50 books, 50 days and a car named Thunder: Columbus native takes cross-country trip to nation’s bookstores

Behind the airbrushed vanity plate on the front of the white 1995 Mercury Tracer sits a 24-year-old author with a suitcase, a cooler and 50 copies of his self-published book, “2084.” When Mason Engel pulls out of the driveway of his parents’ home in Columbus, he’ll embark on a 50-day, cross-country journey to visit 50 different independently-owned bookstores. What Engel doesn’t know on Day 1 is that by Day 15, he’ll have reconsidered the entire purpose of the trip. He’ll discover the true mission of bookstores and what they offer to the individuals who walk through the shop’s doors. A talent for storytelling Engel wrote and published his first book in 2013 as a senior at Columbus North High School. The book was his way of asking his girlfriend at the time to be his date to prom. She said yes. When Engel attended Purdue University where he studied mathematics — he notes, “the polar opposite of writing” — he continued to write. By his senior year of college, Engel had written five novels, several short stories, screenplays and poems. One of those, “2084,” was written and published on Amazon as a young-adult spinoff of George Orwell’s novel “1984.” The novel rated No. 1 in Amazon’s dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction categories, and No. 4 in science-fiction overall. “2084” currently has 4.2 out of 5 stars based on reader reviews on Amazon. “That was when I committed to becoming a writer,” Engel said. “I realized I had a lot further to go in the craft from the feedback I got from readers — people on Amazon can be pretty harsh. They’ll let you know exactly what they think.” Engel said he never likes to feel like he has failed at something — instead, the book pointed him to things he could do better. At 22 years old, Engel moved to New York City where he spent his days hand-delivering copies of his book to literary agents around Manhattan — an idea he said wasn’t well-received by the agents, but that kept him on track to pursue his passion for storytelling, words and literature. He moved back to Columbus in 2018 to treat a back injury when his cousin suggested Engel take a road trip across the country in his car. Initially, it was a way for Engel to get out of the house after being cooped up with an injury for so long. The joke was in what car Engel would take to travel the country. Growing up, friends would always make fun of Engel’s 1995 Mercury Tracer. “It’s like an A-to-B type of vehicle, but I have much more faith in her,” Engel said. “It’s exactly the car that comes to mind when you think cross-country road trip.” He had the car. He had the time. Next on his list was determining his goal. “What would I do along the way? How would I leverage the trip afterward?” Engel asked himself. “It felt like the right thing to do for me at the time.” Finally, the light bulb clicked. He would hand-deliver copies of his book, “2084,” to local bookstores along his route. And he’s off Engel and Thunder, his 1995 Mercury Tracer, backed out of his driveway on March 19, 2019. His first stop: The Book Corner in Bloomington. Using the hashtags #50Books50Days and #ThunderGoesWest, Engel posted a photo of himself at each bookstore he visited as a way for his friends, family and Instagram followers to keep up with his travels. In a figure-eight pattern, Engel traveled through Illinois, Missouri and Kansas to Colorado, then went down from Utah to Arizona. By Day 15, Engel had already visited 15 bookstores and was now in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was during his four days in Arizona where the purpose of Engel’s trip became clearer. “As traveling like that seems to do, I started thinking about the direction my career was going, who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do in the literary world,” Engel said. “It struck me that I was generating a lot of content just by driving along and posting to Snapchat and Instagram. Things would happen; I would meet people; I would have stories.” Engel came up with an idea to create a documentary using footage from his trip to shine spotlights on the bookstores he visited. The documentary wouldn’t be about him or his trip. Instead, it would be a way to promote the message that booksellers advance. “I was going to these different stores, and I realized that not only do I have a passion for writing the books and reading them, but being in the places that they are,” Engel said, “… being in the bookstores, there’s an element of community and nostalgia that I think is really valuable to young people.” Combining that realization with the content generated by his trip, Engel said he decided to do something positive for the whole world. ‘More listening than talking’ When Engel reached California, his pitch to booksellers started to evolve. It was less about him and his own book and more about the booksellers and their own stories. “I focused on just experiencing each individual store, doing more listening than talking,” Engel said. “I wanted to learn the booksellers’ stories in their individual communities so that later on I would be better equipped to actually help them.” As he traveled from store to store, he also received recommendations of other stores to visit, something he said spoke highly of the book industry where competition is sparse and collaboration is abundant. Engel said it’s a big ask to request feedback for a book that takes time to read when booksellers already have books from floor to ceiling that they’re supposed to read. Still, a handful of people were excited to receive a copy of Engel’s book and share productive feedback. “I didn’t really go into the trip knowing what I wanted from it, but it did give me the right questions to asked, which I think knowing the right questions, that’s sometimes more valuable than having the right answers,” Engel said. “It also gave me clarity on the kind of writing I want to do and how I want to live. I walked away a bit different as a person and definitely in a different direction…” Tying it together Engel spent between $1,000 and $1,200 total on his 50-day journey. That money mostly accounted for Thunder’s fuel and groceries. Living off tuna sandwiches, carrots, celery and peanut butter, Engel budgeted $5 for food each day. Ahead of the trip, Engel reached out to friends who lived in each of the cities he stopped in and asked if he could crash on their couches for one night. He only had to spend one night in his car and two nights in the tent he packed. “I would go into a McDonald’s or Starbucks for Wi-Fi, whip out my paper towel, make my tuna sandwich and eat my carrots,” Engel said. “It sounds depressing and looks depressing in the pictures, but in the moment there was a weird element of freedom to that.” Engel’s last stop on the trip was Columbus’ very own Viewpoint Books, 548 Washington St. There, Engel hosted a brainstorming session with members of the community to not only talk about his trip, but discuss why bookstores are important and how individuals can support them. In collaboration with Viewpoint Books and several of his friends, Engel created a song and music video to convince people of the social and economic good that bookstores provide. He names all 50 bookstores he visited in the first and second verses of the song, and the third verse is about the stores themselves. The music video is set to release in October. Engel is already thinking about his next adventure: a journey to East Coast bookstores. On that trip, he wants to create a more thorough bookstore documentary. Engel said he already plans to take a friend with him on that trip to film the content. “Because I realized belatedly what I was trying to do with the first trip, I wasn’t equipped to do the project justice,” Engel said. “There were things I should’ve filmed, stories I should’ve told that I didn’t because I didn’t know what I was doing. The original trip is a precursor for an East Coast trip that will be more documented.”

