World of Words: Readings in parking lot country

With the simple tools of a canopy, lectern and public announcement system, six authors have banded together to create a Friday night reading program where none exists – in two parking slots outside the Whitehorse Coles on Chilkoot Way.

The eight-week series is aimed at giving campers in the surrounding big box parking lot a taste of Yukon literature. Michael Gates and I read at the first time slot on July 8.

“I used to do this kind of thing when the caravans would pull in to Johnson’s Crossing Lodge,” says Ellen Davignon, author of the recently re-released Cinnamon Mine.

“Visitors loved hearing the stories about the early days of the Alaska Highway.”

“It’s one thing to write a book, but it’s up to us authors to reach out and let the public know we’re here,” adds Gates, who wrote History Hunting in the Yukon.

Aside from the parking slots, Coles provides sales support and in-store advertising. The reading roster is drawn from the names that fill the new Yukon book section in prime front-of-store footage near the entrance.

Customer demand motivated store manager Jackson Lyttle to approach his superiors at Coles’ parent company, Indigo, about the display. Lyttle sees customer traffic rise by 50 per cent during summer.

“Many of those are motorhome travellers looking for Yukon books for themselves or as gifts,” he says.

I was inspired to co-ordinate the event by the volume of highway tourism in the Yukon, which means a different audience each week.

The variety of readers lined up means visitors, whether travelling up or down the Highway, will be introduced to new material even if they stop both when coming and going.

Last summer, I ran an abbreviated reading series with From Ice to Ashes. The RV campers seemed almost flattered to be invited to a local event.

The 2011 reading series includes self-published works, such as Bob Hayes’Wolves of the Yukon. Hayes took advantage of the self-publication distribution that Coles offers as part of its mandate to stock only Canadian publications, regardless of the form.

The readings are a perfect venue for e-book authors, too. Coles is the only bookstore in town that sells e-books and Kobo readers, both of which appeal to readers on the road.

Lyttle has seen how e-readers support print reading. “I’ve had customers looking for paper books because of a NY Times review they found on their e-reader.”

The Parking Lot Readers hope to give visitors a unique book experience, and to make it easy for them to find local authors.

This year, readings happen every Friday until August 26 at 7 pm. On July 15 David Neufeld will read from The Chilkoot Trail and provide information about the 100th anniversary of Parks Canada. Davignon takes the podium on July 22, followed by Bob Hayes and David Thompson, author of Talking at the Woodpile, on July 29.

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