I’m a bit of an Ernest Shackleton nut. I never tire of accounts describing his polar exploits. I also feel like a kindred spirit, because few expeditions test your endurance and require that same indefatigable lust for discovery more than a book tour. Between the inclement weather (it never fails to storm when you’re touring), unpredictable food, uncertain outcome, and estrangement from friends and family, it feels like being stranded in Antarctica. I’ve contemplated numerous survival strategies, including but not limited to voodoo rites, prescription medications, and calling myself Elizabeth Gilbert, as I prepare for my upcoming tour. Gary Shteyngart advised me to travel with boxes of dark chocolate, but when I recalled Ann Patchett’s short story, “My Life in Sales,” I got an idea, which is how the quest for the little book-tour dress (LBTD) began.
The little black dress (LBD) has an almost mythical status among women. Audrey Hepburn in her Givenchy comes quickly to mind, but you can find fetching photographs of two of my favorite Dorises—Kearns Goodwin and Lessing—in their LBDs. I’ve always heard that the perfect LBD confers grace, style, and even confidence upon its wearer, while conveying those same attributes to the world at large. I’d like my book-tour dress to do all that and command respect, without being too elegant. The dress should be unique, or, as my grandmother liked to say, “something that you won’t see coming and going.” The LBTD needs to be appealing in both Nashville and Chicago, and must also be easily paired with sweaters, necklaces, scarves, or all three at once. Like Patchett in her early years, I really only have the room and the budget for one LBTD. Scratch that. At my age, it really shouldn’t be that little and it should be forgiving at the waistline, because there’s always the distinct possibility of the book tour 10.
My LBTD must serve as a form of female armor, boosting my morale during layovers as I brace myself for the chemically scented alienation and ego-crushing lighting of airport bathrooms. I also have a bar mitzvah to attend between Powell’s and Book Passage, so it can’t be too showy. I wouldn’t want to steal the bar mitzvah boy’s thunder. On top of all that, my fifth-grade boyfriend is planning to attend my reading in Portland, so that’s another feat this dress must pull off (so to speak). The encounter with an ex is one of the most challenging occasions to dress for, short of receiving the Nobel Prize, and let’s face it: it doesn’t matter what you wear to collect your Nobel, because no one at the ceremony will be wondering if you’ve done okay since you broke up with him in Mrs. Kramer’s math class—the whole world will know exactly how well you’re doing. And this dress better be sexy, because I’ve just learned that my former crush is happily married, and few things are more satisfying than the look of appreciation from someone you know will never see you in your Spanx. But then again, it can’t be too provocative, because there’s that bar mitzvah.
I braved several treks to the mall (which, in America, sadly, is tantamount to taking your life in your hands) and tried on dozens of shifts, suits, and saris before I found it—the perfect little book-tour dress. It was cut from light wool and showed just the right amount of cleavage. But it was also a Valentino and priced at twice my monthly mortgage payment...
I was wearied by my failure; like Shackleton, perhaps I had been too ambitious. I focused on my top priority: finding something that would move people to purchase my book, while providing comfort on the road. This allowed me to see the most irresistible book-tour wardrobe choice. My perfect little book tour dress is a blankey. Nothing says you need to buy this enervated traveler’s wares like seeing a grown woman wrapped in a blankey. It also happens to be easy to accessorize, and I just bet old Ernest would have killed for one on those long, lonely polar nights.