’It’s kind of overwhelming’
It’s difficult for Rebel Heart Books owner Eileen Bobek to articulate what her chance connection to acclaimed filmmaker and actor Justin Baldoni has meant to her small Jacksonville store, but sharing the numbers is a good start.
Typically, says Bobek, she won’t sell more than one or two copies of a single title, even a new release by a bestselling author. And since the profit margin for independent bookstores is roughly the width of a human hair, that means she generally needs to sell a wide variety of genres and authors just to stay in business. Which is why when a “beloved customer” named Noelle Olmstead approached Bobek about a possible partnership with Baldoni concerning his upcoming book “Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity,” Bobek jumped at the opportunity, though she didn’t know what to expect.
There’s no need to wonder anymore. Bobek sold all 200 signed copies she requested from mega-publisher HarperCollins before they even arrived in the mail and has already asked for more in a windfall that comes just in time for National Independent Bookstore Day Saturday (customers can still order “Man Enough” through Rebel Heart Books both on site and online).
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” said Bobek, a former emergency room doctor who opened Rebel Heart Books in 2017.
“I don’t want to say I don’t think – I know I had no idea what was about to happen. I just didn’t know. And so it’s been fantastic, and I think also the idea that (Baldoni) lived here a while ago but people maintain relationships with people and places they grew up in, and to actually still care about making a difference in those particular communities is a big deal.”
Olmstead became friends with Baldoni after he moved here with his family from Santa Monica in 1994. The two have remained close friends, and Olmstead now works part-time for Baldoni’s production company, Wayfarer Studios.
Baldoni liked the idea of partnering with a few indie bookstores to help promote “Man Enough,” and Bobek was happy to oblige. Of course, the deal would help sell books, she figured, but how many was anybody’s guess. Then earlier this month, Baldoni fired out a link to Bobek’s website on Instagram and Twitter. Bam. Baldoni has 3 million followers on Instagram and another 248,000 on Twitter, and the impact was instantaneous.
“And then, literally, that is when it was just one (sale) right after the other,” Bobek said. “I’m not Instagram savvy or any of that kind of stuff, but it literally increased my Instagram following by the hundreds … and it’s still going. I’m just emailing HarperCollins to get more books now. Let’s just say that nothing like this has ever happened. … What he’s doing has real economic impact.”
Baldoni, 37, became famous first as an actor and filmmaker – he’s directed two feature films and has two more on the way – and later as an outspoken feminist whose 2017 TED Talk titled “Why I’m Done Trying to be ‘Man Enough’” has been viewed 6.6 million times on ted.com and 2.8 million times on YouTube.
His book may be seen as an extension of his TED Talk and includes plenty of very personal anecdotes, many from his time in the Rogue Valley, where he became a soccer and track standout at South Medford High School. Baldoni’s family moved to the Applegate Valley when he was 10, and his experience growing up here plays a central role in “Man Enough.”
“A lot of what I write about in the book and what I talk about in my journey as an adolescent was really my experience between 10 and 18, which took place in Southern Oregon,” he said in a Zoom interview. “My earliest memories of being 10, 11, 12 in Applegate — loneliness and isolation are the words that come to mind. Feeling like I never fit in. I was the city kid. In Applegate, there were like 12, 13 kids in the class, half of them were cousins or were all from the same family and knew each other, and here was this imposter from the city. I just remember being very lonely.”
Baldoni may be an up-and-coming director — his latest movie, “Clouds,” is available on Disney+, has received solid reviews — blessed with a million-watt smile, but the gloss is stripped away in “Man Enough.” Part memoir and part meditation on masculinity, the book includes accounts from his youth that are startlingly honest.
As a teen, Baldoni is bullied, bullies back, stresses about his body, girls, his future, struggles with insecurities and is lifted up by a couple of teachers, one of which – in a compromise — allowed Baldoni to turn in a video book report on “The Great Gatsby” that served as an early baby step to his eventual movie career.
Baldoni isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, either, as in an account of his new Jeep breaking down on a busy street in Beverly Hills not long after receiving his first major break. Those red carpet walks are fair game, too. He writes that he doesn’t have a single picture of himself showing off an authentic smile from those days, only the fake version for the cameras.
Baldoni also isn’t afraid to get very, very deep, as he does when describing a get-together with close friends he scheduled for a secret purpose — to reveal his addiction to pornography.
“I would say that’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, which is crazy because I’ve accomplished a lot of things that the material world deems exciting,” Baldoni said of the experience. “That’s harder than making a movie, that’s harder than starting a company. I had more to lose in bringing a few of my closest friends together and talking about something that I’m experiencing shame around that I have in most other areas of my life.”
Baldoni’s sincerity gives Bobek, who was busy Tuesday processing copies of “Man Enough,” another reason to root for the book to do well.
“He’s very vulnerable,” she said. “He talks about things that you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s actually saying that out loud?’ And he talks about how he’s constantly learning and the idea of building bridges as he’s actively doing that. Lots of people can talk about those things, but to actually do something that’s very intentional … this kind of thing is so impactful it’s hard to describe.
“I had people contacting me from all over the world, so him doing something like this actually has very major implications for our business — particularly one as small as mine.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.