Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reflections on a 'Barefoot Book' Tour: An Interview with Author Daniel Howell

The biggest hubbub in the world of barefoot living lately has been the release of The Barefoot Book by L. Daniel Howell, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology at Liberty University in Virginia. Dr. Howell recently completed a book tour across the Eastern U.S.A. that covered 20 states in 21 days. I was interested in hearing how the book tour went, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions via email:

L. Daniel Howell, PhD
Thanks so much for being willing to answer these questions. First, as you chose locations for your book tour, how did management at those places first react to the idea of your book and barefoot lifestyle?
I did not actually talk to the “management” until I arrived at the venue as the arrangements were actually made by my publicist at Hunter House Publishers. I would have loved to have heard, however, the conversations between my publicist and the shoe stores I visited on the tour (Luke’s Locker in Dallas and Houston). Surprisingly, those shoe stores were the most successful events with respect to turnout and book sales.

You mentioned on your blog that the library in Columbus almost refused you because of your lack of shoes. Could you comment on those circumstances and what eventually happened?
Less than one hour before my presentation, my publicist received word that I was expected to wear shoes at the Upper Arlington Library in Ohio (which has a shoe rule). I had no shoes with me and so wore none to the library, but nothing was said to me when I arrived and I gave my presentation without incident.

Libraries and book stores are very low-risk places for bare feet to be. What reasoning did the various locations give you for requiring shoes of their patrons if they have such a policy?
The only place I visited with any mention of a shoe rule was the library in Ohio, however, they welcomed me barefoot when I arrived. After my presentation, my host mentioned the library’s shoe rule, but gave no reason for it. She confessed that libraries were relatively safe places for bare feet. I’m told that Barnes & Noble has a shoe rule (I don’t know this for sure), but no Barnes & Noble I visited on the tour – either as an author or as a customer – ever gave me any hassles for being barefoot. At each venue (except the library in Ohio), the management fully expected me to be barefoot! Indeed, the head librarian at the Emmet O’Neal Library outside Birmingham attended my event barefoot and commented that she often kicks her shoes off at the library. After my presentation she declared she would even start coming to work barefoot (leaving her shoes at home). I followed up with her on that and she indeed goes to work barefoot now.

If these establishments allowed you to be barefoot against their own rules, did they allow anyone else to come barefoot to your book signing or presentation?
A member of the SBL (Society for Barefoot Living) attended my talk (barefoot) at the Upper Arlington Library in Ohio without any problems. All other venues welcomed me barefoot as well as all customers/attendees.

Were you pleased with the volume of turnout for your book signings and presentations? What feedback did you get from those audiences about your book and barefoot lifestyle?
Overall I was pleased with the interest in my book (and barefooting). Interestingly, the bookstores were the worst venues with respect to turnout and the shoe stores were the best. I had 30-70 people attend the shoe store events and 25-40 attend most library events. At one bookstore no one at all showed up! That is the nature of book tours, however, so that was to be expected. Without doubt, the greatest interest in barefooting and barefoot running were in Texas and Arkansas. Those were the only states where media interest was high as well. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Any theories as to why those two states were more receptive to barefoot activities? The warmer climate in the south? A more relaxed social culture?
I really don’t know why Texas and Arkansas were so receptive. Of course, Arkansans have a reputation for going barefoot, but I do think the social attitudes are more relaxed in those states. I would’ve liked to visit the west coast for that reason; maybe I’ll do a west coast tour next summer.

What was the single most common thing you heard from people while on the tour?
People were most interested in how to safely start spending more time barefoot, especially running. Interestingly, people were not very concerned about the myths (health codes, etc.). I think most people want to increase barefoot time, but aren’t ready to push the social envelope yet (i.e., they’re not really planning on going out to dinner barefoot). Nonetheless, I’m confident that the more people go barefoot, even just at home or on a trail, the more socially acceptable barefooting will become.

Did you meet a lot of other barefooters? What was their feedback regarding your tour and the book?
I met a number of barefooters, most of them SBL members. In general, SBL members were the only ones to attend my presentations/signings barefoot. The only others to attend barefoot were those who ran barefoot with me following my presentation at Luke’s Locker in Dallas (we ran two miles, about 25 people ran, maybe half of them barefoot and most others in fivefingers) and the store employees at Left Bank Books in St. Louis. At least two employees of that bookstore were barefoot the entire time I was there; one became a self-proclaimed barefooter after reading my book. Also, the head librarian at Emmet O’Neal Library. The feedback I’ve received from barefooters has been very positive. In fact, I’ve not received any negative feedback from a barefooter, which I take as the greatest compliment of my work.

