saying "Wow, that's a beautiful dog. Cocker Spaniel?" If he couldn't tell the difference between a Cocker and a Schnauzer, what hope was there for his understanding a lesbian smartass?

I was buoyed by a man making a beeline for my table but it turned out he wanted to read about Nubian Dairy Goats. Then I got nervous when the Civil War author unsheathed his sword brandished it about for people to admire. I'd only been there two hours, and had a stupefying two more to go. I considered grabbing the sword and falling on it.

Finally, a lady came by, picked up the book, turned it over and read the entire back of the book and said "For Frying Out Loud. Um….Is it a cookbook? What do you fry?"

Exit cue.

I came back to Rehoboth to discover that while I was sitting on my butt trying to peddle books to homophobes and religious zealots, I'd sold 20 books here at home at Proud Bookstore. It's so nice to have a niche to come home to.

Next, I'm off to Giovanni's Room, a GLBT bookstore in Philly. I expect my experience there will be a welcoming one. While we can't always count on patrons or book buyers to be in good moods, if anybody is grumpy or gruff, at least I'm fairly certain nobody will be Billy Goat Gruff.

At least I hope not.
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Fay Jacobs is the publisher of A&M Books, a successor to the legendary Naiad Press and author of As I Lay Frying - a Rehoboth Beach Memoir (now in its third printing), Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach and the newest book, For Frying Out Loud - Rehoboth Beach Diaries.

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