Better Than Beer Bongs: An Interview with Jamie Ford

New York Times bestselling author Jamie Ford

New York Times bestselling author Jamie Ford

Author Jamie Ford has become well-known in literary circles for his New York Times bestselling novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which is a popular choice with many book clubs, common reads, and all campus reads programs around the country. This September, you’ll have another reason to pay attention to him. His second novel, Songs of Willow Frost, will be published on September 10, 2013.

Any idea how many Community/All Campus Reads type events you’ve done over the years?

More than I can count. Let’s just say I have enough frequent flyer miles for a round-trip ticket to Mars. Delta flies there, right?

What do you like about the Campus/Freshman Class Reads structure as a literary event format? Any thoughts on how they could be more effective?

I think any shared experience aimed at college freshmen that doesn’t involve hazing or beer bongs is a grand idea. And college events are unique in that the students at that age are still searching for self-definition, so how they internalize fiction and react to certain themes always prompts very interesting discussions. Plus there are no Sparknotes for my books, so the students actually have to read the darn things.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet has been a popular common reads selection around the country. What are some of your favorite and standout experiences at these events?

Wow, where do I begin? The first thing that came to my mind was an event at Villanova where the entire campus menu for the day I was there was taken from food mentioned in HOTEL. Their culinary arts students did an amazing job – they even made dragon’s beard candy, which is incredibly hard to make. Another event in Texas had a huge crowd, more than 1500 people, and I was assigned a state patrol officer for protection – against what? Maybe they were expecting a book club rumble of some kind.

Oh, and speaking of law enforcement, I did a common read at Coyote Ridge Prison, where a hulking, bald, tattooed man read the book and had all kinds of metaphorical insights to the symbolism of the flower in HOTEL. Who knew?

In your opinion, why does Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet work so well for school and community reading programs?

Hmmm…well, it’s multicultural, which dovetails into the changing American demographic. It’s also historical, so for some the book is more than a guilty pleasure (but really, no one should ever feel guilty about reading). Then my stories tend to have young protagonists, which seem to be more interesting to school-age readers. Oh, and it’s G-rated, so no murder, masturbation, mayhem, etc. That’ll be in the sequel.

As a common read selection, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet includes a wide variety of discussion topics and themes, ranging from US internment camps for Japanese-Americans during WWII to the power that memories can exert over us. Authors sometimes discover that their readers find ideas, coincidences, depths, and meanings to the story that the author didn’t consciously include. Has that ever happened to you? If so, what were they?

It happens all the time and I love it. One favorite moment was when I was at UCONN and someone asked about why I ended HOTEL the way I did. One of the music professors was in the audience and he stood up and mentioned that classic jazz always ends on an open chord and since there was so much jazz in the book, naturally I’d end the story on an open note. I thought to myself, “That’s brilliant, I’ll use that for my answer next time!”

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