Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Lowboy

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Lowboy

by John Wray

Lowboy by John Wray
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Derek Brown

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About the Author
John Wray was born in Washington D.C in 1971 to an American father and Austrian mother. His first novel, The Right Hand of Sleep won him a Whiting Writer's Award at age 30, an honor bestowed upon such notables as David Foster Wallace and William Vollmann. His second novel, Canaan's Tongue, earned him a position on the list of Granta's best novelists under 35. In addition to his writing, John Wray was also the front man of Marmalade, a Brooklyn-based pop band that released an album, Beautiful Soup, in 2003. Wray wrote most of the first draft of Lowboy while riding back and forth on various NYC subway trains - about five days a week for six months, in his estimation.

A Precarious Publicist
The talented John Wray has proven that his creativity is not limited to the printed word. In lieu of a traditional bookstore reading, Wray boarded the Brooklyn-bound L-train with a megaphone and video camera in tow, and proceeded to read segments of Lowboy aloud to a mix of fans and casual passengers. The "guests" got off at Bedford Avenue, and headed en masse to a bar for beer and music. He also filmed a video of subway passengers reading aloud from the book.

After the publication of Canaan's Tongue in 2005, Wray embarked on a 600-mile raft tour on the Mississippi River. It started with a $5,200 check from Knopf, and four stops and two weeks later, the homemade barge, consisting of Home Depot lumber, barrels from New Jersey, and a 15-horsepower outboard, made port in New Orleans. The crew consisted of two friends, a photographer, and, of course, the trailblazer himself. One, a merchant marine and open water veteran known for his usual outings as a yacht captain for the well-to-do, was the skipper. Another was an antique book dealer from Brooklyn and personal friend of the author. The third crewmember was a New York Times photographer that provided some interesting photographs of the expedition. Though the publicity stunt seemed to garner very little remuneration, it nonetheless was an original attempt at shattering an area of publishing that has become rather lackluster.

Regardless of the turnout at a local bookstore along the Mississippi or winning over a crowd of indifferent passengers, John Wray's promotional ventures have breathed new life into the stodgy business of book sales, and I, for one, was quite taken by his attempts and intend to purchase his first two books not only because of his bravado but because his writing is just that good.

Article by Derek Brown

This article was originally published in April 2009, and has been updated for the February 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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