Ernest Thompson will be stopping by New Dominion Bookshop to share the adventures of a father, a son — and an Oscar.
The Academy Award-winning author of the play "On Golden Pond" will read selections from his new novel, "The Book of Maps," which came out in October. He also plans to bring along the iconic statuette that everyone asks him about. Generous with his stories and his time, Thompson has learned over the years that clutching his trophy tightly isn’t nearly as much fun as watching people’s faces when he hands it to them.
"I take my Oscar with me. I let people take pictures with it, and with me," Thompson said. People can’t resist being curious about the award, and Thompson enjoys giving them a chance to "dream the dream for the two minutes they get to hold it," he said warmly.
He said people usually are surprised to discover how heavy the statuette is. Because he shares moments of movie magic, it’s not as shiny as the ones handed out during the awards ceremony telecast. Its luster comes from a democratized dream that’s burnished by eager hands and unexpected wish fulfillment.
"My Oscar is so tarnished because I’ve lent it out to charities," Thompson said. "Literally thousands of people have touched it."
Thompson also has sentimental moments to share from his new book, which Global Collective Publishers released on Oct. 25. "The Book of Maps" is the tale of a two-week, 16-state road trip that takes a filmmaker father and his 10-year-old son to Mount Rushmore, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and some tough revelations that may alter their relationship.
There are moments of peril along the road from Los Angeles to New Hampshire — and plenty of humor. When a black bear stumbles onto the duo’s campsite, "the kid is the hero," Thompson said. "He has sprinkled Fritos around the place to keep the bear busy."
"The book is ridiculously funny. I can’t write without comedy," Thompson said. "If you can make an audience laugh, you can take them anywhere."
The starting point for "The Book of Maps" was a road trip Thompson took with his own son in 2002. What the author did not realize until later was "what a period piece it would turn out to be."
The horrors of 9/11 are still fresh; the pain of the pandemic isn’t even on the radar. A trek across a wide-open America inspired by a 1930s travel guide that the dad picks up at a yard sale takes on a wistful time-capsule quality in a wounded and worldly 2023.
It’s a chance "to show the kid America as the dad knows it," Thompson said. "There weren’t so many fights and riots. It seems almost innocent by comparison."
The father in the novel also has a secret that the boy needs to hear, and needs to hear from him: his parents are divorcing. As the trip wears on, procrastination keeps getting easier.
Thompson particularly enjoys fielding questions from readers who’ve already read the new novel.
"I’ve gotten such beautiful responses from people who’ve read the book," he said. "As a storyteller, that’s just delicious for me. I love it when we can have profound conversations."
But as an actor, Thompson also is "pretty good at reading the room, and I’m full of stories from my fifty years in the business," he said. He’s ready to stop and answer a question about what it was like to work with Katharine Hepburn because he’s able to pick up on audience sentiments "from smiles to sniffles."
That’s why he brings the Oscar whenever he can. He knows that readers join the story wherever they happen to be, and every road story is worth telling.
Like the one when Oscar showed up on an airport X-ray — and everything stopped. Including the luggage belt. Thompson said the security personnel almost couldn’t believe what they were seeing when the statuette’s unmistakable silhouette scrolled across the small screen.
Luckily, Thompson did not have to unpack. The security officer simply turned the trophy in place so she could read the inscription and be certain that Thompson was who he said he was.
"I’m proud of it," he said he told the officer about his statuette. "I’m not going to give it back."
New Dominion’s staff recommends arriving early for the best seating. Learn more online at ndbookshop.com or call (434) 295-2552.
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