I could not be more excited and eager for the upcoming launch of SISI: Empress On Her Own. As I look ahead to the release, one memory stands out in particular. It was a mid-winter blizzard in Chicago, a week after the publication of The Accidental Empress. As I clutched the steering wheel of my car, sliding through windswept snow to The Book Stall, one of Chicago’s iconic independent bookstores, I lamented the fact that there would probably be a very small gathering at the store (heck, I might have even decided against going!).
When I arrived at the well-lit, cozy bookstore, I was heartened to see a crowd assembled. In the front row sat an elderly woman holding old newspaper clippings. I introduced myself and she told me, through a thick accent, that she was in her 90’s. She was from Hungary originally, and she’d grown up hearing stories of her beloved Sisi before fleeing the communist regime. She told me about her experience escaping from behind the Iron Curtain. She told me about how she had met her husband, a fellow Hungarian refugee, during that harrowing flight. She told me about her life in America and her work as an engineer. She told me that she had heard about my talk on the radio and had been eager to hear about a character she’d known and loved from her childhood. And so she’d come, undaunted by the less-than-favorable weather.
How can I put into words how touched and honored I was by this experience? How humbled I was that this woman had come, thinking she’d listen to my talk and learn something from me, when in fact, it was I who had learned so much from her?
It is the independent bookstore that enables and facilitates these deeply personal moments with readers. It is the independent bookseller who brings books to readers in an intimate setting. In this world in which so much is impersonal and detached and hidden behind various layers of screens, the independent bookstore remains a bastion for sharing the love of books on such a personal and meaningful level. Thank you for what you do for all of us who love and cherish books. For all of us who savor the opportunity to come together as a community to share our enthusiasm and passion for them in a way to connect us to each other just a little bit more. Thank you for being invaluable partners in my upcoming launch of SISI: Empress On Her Own.