Behind the airbrushed vanity plate on the front of the white 1995 Mercury Tracer sits a 24-year-old author with a suitcase, a cooler and 50 copies of his self-published book, “2084.”

When Mason Engel pulls out of the driveway of his parents’ home in Columbus, he’ll embark on a 50-day, cross-country journey to visit 50 different independently-owned bookstores.

What Engel doesn’t know on Day 1 is that by Day 15, he’ll have reconsidered the entire purpose of the trip. He’ll discover the true mission of bookstores and what they offer to the individuals who walk through the shop’s doors.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

A talent for storytelling

Engel wrote and published his first book in 2013 as a senior at Columbus North High School.

The book was his way of asking his girlfriend at the time to be his date to prom. She said yes.

When Engel attended Purdue University where he studied mathematics — he notes, “the polar opposite of writing” — he continued to write. By his senior year of college, Engel had written five novels, several short stories, screenplays and poems.

One of those, “2084,” was written and published on Amazon as a young-adult spinoff of George Orwell’s novel “1984.”

The novel rated No. 1 in Amazon’s dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction categories, and No. 4 in science-fiction overall. “2084” currently has 4.2 out of 5 stars based on reader reviews on Amazon.

“That was when I committed to becoming a writer,” Engel said. “I realized I had a lot further to go in the craft from the feedback I got from readers — people on Amazon can be pretty harsh. They’ll let you know exactly what they think.”

Engel said he never likes to feel like he has failed at something — instead, the book pointed him to things he could do better.

At 22 years old, Engel moved to New York City where he spent his days hand-delivering copies of his book to literary agents around Manhattan — an idea he said wasn’t well-received by the agents, but that kept him on track to pursue his passion for storytelling, words and literature.

He moved back to Columbus in 2018 to treat a back injury when his cousin suggested Engel take a road trip across the country in his car. Initially, it was a way for Engel to get out of the house after being cooped up with an injury for so long.

The joke was in what car Engel would take to travel the country.

Growing up, friends would always make fun of Engel’s 1995 Mercury Tracer.

“It’s like an A-to-B type of vehicle, but I have much more faith in her,” Engel said. “It’s exactly the car that comes to mind when you think cross-country road trip.”

He had the car. He had the time. Next on his list was determining his goal.

“What would I do along the way? How would I leverage the trip afterward?” Engel asked himself. “It felt like the right thing to do for me at the time.”

Finally, the light bulb clicked. He would hand-deliver copies of his book, “2084,” to local bookstores along his route.

And he’s off

Engel and Thunder, his 1995 Mercury Tracer, backed out of his driveway on March 19, 2019. His first stop: The Book Corner in Bloomington.

Using the hashtags #50Books50Days and #ThunderGoesWest, Engel posted a photo of himself at each bookstore he visited as a way for his friends, family and Instagram followers to keep up with his travels.

In a figure-eight pattern, Engel traveled through Illinois, Missouri and Kansas to Colorado, then went down from Utah to Arizona. By Day 15, Engel had already visited 15 bookstores and was now in Scottsdale, Arizona.

It was during his four days in Arizona where the purpose of Engel’s trip became clearer.

“As traveling like that seems to do, I started thinking about the direction my career was going, who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do in the literary world,” Engel said. “It struck me that I was generating a lot of content just by driving along and posting to Snapchat and Instagram. Things would happen; I would meet people; I would have stories.”