Were any of the locations willing to relax their permanent anti-barefoot policies after your presentation?
Except for the Upper Arlington Library, all the other venues appeared to be barefoot-friendly. I left a book with the librarian at Upper Arlington and asked her to read it and reconsider their shoe rule, but I have no idea what will come of that.

You mentioned on your blog that you had no shoes on the trip. So you stayed barefoot the entire tour? What reactions did you get from places you went outside the realms of the book signing locations (hotels, restaurants, other stores, etc.)?
I took no shoes at all on the tour; I was barefoot the entire time. I had only a few negative reactions to my bare feet while on the book tour. Three barefooters joined me at Jimmy Buffet’s restaurant outside Chicago following my presentation. The management first told us we would need to leave, but after some discussion they decided to let us stay. The only other reaction I got was in a grocery store in St. Louis. The management there was absolutely vitriolic; they would *not* discuss the legality or health benefits of barefooting and called security on me. (The store had a sign stating bare feet were prohibited by state law). I was told never to return to the establishment (Schnucks). During the 21 days I was on the road I visited many restaurants, stores, malls and markets without any problems at all. I had a particularly wonderful experience at one restaurant in Arkansas, as discussed on my blog.

About the Schnucks in St. Louis: Was their sole reason for refusing your bare feet the sign saying it was against state law or did you get any other impressions of their reasoning?
I think the “state law” sign at Schnucks merely reinforced the already-existing negative attitude towards going barefoot. The manager seriously reacted as if I were stark naked in her store. There would be no discussion of the law or anything else: ‘Get out and don’t come back’ was the only message she had for me. (Literally, that’s what she said.)

Tell us a bit about the TV interviews you did. Any interesting stories about those experiences?
I was honored to give three television interviews on the tour (one in Dallas and two in Little Rock); I also spoke with newspaper reporters in Dallas. THV anchor/reporter Stefanie Bryant was fascinated by the topic and so I gave her a book. I had to wake at 4am to be at the studio in time for the live morning show with Alyson Courtney. The TV interviews definitely boosted attendance at the book presentation & signing. Although the presentation was at lunch time on a Friday, the room was overflowing.

Howell on KTHV in Little Rock, Arkansas:

Now that you're back home and have had time to think about the tour, what do you take away from it? How do you feel about the prospects for your book and the barefoot community getting a "toe-hold" on changing people's negative perceptions of feet?
I am extremely optimistic about the future of barefooting in America. The success of (Christopher McDougall's book) Born To Run and the phenomenon of barefoot running have definitely opened the American mind to going shoeless. Everywhere I traveled people had already heard about the benefits of barefoot running. Already introduced to the idea that shoes are harmful when running, it’s not a big leap to conclude shoes are also harmful when walking and standing. Going barefoot is healthier and ‘greener’ than wearing shoes and Americans are all about healthy and green right now. I truly believe we will start to see more people going barefoot in the next few years and this will have a snowball effect (except perhaps in Missouri). ;-)

What's next for The Barefoot Book and for you? Any plans on writing another book about bare feet or foot health?
Although the tour is over, I will continue to do events for at least the coming year. Hunter House is committed to publicizing the book heavily for 12 months, and we will focus on what works and what we learned from the tour (for example, more shoe stores and running events). I am already scheduling speaking engagements at universities and medical schools. I have plans to meet with a large Korean news agency in September; that should be instrumental in promoting the book (and barefooting) to the Asian market. As for another book… we shall see. :-)

Blogger's Note: I am currently in the process of reading The Barefoot Book and can tell already that it will be a fantastic resource for advocating for bare feet. When I'm finished I will publish a full review here.

Did you get to see Dr. Howell on his book tour? Have you read The Barefoot Book? If so, what were your impressions. Overall, what's your perspective on the future of barefoot acceptance? Please leave your comments below.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Facebook Page

I've added a new way for my readers to receive content from me. Facebook users may now "Like" my new page at the 500-MILLION-user service. As I post new entries on my site, those posts will automatically be shared on the Facebook page.

More exciting than that will be the other stuff I share on Facebook. When I find interesting articles about barefooting, running, health or other topics, I'll be sharing them at the page as well. I'll try to post various photos of my barefooting adventures (as feasible), and we'll see what else I can come up with.

As this content is all posted to the page, it will also show up in Facebook users' timelines, meaning that they don't have to travel to my blog for new content. My content will conveniently show up where they already are.

To "Like" my new Facebook page and get a preview of it, check out the box below.

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