Bill Roorbach is an anomaly. Not because he genre-hops between fiction and nonfiction, or because he delayed his writing career so he could tour the world as a musician. Not because his new book, Life Among Giants, is his ninth book and third novel, is already in its third printing and in talks to become a TV series à la Mad Men, but for the art world of the American seventies. Bill Roorbach is an anomaly because he’s just so nice. Continue reading
A large crowd squeezed into the poetry corner of Magers & Quinn Booksellers to hear Karen Thompson Walker read from critically acclaimed The Age of Miracles on Thursday, July 26, 2012. A former book editor at Simon & Schuster,Walker was extremely forthcoming with the entire writing process of her debut novel. Even though she was sure to emphasize how she had braced herself for rejection letters and how lucky she felt to finally be standing in front of a group of readers of her book, I am sure an entire crop of Twin Cities’s editorial interns and editorial assistants found new hope in getting that manuscript they are writing with every free minute published to praise and positive reviews.
It was evident that Walker is classy, sophisticated, and well-spoken, but she is also humble and friendly. It was like she wanted us to like her, and I appreciated that. Walker read the first chapter and a half from the book, which gave a clear portrait of life before “the slowing,” but with the unsettling voice of someone who has already experienced its effects. “The slowing” refers to the earth’s rotation gradually slowing, thus making the days longer. Gravity becomes slightly stronger—birds begin to fall from the sky, baseballs travel shorter distances, airplanes are no longer the same. Another effect of “the slowing” is its influence on the migration of whales: the whales begin to beach themselves.
It is on a beach spotted with dying whales that the audience was introduced to the true story of The Age of Miracles, that of an eleven-year-old girl trying to grow up in a world turned on its head. In the second section Walker read, narrator Julia accompanies the boy she’s been adoring from afar to the beach. While the scene gives us snippets of the trauma the rest of the world is experiencing, we also see into the mind of a girl on the verge of adolescence. Julia lets us in on thoughts such as, “I was the girl walking with him,” and “I was a little bit in love. I had spent an entire afternoon with Seth Moreno.” For me, this was the best part, the juxtaposition of the concerns of an average eleven-year-old girl in love and the shocking effects of “the slowing.” But there’s also some science in a book of such feeling. Walker consulted an astrophysicist doing his graduate work to keep her story realistic, even if it took her a while to muster up the courage to fact-check the conceit she had conceived while writing for fun every day before work.
As much as I love attending all kinds of readings at all kinds of venues, I have to admit I especially loved this reading. It’s no surprise I feel comfortable at Magers & Quinn—I worked there for almost a year, and I try to drop in every few weeks or so, but this reading was co-sponsored by the lovely duo of Hazel & Wren (Amanda Wray and Melissa Wray respectively)—literary bloggers, writers, graphic designers, letter press printers, and anything-else-creative extraordinaires. (Check out their stellar interview with Walker here.) While introducing the author, the
duo summed up their excitement in partnering with Magers & Quinn to host Walker in a few sweet words: “Real people and an actual bookstore.” I loved hearing these words from two fierce forces in the literary virtual world. I also swooped up an original Hazel & Wren letter press bookmark specially printed for the reading. Smartly, it reads, “We were here,” a quote from Walker’s novel.
I have yet to read The Age of Miracles in its entirety, but I am definitely looking forward to it.
Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!
Alyson Hagy read from her latest novel, Boleto, on Thursday, June 14, 2012, at Twin Cities favorite Magers & Quinn Booksellers. I’ve always loved M & Q, and now I love it even more with its revamped back room (new carpet and more books on more shelves!) and new events manager Ethan Rutherford. I’ve noticed some small, but great changes at the store in the past few months. The monthly e-newsletter has been redesigned and looks fabulous (sign up at http://www.magersandquinn.com), and at the past few readings, authors have had the luxury of a microphone. Acoustics have always been a bit of a problem in the poetry corner of the store, and I was grateful for the speakers and mic at Hagy’s very engaging reading to about thirty people.
Hagy has been traveling on her launch tour for Boleto over the past four to five weeks, but was quick to say how reading in Minneapolis is especially meaningful to her because it means coming home to her publisher, Graywolf Press. As a former Graywolf staffer (only two weeks since I made the move!), I’ve been to my fair share of readings by its authors and poets. I’m always genuinely affected, but never surprised, by each author and/or poet’s words of gratitude and love for the Press and its staff. Hagy’s thanks was a heartfelt reiteration of what I’ve always known about Graywolf, and what I was lucky to have been a part of for the past two years: Graywolf Press is one of the few remaining, independent, nonprofit presses that still values “the story.” Stories are important to Hagy. Stories hold an element of community. In Boleto, Will tells stories to the filly, people tell stories to each other. Hagy also thanked her friends in the audience and reminded everyone to support their local independent bookstores, even if it means clicking a button on their websites to purchase an ebook.
Boleto, or “ticket” in Spanish, is the story of young Will Testerman and the filly on which he spends his savings to buy, train, and then eventually sell. The novel follows Will as he moves from Wyoming to Texas to California. In Hagy’s readings of three separate sections of Boleto and her discussion of how she came to write the book, it became evident that Will, his filly, and his Wyoming are not just elements in her book, but things she knows and loves deeply. It was clear that Will has always been his own entity to Hagy–she did not create him, but rather, discovered him and his story. In fact, Hagy shared that she had a “long fight” with herself about whether or not she should tackle Will and his filly for her book. Will Testerman is loosely based on a real person that Hagy met and observed training a filly in 2003. In answer to a question from the audience, Hagy did admit that it was important that Will be a man and the filly a female, that one could say Boleto is a sort of romance. From reading the book myself and listening to Hagy, I heard a romance between a man and his horse, or his ticket to redeem himself, a romance with the American West, and multiple “romances” between men and women who come and go, cohere and fall apart, but always with a sense of kindness for each other. I also heard the importance of a person’s relationship, perhaps not quite a romance, with loss and independence.
Hagy’s actual readings of three separate sections of Boleto, broken up by short intervals of Hagy sharing her process of writing the story, felt incredibly intimate. In addition to the audience of Graywolf staff and Hagy’s old college friends, it was undeniable that Hagy knew her book and Will just like Will knew his horse. From the minute Hagy started reading a section, she was in the story. It reminded me of the passion a really good teacher or librarian has when reading to students. It was impossible for me not to get involved with Will, his filly, and other situations in Will’s life, past and present. The first section Hagy read gave a strong sense of Will’s initial attraction and ongoing relationship with the filly, the second section showed off Hagy’s wonderful ability to introduce memorable characters and then have them quietly fade into the story, and the last section was a sobering yet uplifting interaction between Will and his mother, who is in remission from cancer and reassuring her son that he must break free from his worry about her to begin a life of his own. All three excerpts, read separately and as a whole reading, have tempted me to read the book again, to feel satisfied by a good telling of a tale.
Hagy grew up in Wyoming, part of a family familiar with horses and training them. Her personal experiences are very much a part of Boleto, whether in the novel’s horse training terminology and ranch culture or when character Dr. Art Slocum cures a horse using reiki, a scene taken from Hagy’s trip to Dubai in 2001. It’s always interesting to hear the “true” stories behind a work of fiction, and I thank Hagy for being so open about her writing process and how her life has influenced her work. I also thank her for being engaging while also being succinct. After a quick last question about the last great book Hagy read (Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, and the less famous works of Willa Cather), I am pretty sure the audience left on a high note, and not at all antsy to leave.
Have a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!