Lit Up Late (1/3)

Something crucial often gets lost at a literary event. There’s a thrill in seeing an author you admire in the flesh, getting your new book signed and personalized, getting to ask a question during a Q&A. There’s revelation in hearing a sentence uttered by its creator, the inflections you wouldn’t have ascribed to a line. There’s the community of the event, being surrounded by fellow readers. There are often snacks, sometimes free booze, sometimes raffles and giveaways. Sometimes literary events have little to do with literature-see Revolver’s amazing boxing party from a couple years ago. Sometimes the whole point of going to a literary event is just to reassure yourself that people who like to read aren’t going extinct. There are many of us, and we’re not going anywhere. So what’s that crucial missing component?

Oh yeah. Books.

murakami mitchell darnielle

Three Twin Cities bookstore are teaming up to bring a slight twist to the whole literary event idea: no authors, just books, and in the middle of the night. Lit Up Late teams Common Good Books, Magers & Quinn Booksellers, and Moon Palace Books in a triptych of late-night book releases. The first, for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, took place at 11:30 pm on, August 11 2014, at Common Good. The official release date of the book is the 12th, which means that at midnight, the book is technically available for purchase. This was literally the earliest that the buying public could procure themselves a copy.

photo 1  photo 2

Common Good catered this event to those rabid fans who were willing to forego a few hours’ sleep, and rewarded them amply. In the corner of the store where an author might normally read, a rootsy acoustic quartet strummed and sang pleasant songs. Japanese-themed refreshments resided on a table nearby–Pocky and mochi to nibble on, Sapporo and Saki to wash it down. Just before the book became available, bookseller Colin McDonald announced that there would be a raffle for two Common Good gift cards and two free copies of the book. The winners, announced just prior to midnight, were overjoyed, as was everyone else who secured a signed first edition of the book.

A healthy midnight-on-a-Monday turnout to buy a book that will still be on sale on Tuesday.

A healthy midnight-on-a-Monday turnout to buy a book that will still be on sale on Tuesday.

Early returns have been overwhelmingly positive for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which comes as a relief to any Murakami fan who struggled through 1Q84, the author’s last outing. Early returns on Lit Up Late are similarly positive: a quick way to reinforce that people are still excited about books, that if you are excited about books you are not alone, and that the arrival of an anticipated book is as momentous an event as the release of a much-anticipated movie.

The second installment of Lit Up Late will take place on Monday September 1 at Magers and Quinn for the release of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. The third, for Wolf in the White Van by John Darnielle (of the band the Mountain Goats), will take place on Monday September 15 at Moon Palace Books. Beyond the book-release element and the middle-of-the-night element, these three events have another common thread: if you were at the Common Good event last night, you likely received a punch card with the first of three holes punched. If you attend all three, you’ll be eligible to win a free night at the St. Paul Hotel.

Nickolas Butler

When you can’t get to a reading, you bring the reading to you.

I’ve hardly been able to get out to Twin Cities events in the last six months, so I clearly wasn’t going to be able to get to Iowa City on Monday, March 24, 2014 to hear Nickolas Butler read from his buzzed-about debut Shotgun Lovesongs. Luckily, the legendary Prairie Lights bookstore streams audio of their lit events. After this brutal winter, I bet there are a lot of people in the Twin Cities who wish more establishments would offer this service (noting, of course, that it’s much more difficult to buy a book when you don’t set foot in the bookstore…).  And while the atmosphere projected by my laptop wasn’t quite as inviting as stacks and spines and a roomful of booklovers, and while the tinny audio through my speakers didn’t do justice to Butler’s disarming and wholesome voice, I do have to say that it felt good to be attending a reading again, even if from afar.

After an introduction from one of his classmates at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (this was a homecoming of sorts for Butler), the author launched into an excerpt, noting that it “isn’t the usual piece I read, and I’ve decided to read this part because it was here in Iowa City that this section made it into the book.  This began as a poem, and I wanted it to work as a poem, but [I didn't catch the name of the person Butler referenced here] told me that it had to be in my book. And now it is, and I’m glad it is.”

The portion in question detailed a square-dance, in which he lyrically describes the open arms of the community and the jubilance of the music.  A quotation from this section was recently singled out in the New York Times as an example of the tasteful “overwriting” that Butler is smart enough to avoid in abundance.  Hearing that it was originally written as a poem makes perfect sense.

After his reading, the event turned to the typical Q&A.  From the audio, it sounded like a good turnout, and the audience came prepared with questions.  Does he write about Wisconsin and the Midwest intentionally? (“It’s all I know, and I know it well.”)  How did you get in the mindset of a depressed character so convincingly? (“I had to leave my wife and new child over and over to commute to the Workshop, and it was a very sad time.”)  When you were commuting between Minnesota and Iowa, did all of that driving help you with your writing? (“It was a quiet, undisturbed time when I could reflect on something somebody said in class.  I didn’t even have a smartphone, so yes, it was helpful.”)

Butler bristled a bit when a questioner brought up the Justin Vernon/Bon Iver connection.  “I respect Justin and he’s an inspiration to me, but this book isn’t about him,” Butler defended.  “I told my publisher that if they wanted to do some marketing promotion capitalizing on Bon Iver’s success, then the deal was off.  This had to be a standalone book or it wasn’t going to happen.”  Surely Butler has taken this question at every reading he has given, and he must be tired of it already.  At the same time, it’s a question that surely won’t go away, given the similarities between his character and the legend that pesters Bon Iver.

Fortunately, even with his defensive feathers ruffled, Butler is a genuine and disarming speaker who easily conveys that his intentions are not to ride the coattails of his peers to literary stardom, but to understand, as his Justin Vernon-esque character does after the square dance scene, “what America [is], or could be.”

The Second Annual “Cookie” House Press Holiday Party

by guest contributor Samantha Campbell

As you may recall from last winter, for one delicious day a year, local literary publisher, Coffee House Press, transforms its Northeast Minneapolis headquarters into Cookie House Press, an annual cookie potluck and book sale. This year’s event, held last Thursday, December 5th, offered a myriad of cookies that ranged from classic to experimental.   Continue reading

Amy Tan

by guest contributor Stefanie Hollmichel

There was a packed house to see the Hennepin County Library’s Talk of the Stacks event with Amy Tan on Wednesday, November 13 2013 at the Minneapolis Central library. The crowd filled Pohlad Hall and two overflow rooms. After introductions were made, Tan stepped out on stage. She is a petite woman with a big presence. Continue reading

A Simply Glorious and Ultimately Nerdy Reading

This heading is the title given to the group reading at Moon Palace Books on Friday, November 8 2013.  A strange shindig (three vastly different poets and a novelist, taking place at 4pm rather than the typical evening reading time), it did a better job of living up to the first three words of its name than the ending. Continue reading

George Saunders

by guest contributor Samantha Campbell

Thursday, October 10th kicked off the 17th season of the Pen Pal series put on by the Friends of the Hennepin County Library. On stage, beneath a couple of giant mice (the reading was held in the Children’s Theater at the Hopkins Center for the Arts), George Saunders gave the first lecture of the season. A nationally acclaimed writer of novellas, short stories, essays, and children’s books, Saunders was recently named to the long list for the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction for his story collection, Tenth of December. Continue reading