Thursday, June 3, 2010

In Which I Explain Why I am a Simpleton

by Bill

This week's questions is, "What book surprised you recently?"

Is it okay if I say Day One? I know I wrote it and all, but isn't the point of this to be all about me me me?


But I don't want to be a total narcissist, even though Day One just came out two days ago (does that make this Day Three?) and I want a billion people to buy it.

Anyway, yeah, Harry Potter, watch out. I'm coming for ya.

So, a book that isn't by me me me which surprised me me meee?

Well, there's Watership Down. When I was in seventh grade, I resisted buying Watership Down from the Scholastic Book Service flyer three months in a row because the description used the phrase, "…that's right, super rabbits."

Allow me to repeat that phrase, so it might sink in: "…that's right, super rabbits."

Though the acronym WTF wouldn't exist for decades, my response to the idea of super rabbits was definitely in the WTF category. So why did I end up buying it? Well, because damned if Scholastic didn't feature it in flyer after flyer after flyer. And that cover was so, well, fascinating. And the title. Watership Down? What's a watership? And where does it go down? And, damn it, how are super rabbits involved?

So, yeah, I ordered it, and it came in, and the back cover didn't mention super rabbits at all, which was either a good thing or a bad thing depending on one's expectations. As it happened, it was kind of a bad thing for me, because even though super rabbits were WTF, I'd come around to the idea. (Do they drive the watership? Is it just a boat, or what?)

So I set the book aside, and read Doc Savage and Nero Wolfe instead. But every now and then, I'd notice it on the shelf in my room, and I'd feel marginally curious. Somewhere in there I read Robert Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, and was like, Whoa. Time travel. Man, that is so cool. So when I finally picked up Watership Down and read the first line, "The primroses were over," I thought, "WTF is a primrose?" And then I did what many of us do: I turned to the last page and read the last sentence, which ends, "…the primroses were just beginning to bloom."

Naturally, from that, I concluded Watership Down was a time travel book! Featuring super rabbits!

Fuck, yeah!

Yes, I was a simpleton at age twelve, a condition I still struggle with.

Turns out Watership Down really surprised me. Not only was it not a time travel novel, the rabbits were just, well, rabbits. And "Watership" was some kind of place name, and a down turned out to be … a hill. (Fun Fact: the actual Watership Down is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber.)

Of course, Watership Down also turned out to be one of my all-time favorite books, a fabulous tale of adventure with wonderful characters populating a rich, fascinating world. I have re-read this book dozens of times. At age twelve, I read it at least half a dozen times in a row, because I loved it so much I couldn't stand to have it end. The primroses would just begin to bloom, and I'd flip back to the front and they would be over. But Hazel and the others would be starting out together all over again.

Now, I know the question of the week is "What book surprised you recently?" Thirty-five years ago is maybe recent in geologic terms, but surely I've read a few surprising books since then. Of course, I have, but I decided to write about Watership Down because think about the circuitous route I followed from awareness to actually reading the book.
Pretty cover > super rabbits > WTF > no, thanks > still, cool cover > watership? > down where? > in the flyer again? > no, seriously, super rabbits? > still, cool cover > rabbits piloting the ship? > WTF > still > okay, what the hell > wait, NO super rabbits? > dissonance > Heinlein > time travel > primroses > time travel! > holy crap, this far better than I ever could have imagined.
I guess what that proves is sometimes even crappy marketing works. (Seriously, Scholastic—super rabbits?)

By the way, have I mentioned the Day One release?

Speaking of being a total narcissist (I'm feeling rather free associatey today) on Tuesday I posted one million videos on YouTube, all of myself answering questions people asked me on Twitter. Actually there are only 18 videos, but that's still a lot of just me talking. Anyway, you can go watch them if you want, though I should warn you at least one person described them as "snoozers" and a whole bunch of people quit following me on Twitter after I announced the eighteen uploads.

Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

(Note: though June 1 was the official release date, I understand actual books are currently en route to Consortium, thence to be distributed to your favorite bookstore and/or other retailer. So it might be a few days before actual books appear in the wild.)


Meredith Cole said...

Happy launch day (a couple days late). I hope "Day One" flies off the shelves (and I'm sure it will, if it's anything like your witty blog posts).

My dirty little secret: I never got past the primroses in Watership Down -- and I even had a rabbit as a pet. Perhaps I should try again...

Becky LeJeune said...

Ah, Bill, you crack me up! I'll be looking for Day One at my locals. As for Watership Down, I was scarred for life as a young child after seeing the animated movie. Bloody rabbits = not good for single digit aged children.

Linda G. said...

I am embarrassed to admit I've never read Watership Down. Mainly because my older brother read it and loved it as a kid, and he had deplorable taste in books.

So, if I have to decide between Watership Down and Day One, which one should I read first?

Bill Cameron said...

Thanks, Meredith! Fingers crossed!

