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James McBride Reflects on His Success

His Novel Sold a Million Copies. James McBride Isn’t Sure How He Feels About That.

“The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” has been a runaway critical and commercial success. When you’ve been David all your life, everything changes “when you become Goliath.”

By Elizabeth A. Harris

When people ask the author James McBride what he does for work, he tells them he’s a saxophone player.

In a sense, that is true enough. He runs a small music program at a church in Brooklyn and spends much of his time playing the tenor and soprano sax in the basement of his New Jersey home, which he’s soundproofed so the noise doesn’t bother his neighbors.

But McBride, 66, makes his living as an author — and right now, that living is very good. His latest novel, “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store,” which follows the Black and Jewish residents of a Pennsylvania town in the early 20th century, hit a milestone: Since its release last summer, it has sold more than a million copies. Most authors are lucky to sell 10,000 books.

McBride, who has written eight books, has found success before. His novel “The Good Lord Bird” won the National Book Award. “Deacon King Kong” was an Oprah Book Club pick and a New York Times best seller. His debut, “The Color of Water,” a memoir about his white Jewish mother, Ruth, got off to a slow start but began spreading by word of mouth once it was out in paperback. Eventually, it sold more than 2 million copies.

But sales as fast and robust as McBride is seeing now are vanishingly rare, especially in the world of literary fiction. And while he is certainly grateful for his success, McBride does not seem all that comfortable with it.

“You’ve been David all your life, and you become Goliath,” he said, sitting at a worn, wooden table in his kitchen. “Your life changes when you become Goliath.” Read the full piece at the New York Times.

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