Lessons from an Eleven-City Book Tour


Arts & Culture


I learned that ravens are multicolored, like cockatoos, only their plumage radiates out far beyond what our spectrum can see.

I learned that the waxing moon sliver comes in the shape of a comma, hinting at more to come.

I learned Lou Reed has an incredibly firm handshake.

I learned that Mexicans are stealing the pot from American farms as they work to gain an edge over Canadian weed, or something like that, it’s hard to remember because both the Homeland Security guy and I were drunk when he was telling it all to me.

I learned that during author Q&As you can tell in just one question whether the person asking the question is actually sane or not.

I learned that everyone in Washington, D.C., has a story about a spy. A true story, but one they don’t tell very often.

I learned that watching Orange Is the New Black in your hotel room is an absolutely fine way to spend an afternoon on the road.

I learned that s’mores can be improved with Reese’s.

I learned that my previous understanding of the geography of Portland, Oregon, was utterly backwards.

I learned selling a book is nothing like selling a car, it’s more like selling an artisanal cheese, one that no one has ever tasted before.

I learned that, thanks to a regimen of Pilates and long-distance running, my high-school girlfriend is still very beautiful.

I learned that they moved the Elliot Bay Book Store in Seattle. It’s not down near the water anymore, so don’t walk to that location because it’s not there.

I learned that TSA employees don’t like to make eye contact with you when they’re patting you down, especially when they’re working around the groin.

I learned that the museum guard at the Milwaukee Art Museum is changing his strategy for buying lottery tickets, he’s just going to stick with the same numbers for a few months and see what happens.

I learned that the legendary Hiawatha, the train running between Milwaukee and Chicago, is better in every measurable way than flying.

I learned that the names we have for Native American tribes were not their actual names but rather came from the enemy tribes who pointed us their way. Apache means “enemy.”

I learned that gambling is illegal on a Chicago L train.

I learned that buckwheat has toxins in its roots that kill off neighboring plants.

I learned that leaving on an eggshell-blue-sky morning is a fine way to end a story, so long as you’re heading home.

Toby Barlow is the author of Babayaga.