The Critical Mass


chasingThat’s right. As best I can figure, sometime last month Chasing the Wind: The Humble, Epic Century of a Sailor, passed 1,000 in sales since it was published last May. That, for an independently published book, is pretty good. I was at a writer’s convention in January of 2012, and remember one of the speakers talking about how the average self-published book sells 45 copies.

My friend Ernie Coleman was always kind of dismissive of his life story. Married four times? Champion sailor on Lake Ontario? Ship sunk during World War II with the loss of more than 300 of his fellow sailors? Who cares? But people did care about all that. They always wanted to ask him about the Battle of Savo Island. He never talked about the war. “It’s in the book,” he’d say with a dismissive wave of his hand. But he went with me to a a lot of the book signings and readings. Near the end, after he’d had a heart attack that nearly killed him – actually, it did kill him, but the paramedics brought him back – Ernie was showing up with his oxygen tank in tow.

He didn’t go to the last reading, in February at the Central Public Library, because by then he really was dead. His heart gave out on Dec. 26, and he was 96. That was a very, very tough talk for me to get through.

I’m not surprised people have told me they like this skinny little book. I’m not surprised they loved Ernie, even though most people who read Chasing the Wind probably never met him.

I’ve always loved libraries. They’re an awesome part of the community. I used our library a lot when I was a kid growing up in a suburb of Cleveland. Even now, once every two or three weeks, I walk the couple of blocks from the office in downtown Rochester, hand the homeless guy a dollar, cross the Broad Street Bridge over the Genesee River, and duck into the Central Public Library for 45 minutes or an hour. I usually check out 10 CDs, the limit, and one or two books.

In January, I had forgotten the date of my upcoming talk and called up the library web site. I couldn’t find the listing right away, so I did a search for Chasing the Wind. Instead of the talk, up came a listing for copies of Chasing the Wind carried in the Monroe County Library System. I didn’t even know this: There were 13 copies of the book, two at the Central library, one at each of 11 branch libraries around the surrounding suburbs and towns and villages.

And more than half of them were checked out. It took my breath away.

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