What If You Threw a Book Launch — And Everybody Came?

A room full of empty chairs at Book Passage bookstore, California, awaits Barbara Falconer Newhall's book launch for "Wrestling with God." Photo by Jon Newhall

A room full of empty chairs greeted me at Book Passage. Cerridwen Fallingstar, who would be reading from “Wrestling with God,” was there with her mother. But would anyone else come? Photo by Jon Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Was anyone going to show up? My book launch at Book Passage in Marin county would be starting in a few minutes, and there were rows and rows of empty chairs, waiting to be filled.

Barbara Falconer Newhall's book, "Wrestling with God," is shelved for her book launch in the spirituality section of the Book Passage book store in Marin county, California. Photo by Barbara Newhall

There it is, three copies of my book on the second shelf from the bottom, just to the left of one by the wonderful Henry Nouwen. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The cheese platter was laid out. The wine was uncorked. And I’d practiced my little speech and the reading from Wrestling with God that I planned to do.

(I had decided to go for laughs. I would read the story about the atheist who wanted God to participate in a scientific experiment. Also the story about the Buddhist monk who tried way too hard to attain enlightenment.)

Cerridwen Fallingstar was there in the store. She’s the Wiccan priestess whose story is also included in my book. She’d be reading from her passage. But what if nobody else came? What if we have the cheese platter and the wine, and the books stacked by the cash register — and only a couple of people show up?

I’m not the only author who lives in fear of arriving at a carefully planned author event only to find that just a handful of people have come to see them. Many big publishers have stopped sending their authors on tour, partly because all that expensive travel doesn’t necessarily pay off, and partly because they don’t want their authors humiliated by a miniscule turn-out.

But on April 11, people came. They really did. And it was amazing. People turned up for this book launch from all parts of my life — college friends who still call me Barbie, three of Jon’s Marin county cousins, some writing group buddies who’ve read parts of this book many times over, a San Francisco Chronicle colleague that I don’t see nearly enough of. And people I just plain don’t know. It was magical.

Thanks, everybody. It meant a lot to me to spend the evening with you.

Another book party for Wrestling with God is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, at A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 La Salle Ave, Oakland, California. Come join us. There will be more wine and more cheese. We’ll celebrate.

The audience of about 40 people at Barbara Falconer Newhall's book launch for "Wrestling wiht God" on april 11, 2015, at Book Passage bookstore. Photo by Jon Newhall

Lots of people came to the book launch — some I knew and some I didn’t. Photo by Jon Newhall

Barbara Falconer Newhall and Cerridwen Fallingstar read from Newhall's book "Wrestling with God" at Book Passage bookstore book launch. Photo by Jon Newhall

Cerridwen read from her passage in the book. Photo by Jon Newhall



  1. Will Philipp says:

    Congrats on such a successful event, Barbara—wish I could have been there! Any Washington appearances? A big HELLO to Jon ! Katherine & I still need to order the book & wrestle a bit! My Jesuit education—all those theology courses!—-make me a ‘wrestler’ extraordinaire**** Cheers, Will

    • Will, I’d love to hear how my book squares with your Jesuit education. I’m not a theologian. Except, of course, like everybody else, I am — we all have to settle on some kind of world view, some somewhat coherent set of assumptions about the nature of things, just to get through the day.

  2. Oh how I wish I could have been there (we were pre-committed to a concert, go figure.) So glad the crowd turned out for your wonderful book!

  3. Really awesome event! I wish I could have been there.

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