Engel came up with an idea to create a documentary using footage from his trip to shine spotlights on the bookstores he visited. The documentary wouldn’t be about him or his trip. Instead, it would be a way to promote the message that booksellers advance.

“I was going to these different stores, and I realized that not only do I have a passion for writing the books and reading them, but being in the places that they are,” Engel said, “… being in the bookstores, there’s an element of community and nostalgia that I think is really valuable to young people.”

Combining that realization with the content generated by his trip, Engel said he decided to do something positive for the whole world.

‘More listening than talking’

When Engel reached California, his pitch to booksellers started to evolve. It was less about him and his own book and more about the booksellers and their own stories.

“I focused on just experiencing each individual store, doing more listening than talking,” Engel said. “I wanted to learn the booksellers’ stories in their individual communities so that later on I would be better equipped to actually help them.”

As he traveled from store to store, he also received recommendations of other stores to visit, something he said spoke highly of the book industry where competition is sparse and collaboration is abundant.

Engel said it’s a big ask to request feedback for a book that takes time to read when booksellers already have books from floor to ceiling that they’re supposed to read.

Still, a handful of people were excited to receive a copy of Engel’s book and share productive feedback.

“I didn’t really go into the trip knowing what I wanted from it, but it did give me the right questions to asked, which I think knowing the right questions, that’s sometimes more valuable than having the right answers,” Engel said. “It also gave me clarity on the kind of writing I want to do and how I want to live. I walked away a bit different as a person and definitely in a different direction…”

Tying it together

Engel spent between $1,000 and $1,200 total on his 50-day journey.

That money mostly accounted for Thunder’s fuel and groceries. Living off tuna sandwiches, carrots, celery and peanut butter, Engel budgeted $5 for food each day.

Ahead of the trip, Engel reached out to friends who lived in each of the cities he stopped in and asked if he could crash on their couches for one night. He only had to spend one night in his car and two nights in the tent he packed.

“I would go into a McDonald’s or Starbucks for Wi-Fi, whip out my paper towel, make my tuna sandwich and eat my carrots,” Engel said. “It sounds depressing and looks depressing in the pictures, but in the moment there was a weird element of freedom to that.”

Engel’s last stop on the trip was Columbus’ very own Viewpoint Books, 548 Washington St. There, Engel hosted a brainstorming session with members of the community to not only talk about his trip, but discuss why bookstores are important and how individuals can support them.

In collaboration with Viewpoint Books and several of his friends, Engel created a song and music video to convince people of the social and economic good that bookstores provide. He names all 50 bookstores he visited in the first and second verses of the song, and the third verse is about the stores themselves. The music video is set to release in October.

Engel is already thinking about his next adventure: a journey to East Coast bookstores. On that trip, he wants to create a more thorough bookstore documentary. Engel said he already plans to take a friend with him on that trip to film the content.

“Because I realized belatedly what I was trying to do with the first trip, I wasn’t equipped to do the project justice,” Engel said. “There were things I should’ve filmed, stories I should’ve told that I didn’t because I didn’t know what I was doing. The original trip is a precursor for an East Coast trip that will be more documented.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Meet Mason Engel” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Age: 24

Hometown: Columbus

Education: Graduate of Columbus North High School in 2013; Bachelor’s degree in mathematics, Purdue University in 2017

Hobbies: Reading, soccer, basketball, and making music

Favorite book: "Ender’s Game" but his heart is in the "Harry Potter" series

About his writing:

  • He earned Amazon’s #1 spot in dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, and the #4 spot in science-fiction overall, with his novel, "2084."
  • He speaks to promote literacy at local schools and spreads his love of reading and writing through community involvement.
  • He earned third place in the national Broadcast Education Association festival out of 1,500+ submissions, and was accepted into the Florida Hollywood Film Festival with his film, "Amends."
  • He serves on the global writers’ panel for the critically acclaimed science-fiction consulting firm, SciFutures.

Source: masonengel.com

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To learn more about Mason Engel’s #50Books50Days journey, visit masonengel.com/50books50days.html.

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About "2084"” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

"The world wears computerized contact lenses that control technology with the blink of an eye. Consumers are as thrilled as they are surveilled.

Newsight Incorporated became a household name when it released its debut product: Lenses. Now, Newsight is more than a household name…it’s in the household. It sees everything its customers see, both in the real world and in the simulated one. But not everyone is content to be watched. A teenage boy named Vincent, a Senator’s son, and his friend Jessica, a Newsight developer’s daughter, flee into the ranks of a clandestine protest group. With the group’s help, Vincent and Jessica disable their Lenses and see the world clearly for the first time. The sight that awaits them, however, may have better remained unseen."

Source: masonengel.com

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Follow along” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

To catch up on Mason Engel’s journey to #50Books50Days or to follow along on future trips, find Engel at:

Instagram: @mtengel22

Snapchat: @mtengel22

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