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.
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