Author Carol Bolt wanted answers, so she wrote them

Carol Bolt offers up some of life’s answers in two books she wrote. Photo by Jon Marmor.

After a bad morning and a contemplative Metro bus ride to work, Carol Bolt wished she could open a book and find the answers to life’s big questions. Taking the “if you want something done, do it yourself” mentality her parents instilled in her, Bolt, ’94, a Seattle artist, wrote The Book of Answers.

Using a rented laser printer, she self-published 130 copies three years ago and sold them at the Henry Art Gallery gift shop and at a handful of local book shops and art fairs. Readers ask a question out loud or to themselves and open the book to any random page for the yes-or-no answer.

Little did she know her book—which contains simple, one-sentence answers (such as “Gentle persistence will pay off” or “The answer is in your back yard”)—would turn into a megahit. Today, the book (now published by Hyperion) is in its sixth printing and has been translated into eight languages.

Last October, she unveiled a new way to approach life’s questions with the release of The Literary Book of Answers. The answers in this book come in the form of famous and not-so-famous quotations from literature, including Dracula (“There is a reason that all things are as they are”) and The Scarlet Letter (“Yes” and “No”).

For Bolt, where the quotation comes from is just as important as its meaning. “You can get the whole picture from literature,” she says, emphasizing the historical context of her literary answers. “Books have an amazing history to them.”

To use Bolt’s books, she offers this advice: Hold the closed book in your hand, on your lap or on a table. Take 10-15 seconds to concentrate on your question. Ask questions that are close-ended, such as, “Is the job I’m applying for the right one?” or “Should I travel this weekend?”

While visualizing or speaking your question, place one hand palm down on the book’s front cover and stroke the edge of the pages, back to front. When you sense the time is right, open the book and there will be your answer.

It took a while for the 37-year-old Bolt to find the answers she was seeking in life. A Delaware native, she graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of Delaware before going to work for a bank for several years. When she turned 30, she found that she could no longer stomach working in the corporate world. While she didn’t have a book of answers to turn to, she decided to follow her gut instincts. She moved cross-country to Seattle to enroll in the M.F.A. program at the UW School of Art. She pared down everything into a few boxes and jumped on the first train west.

“I needed a change in my life,” says Bolt. “It was time to make a break.”

A visual artist by trade, Bolt keeps both The Book of Answers and The Literary Book of Answers in her International District studio and consults them frequently. Feeling overwhelmed while preparing her installation titled “MORE”—which was exhibited in the King County Arts Commission Gallery in February—she consulted The Book of Answers for advice. “Collaboration will be the key,” the book replied. While reluctant at first to ask friends for help, Bolt acknowledges that the book was right. So she got on the phone. “I couldn’t do it on my own,” she reflects.

Bolt is now hard at work on The Movie Book of Answers, watching dozens of classic movies to come up with one-liners from the world of the cinema that will provide answers for readers.

And does The Literary Book of Answers think Bolt’s new book will be a success? She held the book, stroked the edge of the pages, and opened it to this quote: “Of course,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, Babylon Revisited.