Image by Douglas Coupland - 757 Seats
757 Seats

Los Angeles is the worst city for book tours. It just is, and there’s no clear reason. It’s not as if people there don’t read, because they buy like crazy. It’s just that everything’s so far away from everything else — all that usual Angelenos-and-their-cars stuff — but on top of that … The thing is, you’re never really sure why someone in L.A. is coming to a book event. It’s never to hear you read. It’s to see if you have good skin. Or if your voice is compatible with a new Web site and they want you to do a site promo (Hi, I’m Douglas Coupland and you’ve clicked onto hovercrafts-dot-com!) Or maybe they want to tell your fortune. Or maybe they want you to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with them. You always get the sensation that when you actually start to read, everybody’s eyes glaze over, as if you’re describing a dream you had the night before.

And L.A. loves to have book events in atypical spaces sponsored by local style magazines on the cusp of insolvency, claustrophobic events where the promoter dumps you in front of a mike with a bunch of semi-drunk people who are there to see if you’re short or tall, or if you’d make a good guest on Conan. At one reading at the University of California, Los Angeles, Westwood, around 6 p.m., we were all ready to go, and then somebody ran in and (à la the funeral scene in “The Day of the Locust”) shouted, “It’s the ‘Batman Returns’ premier next door — and Tom and Nicole are about to arrive! The place cleared out. I actually went to see Tom and Nicole, too. L.A. is about stars, not writers. Me versus Tom. Maeve Binchy versus Faye Dunaway. It’s a tough city, although there are exceptions. Six weeks ago I did a wonderful reading in Beverly Hills: smart crowd, great sound system, terrific book store, so you never know. L.A. is like Liz Taylor. You never know if she’s going to be random or professional.

I began doing bookstore readings in March of 1991, over 15 years ago. The very first was in a Waterstone’s (now defunct) on Copley Square in Boston. It was on the third floor, and the manager walked me through some aisles, up some stairs and suddenly, ding!, I was pushed out in front of a podium in front of 250 people, and it’s been my life ever since. I’ve done maybe 50 readings a year for 15 years. That’s 750 readings. Dear Lord.

A recent study reported that public speaking is the largest fear among Americans under 65. (For those over, the biggest fear is falling.) Through some happy accident of genetics, I have no fear of public speaking or doing book readings. Actually, being on a stage or in front of a mike doing a reading is almost the safest place on earth — you run the joint — it’s a control-freak fantasy! And not only that, for once you actually get to meet the people who read what you do. It’s a cliché but it’s true — writing is a lonely, lonely job. Without readings I’d have no idea why I do what I do, and nor would I have seen the world. Readings have taken me everywhere and it’s been a treat, it really has.

Once upon a time in a magical place called 1991 — a place where blogs were called diaries, I began documenting my life on the road in many forms — photos, collages, diaries — and part of my reason for being here at The New York Times this month is to finally offer my tales on the road a nice home. Let the tour begin!

Image by Douglas Coupland - 757 SeatsBBC - Manchester; Jet Engine 2, Schiphol Airport - Amsterdam

Seven Things I Hate About Hotels

    1. When you walk into the room, the radio is playing soothing music. While you attempt to turn it off, the radio accidentally presets to wake you at 4:30 a.m. with shrieking static.

    2. Electrical outlets 20 feet from the desk.

    3. No food or bad food after 11 p.m., even in the most expensive hotels, and then they act as if they’re doing you a big favor by handing you a Domino’s Pizza flier.

    4. Fruit plates cut and arranged by children. One fruit plate I ordered in St. Louis looked as if it had been chopped and arranged by Kimba the elephant.

    5. No clock. What are they thinking? This is a hotel room, not a Las Vegas casino.

    6. Paying for the Internet. Gouge, gouge, gouge … as if supplying a high-speed connection in the year 2006 is some big deal. Guests always remember getting dinged for that extra $12.95.

    7. Incompetent front-desk staff. Just get out of my way. Quit. Get fired. I hate you. Die.

Image by Douglas CouplandToppled Hotel Chair - Birmingham, UK
Image by Douglas CouplandCoin vorteces overlapped - Glasgow

Five Fun Secrets About Hotels

    1. Food on the kids’ menu is usually way better than the adult food. It’s cleaner and simpler, and hasn’t yet fallen prey to the annoying tendency of hotel chefs to coat everything with maple shavings and Gorgonzola drizzles.

    2. Before you check into a hotel in a new city, have someone phone ahead and tell them your name, in my case, Coupland, but also that Lord Coupland requires a special pillow (make up something like that). When you check in, everyone cranes his neck to see you, and for one brief moment you know what it feels like to be Prince Charles. I got a curtsy once. I felt awful about it.

    3. Bedspreads (aka protein residue containment systems) get dry-cleaned maybe twice a year, even in the best hotels. Fresh!

    4. People don’t steal towels just to get free towels. People take them to wrap up things they bought while staying at that hotel. It’s like buying a newspaper at a vending box. Theoretically you could take them all, but nobody ever does.

    5. Most hotels have an armoire-type thing where they stash the TV set. Next time you go into your hotel room, stand up on a chair and look on top of the armoire. When people are checking out of a room, it’s where they dump stuff they don’t want to take with them, but can’t throw away in case the maid finds it. Stuff that could get them arrested or cause them shame. Really harsh porn. Pot. Pills. Coins. Touristy things that people gave them that they don’t really want. It accumulates from one year to the next. In a Portland, Ore., hotel I once found a pile of Italian lire, three copies of Screw magazine and a $200 photography book inscribed, “To Dennis — without you I could never have conceived this book let alone have the courage to see it to its completion. I owe you everything, Diane.” The Dianes of this world usually get hosed, don’t they?

Image by Douglas Coupland
Image by Douglas Coupland
Image by Douglas Coupland
Image by Douglas Coupland