Best-selling author wows capacity crowd at Southside Baptist Church

Best-selling author wows capacity crowd at Southside Baptist Church
The line was long when more than 650 residents filed into Southside Baptist Church to attend an evening with New York Times best-selling author Amor Towles Sept. 17.

Every seat in the sanctuary – including the balcony – of Southside Baptist Church was filled to capacity as more than 650 avid readers came to hear New York Times best-selling author Amor Towles discuss his second book, A Gentleman in Moscow

The evening with Towles, whose debut novel is The Age of Civility, was sponsored by Desiree Bailey, owner of San Marco Bookstore. Bailey won the opportunity to have Towles visit her bookstore to speak and sign books after she entered a window-display contest sponsored by Penguin Books. Her bookstore was one of three in the United States selected to win a visit from the author as the grand prize. 

“I was just thrilled with the evening! Our planning paid off, and Mr. Towles was an eloquent and entertaining speaker. Good books, like A Gentleman in Moscow, have the power to bring people together, and I’m still amazed at the phenomenal response,” said Bailey, expressing her sorrow that it was necessary to turn people away two weeks prior to the event after 650 tickets were sold due to a limited amount of space in the church. 

Bailey’s display window consisted of a medley of different items representing elements within the story and included a typewriter, an accordion, film reels, wine bottles, suitcases, books read by the title character, Russian nesting dolls, fine China tea cups and saucers, and Hotel Metropol key fobs that Bailey designed herself. Several San Marco merchants assisted her with the display, including the owners of Town Hall, The Wardroom, and the San Marco Theatre.

“I entered this contest knowing that we are just a small independent bookstore in Jacksonville but hoping that our design would appeal to a larger audience,” she said, after learning she won the award. “To me, this window shows how books can both transport and connect people, because over the last few weeks, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing what people thought of the book and how they have encouraged others to read it.”

Having the display window shine from a small independent bookstore was what Towles had in mind when he and his Penguin Books publisher discussed launching the contest. “I wanted to go to an independent bookstore where I haven’t been, in a town where I haven’t seen a large group of people,” he told the audience. 

San Marco Books owner Desiree Bailey and Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow and The Age of Civility.
San Marco Books owner Desiree Bailey and Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow and The Age of Civility.

Penguin complied by sending him photos of the various displays from across the country, narrowing it down to the seven best out of 50, he said. “It was easy to pick the top three,” he added, noting that San Marco Bookstore’s display reminded him of a “Cabinet of Curiosity,” boxes or rooms filled with objects popular at the turn of the century that were precursors to modern museums. 

“I’m a Joseph Cornell guy. He is the 20th Century American artist who makes little boxes with collages and small objects inside. Perhaps you have seen them at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) or the Chicago Institute of Art. You can look at them for hours. I’ve found them fascinating since I was a little child,” he explained. “When I saw Desiree’s display I thought, ‘oh wow, this is so neat.’ She nailed it for me, and luckily I was on the (selection) committee.”

Plans are currently in the works to make A Gentleman in Moscow into a 16-hour miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh, Towles said. “I love his work. I think he’s terrific, and I’m glad he’s doing it.

“I was adamant it not become a feature film,” he continued. “There was a lot of interest in making a feature film, but I said we can’t do it. We started with a six-hour plan – Apple with its new streaming service is producing it – and they were like, six is not enough. We could go 12, 14, or 16. We will do the story of the novel in 16 hours. When and if it happens, that’s tough. With Hollywood you never know until the last minute, but they are writing the screenplay right now. Everyone is signed on contractually, so it should happen.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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