Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Being Henry David Blog Tour

Today kicks off the Being Henry David Blog Tour and I'm pleased to host Cal Armistead here for with a guest post, review, and giveaway. If you visit my blog regularly, you may know that I love to share independent bookstores every chance I get. So I when I found out that Cal works at an indie bookstore (when she isn't writing), I asked her to share her experience. She did and I admit, I'm a little jealous - to be surrounded by books and book lovers - sounds like the ideal job to me.  

Welcome Cal Armistead!

Thank you so much, Actin’ Up With Books, for inviting me to visit your blog and write about what it’s like to work at a small independent bookstore.

First, introductions:  I’m Cal Armistead, and my debut young adult novel, Being Henry David, will be officially released by Albert Whitman & Company on March 1st (but you can probably find it in your favorite store now!) 

   I’m also a bookseller at Willow Books & CafĂ© in Acton, Massachusetts. Talk about the perfect job for a writer.  I mean, books, avid reader/customers, fun co-workers, free coffee, plus an employee discount?  It doesn’t get much better than that.  

At Willow Books, I spend blissful hours shelving new releases, recommending books, writing the weekly newsletter, and chatting about books (and life) with a staff of incredibly smart, funny people. And while working at a bookstore is not the most lucrative career move, it has its perks.  Getting my hands on new books before they hit the shelves, that’s one.  Turning customers on to an author they will ultimately love, that’s another.  And then there’s watching small children who can barely see over the counter buy their first books with handfuls of coins, and older kids whose eyes light up when they discover we have the latest book in the series they adore.  The grown-up reader kids come in too, with that same aura of excited anticipation.   There’s something so gratifying about ringing up a book, tucking in a bookmark, and knowing the person in front of me will soon be immersed in a magical world that exists only on the book’s pages and within the imagination. Did I mention I love my job?

Granted, independent bookstores like mine are struggling these days, closing their doors as people turn to e-books and Amazon.  For the record, big stores like Barnes & Noble are not the enemy—we want them to succeed too, to prove that printed books and real bricks-and-mortar stores can survive.  Otherwise, the world of books will be relegated to on-line shopping and warehouses.  No more bookstore browsing.  How sad would that be??

Anyway, the nice thing is, people come in to our store every day and say, “I’m so glad you’re still here.”  They know we’re a vanishing breed, and they give us lots of love.  And in order to stay alive, the bookstore owner has added a used book section (recycling at its best), and non-book items like toys, games, gift items, chocolate, and slippers.  (Slippers at a bookstore?  Uh-huh.  Whatever it takes.  And they’re really comfy, too.) 

The best thing about being an author working at an independent bookstore is this: the Launch Party!  On March 3rd, they’re throwing a big bash at the store—for me!  (For more information visit their website at www.willowbooks.com.) We’re inviting everybody we can think of, heavily promoting the event in local media as well as our newsletter (which I just happen to write…cough), and my coworker Karen says she’s going to devote a whole front window display to my book, Thoreau, and me.  Now that’s just plain amazing. 

So to sum up, small, local independent bookstores are the best.  Show them love.  Support yours.  And thanks for reading my guest blog!

Being Henry David 
by Cal Armistead
Published by Albert Whitman Teen
Available: March 1, 2013


Seventeen-year-old "Hank" has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything --who he is, where he came from, why he's running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or "Hank" and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of--Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead's remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.

My Thoughts 
Being Henry David is one of those books that grabs a hold of you from the very first sentence: "The last thing I remember is now" and makes you realize that something significant is about to happen. Henry David, aka Hank, wakes up in a train station not knowing who he is or how he got there. He's alone, almost penniless, and has an aching gash on his head. It was easy to speculate what happened to him. He might have been homeless. He could've been mugged. He might have been on drugs. But like Hank, you just don't know how he came to be there and discovering what happened to him as he discovers what happened is what makes this story interesting. 

The story begins in New York City -fast-paced and chaotic - where Hank runs into a lot of new people, but no one who knows who he is. Hank gets into some trouble, meets some shady people, and begins to question what could have happened in his life to bring him to this moment. He questions if he is a good person when the rage he experiences comes so naturally. We never really know if he is someone we should be rooting for. Is he the bad guy? I didn't want to think so. I mean, would a bad guy carry around a copy of Walden?

Once Hank reaches Walden Pond, his mind gets to settle down and he tries figure out his past. Like Thoreau who left for Walden Pond, he hopes to discover some answers and find some peace. But that doesn't happen. One of my favorites lines is from when Hank reconsiders leaving the train station in New York for the cold wilderness of Walden Pond:
"I hate Thoreau for luring me here and making me think that by coming here, I might actually figure out who I am." (page 80)
Hank realizes there must be a reason why can't remember and he is exhausted from trying to remember. So instead, he embraces his new identity as Hank and begins to live, to quote Thoreau, "deliberately." And it is then that he begins to remember.

I really enjoyed reading Being Henry David because it kept me guessing and curious and entertained. The passages from Thoreau's Walden were a great contribution to the story because, while often left up to interpretation, they helped Hank figure out who he was and who he wanted to be. 

A little side note: There were several passages that I read which I thought were Walt Whitman and not Thoreau and I felt somewhat shameful and not a good scholar of American Literature. 

The Giveaway

one signed copy of Being Henry David
U.S./Canada Addresses Only 
must be 16 or older to enter
to enter, fill out Rafflecopter below

 Tomorrow's Tour Stop
The Cozy Reading Corner
Interview and Giveaway

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