‘Tale’ reading project reaches the finish line in Perry

Sunday, March 14, 2010 Published only on www.thedailynewsonline.com
By Ben Beagle, bbeagle@batavianews.com

PERRY – Author Garth Stein wrapped up the most successful “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project Saturday afternoon at Perry Elementary/Middle School.

Record audiences at all four talks and booksignings listened as Stein talked about the sometimes frustrating journey his best-selling novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” took from an idea more than a decade ago top the top of best-seller lists. He was an engaging speaker, peppering his programs with stories about his family and others’ reactions to a story narrated by a dog.

“It was amazing. He really reached out and connected to the audience,” said Lorie Ames of Perry, who began reading the book because she liked the title and seeing the dog-in-profile on the hardcover version of the book. “He has a passion for what he does, but he also shared a passion to hear our reactions.”

Stein’s author visits, which began Thursday, proved to be the most popular in the eight years that the Tale project has been introducing up-and-coming writers to readers in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
This year, nearly 600 people attended the author talks and booksignings. Saturday’s program, hosted at the school by Perry Public Library, attracted 103 people, while 152 people attended Friday’s program in Medina. The Perry and Medina programs were double the numbers that those talks have traditionally drawn.

Earlier programs in Batavia resulted in a standing-room only crowd of nearly 200 at Richmond Memorial Library and more than 150 at Genesee Community College.

A strong turnout was expected based on the book’s popularity among local readers. The title was constantly circulating among area libraries, and discussion groups were seeing newcomers join regulars for this year’s Tale title.

Still, the record attendance exceeded expectations, said Leslie DeLooze, the reference librarian at Richmond Library who started Tale in 2003.

“I learned something really big this year,” DeLooze said. “In the past we’ve always been hesitant to pick a bestseller because we want to introduce an author to readers. But so many people said they wouldn’t have read this book if it wasn’t for Tale. So even though it was already a bestseller there is a lot of potential readers out there.”

In Perry, Stein eschewed the podium, working his way around the stage in his laceless Chuck Taylor All-Stars, black sport coat and purple dress shirt, for an animated presentation that lasted about two hours.

He read part of three chapters that introduced Enzo, revealed the dog’s early relationship with Eve, and his high-speed ride around the racetrack with his owner, Denny Swift.

Stein also answered several questions about the movie adaptation that is in development with Patrick Dempsey as both producer and star. Stein is not involved in the film.

“For me to turn the book into a film script, it might as well be a hiaku,” Stein said. “I hope they do a good job.”

He’s been told filming is “one good draft of a screenplay from starting” which he takes as a hopeful sign, but cautions “we’re still a long way from a big bowl of popcorn.”

Debbie Kerr Rosenbeck of Batavia attended a Thursday program in Batavia, then returned with her husband — who had purchased a copy of “The Art of Racing in the Rain” before it had been announced as this year’s Tale selection while the couple had been traveling in Haliburton, Ontario — to the Perry event.

Kerr Rosenbeck said she was impressed by Stein’s presence on stage.

“Garth was such an eloquent speaker and so comfortable on stage and down to earth,” she said. “It’s a quality that, for someone who shuts himself in a room and writes, I wasn’t expecting.”

Humor dominated each of the talks, but Stein left Perry audiences with a poignant story. It was about the day he received his first copy of “The Art of Racing in the Rain” — the same heavily notated copy with colorful tabs that he carried with him throughout his “Tale” visits.

Stein explained that just as Enzo bonded most with Denny in the novel’s fictional family, his own family dog growing up connected most with his father. As Muggs got older his health suffered and his hips – like Enzo – left the dog in pain and made it difficult to get around.

One day, Stein recalled, his father came home in a suit, picked up Muggs and went away. His father returned, without Muggs.

“He never spoke about it,” Stein said. “But when he got home, he took a black plastic bag and began putting all of Muggs’ things away.”

Decades later, Stein’s parents were visiting in Seattle on the day the author received his first copy of “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” He showed it to his father, who looked the outside of the book over before opening up.

“When he saw the dedication” — “To Muggs” –, Stein said, “he started to cry.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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