What happens when a few cultural institutions get together and encourage people to come sit around and read for a while? People come sit around and read for a while. On Saturday, July 14 2012, Coffee House Press publisher Chris Fischbach and the Walker Art Center teamed up for Field of Reads, a day-long campaign to turn the Walker’s Open Field into a site for reading, book-swapping, story-timing, and literary mingling.
The day’s attractions featured a lending library (accessible every day at Open Field) which also included starter kits, Bananagrams, Jenga, and bundles of other activities; a tent set up for a children’s storytime; lawn chairs and mats to spread out on the lawn; and an spread of impressive books available to swap. These were not old, ratty editions, either–the swappable books appeared to be in like-new shape, and quality titles, from classics to local independent gems, abounded.
I brought my own book (I forgot to bring one to swap) and I got down to business pretty quickly. After chatting with a few of the other attendees and the friendly Walker Art Center staff, I cracked open a novel and buried my nose. Similar to my reaction to Boneshaker Books’s Sustained Silent Reading a few weeks ago, I found something about reading in public inspiring, something calming and reassuring that ultimately increased my attention span, allowed me to more fully give myself over to the words on the page. I’m still tinkering with my thinking about this, but a nascent theory is that reading in public, for me at least, demands that I block out distractions and therefore increases my ability to focus–as opposed to the stillness of privacy, which in turn causes me to seek out distractions and encourages my mind to wander…
But there is something additionally peculiar to an “event” that focuses not on being entertained, but on engaging a private entertainment while in public. It moves away from performance, from the ritual aspects of an author appearance or “reading.” The shared experience aspect of communal reading is far more tenuous than if everyone is hearing the same words at the same time. But there is something shared, something affirmed, in simultaneously giving yourself over–even if the objects to which you give yourself over are drastically different for each person. And this affirmation, it seems to me, is only possible when the opportunity is publicized, as in Field of Reads and Sustained Silent Reading. Opening your book and reading in public is a great thing to do, but it doesn’t offer the same sense of shared experience that one receives from participating in an organized event.
Reading Room, the overarching program responsible for Field of Reads (check out MPR’s excellent piece here), is an ongoing opportunity for local lit lovers to utilize a multifaceted and readily available resource. Now equipped with the most comfortable lawn chairs on the market (“we tested them all, and these are the best” says Graywolf Press associate publisher Katie Dublinski) and picnic tables and umbrellas for when that hot sun bears down, Open Field hopes to extend this communal literary affirmation on a more spontaneous basis. The Walker might not be the most convenient place to get to, tucked in its nest of boulevards and freeways, but next time you have an afternoon and you feel like having a read, take your book on a stroll through Loring Park, cross the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, and turn a few pages with a few like-minded Twin Citizens.
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!