As for Watership Down, well, you know, it is an old-fashioned story in that it builds slowly. We've become readers for whom the first sentence, the first paragraph, or — maybe — the first couple of pages are make or break. It's understandable. There's so much to read and, honestly, lots of stuff which starts slowly never gains any momentum. Why suffer needlessly when the next book on the stack may be more compelling?

Richard Adams took his time with Watership Down, which means we need to be a bit more patient. I think it's more than worth it. My recommendation is to give it five or six chapters. If it's not working for you by then, well, the TBR pile is waiting!

Bill Cameron said...

Becky, well, yes. That movie. Actually not a bad adaptation, but by being so realistic it actually lost that mythic quality the book had. Alas!

Linda, well, obviously Watership Down. Sounds like your brother was the broken clock of the reading world: right twice a day. Or something. Anyway, whatever else he liked, Watership Down is magic.

Sophie Littlefield said...

big big congratulations!! I am so proud of you BC!!! And that was a great post as always. Your summary there ought to be used in every high school English class in the country. Nay, in the world. And also given to every acquisitions meeting and marketing department to ponder.

My dad read Watership Down to me, my brother and my sister. It took a while, but it may have been the most important hours he ever spent with us. Also Sword In The Stone. I swear this is true: my dad still refers to those book when he wants to confer important life lessons.

Bill Cameron said...

OMG, Sophie, The Sword in the Stone. I LOVED that too! T.H. White! The entire Once and Future King. I totally agree they are life lessons books.


Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Bill, you are something else! (And that's a very good thing.)
I will look for "Day One." We can't have you crying and begging and such.
Best of luck!

Giggles and Guns

Shane Gericke said...

I went to your faboo movies, and they are faboo even though I can't hear them cause I'm at Panera Bread and it's loud and MacBook speakers SUCK but I can see you in a hat with mirror-image writing and so I know your movie's cool. Big Bill Bonus: YouTube recommends, based on your movie, two other videos: Retarded Policeman # 15: Assburgers Syndrome, and 15-minute Abs Workout.

Film festival!!!

Can't wait to find DAY ONE on day five or six at my favorite local bookseller near me ...

Big congrats on the release. That's very good news for all of us who love good books.

Terry Stonecrop said...

OK, I'll feed your narcissism. Day One has lots of surprises and in a good way. The way you wrote it still surprises me, that you were able to pull it off. I won't spoil it for everyone else by saying any more.

Anyway, I'm sure it will sell. I have friends asking to borrrow it. But since it's a special promo copy and I don't want to lose it - not that my friends are thieves or anything - I told them to go buy their own.

Best of luck with it!

Mysti Lou said...

Yay! Day One is out!

I avoided Watership Down because I thought it was about Uber Rabbits + a kind of Lord of the Flies, it seemed a bit like torture porn before there was torture porn.

Lest I begin to sound like one of those readers who won't pick up a book that kills a dog (halfway through Slow Fire and SO WORRIED about protag's dog!), rest assured, I know these quirks limit me as a reader and a writer, and I'm working on them.

Bill, seriously cannot wait to read Day One!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Loved Watership Down! I can't remember much except 1) I love it 2) I cried. And something about a scene in a ipe? Must get my memory checked.

I tweeted about DAY ONE, so, you know, all 386 of my followers know, if they happened to be reading during the 4 minute tweet lifespan.

CONGRATS, BILL!!! (hope that lasts longer than 4 minutes0

Bill Cameron said...

I've fallen behind!

Maribeth, sadly, I will be crying and begging anyway. It is my way. ;) Thank you for giving Day One a look!

Shane, Assburger's Syndrome is exactly what I suffer from. In fact, what's for lunch?

Terry, thank you. My narcissism is sated . . . for now! I'm glad you enjoyed Day One, and I hope all your friends buy their own copy! :)

Mysti, no bunnies or other critters were harmed in the making of Day One, though no comment on the human characters. And, hey, nothing wrong with quirks. If there were, oh my, I'd be in trouble.

Thanks, Beck! I saw your tweet, from both of your selves! That's 8 whole minutes!

Kelli Stanley said...

Ah, Bill-Bill, how I loved Watership Down ... and I read it when I lived in the hinterlands (you know, 40 acres, mountain top, no electricity, etc. etc., so I used to see wild rabbits on a daily basis.

In a strange way, the book reminds me a little of Brave New World, except less dystopian ...

And let's hear it for T.H. White!! I devoured The Once and Future King and have long since been a geek for all things Arthurian. I remember the passage about man's cruelty to fellow creatures in The Book of Merlin ... it made me never want to eat shell-fish again ...

I'm heading to M is for Mystery today, and will let you know if DAY ONE is on the shelves!! :)


Gabi said...

You were twelve when you realized you were a simpleton? Hmmm.

I posted a picture (stolen) of your cover on my Facebook page with the time and place of your Seattle Mystery Bookshop signing. I hope to be there in person to mock you, you, you.