The Saint Paul Public Library kicked off its 19th (!) season of the Fireside Reading Series on Wednesday January 9, 2013 with a reading by Peter Geye, author of the recently published and much lauded The Lighthouse Road.
The aptly named reading series takes place at Hamline Midway Library, a branch I hadn’t the pleasure of visiting prior to the night’s event. I showed up early, as I had a bit of unrelated work to do and thought, hey, a library’s a good place to do work. I expected a cavernous, stodgy old complex with stacks and nooks and odd book lovers spine-scanning the shelves. Instead, the quaint building keeps its relatively few shelves along the wall, circumnavigating a single story. There is a downstairs to the building, replete with a darkened auditorium and other mysterious crannies, but the night’s event, as the friendly librarian who followed me down the stairs informed me, would be taking place in the main hall.
I busied myself with the aforementioned unrelated work at a round table in the corner, and it wasn’t long before library staff set about transforming the space into a pleasant and effective reading room: rows of chairs like pews facing the podium, which stood before the fireplace, already nesting a homey flame. By the time I wandered over from my table, most of the seats were already full. It’s a phenomenon worth exploring, I think, that library events seem so unilaterally attended by elderly caucasians. But boy do they turn out–there wasn’t an empty seat. That is, until the refreshments arrived, at which point a piranha-like migration to the cookies and coffee enlivened the room.
Representatives from the Friends of Saint Paul Public Library were on hand, namely programming director Alayne Hopkins (also the director of the Minnesota Book Awards), as well as Bailey Veesenmeyer (whose title I missed as I was pondering how to spell her last name. Happy to add a correction if anyone caught it). Veesenmeyer welcomed the audience, who sat with polite and comfortable anticipation, and she introduced the author, who immediately set about adjusting the microphone to match his above-average height. (To give an example of how sweet and unassuming this audience was, an elderly, female voice spoke up as he was adjusting the mic. “Be glad you’re tall,” the woman said. Just a bit of free advice.)
Geye read from the opening pages of his new novel, which follows two parallel narratives about a mother and her son, thirty years apart, as they navigate life on the north shore of Lake Superior. Geye’s baritone voice carried the lyricism of his prose quite ably, and glancing around the room I could tell that most of the audience was invested, if not rapt. But these attentive and kind individuals truly came to life during the Q&A, when it because readily apparent that the audience didn’t merely come to be read to: they came to interact.
Most of them, it seemed, had already read the book (!) and furthermore several of them were familiar with the author’s previous book, Safe from the Sea (!!). As Geye is a local writer who set both of his books in northern Minnesota, many of the questions focused on his relationship to the north shore (“My earliest childhood memories are there… I think it’s an underrepresented area… Anything is possible there. The weather comes sweeping in, the water’s so big you can’t see across it… It has everything you could want out of a setting…”) and his reading habits regarding other fiction set in the area (“Danielle Sosin’s The Long Shining Waters is a beautiful book and capture’s that place’s essence in a way I aspire to, but there isn’t very much literary fiction about the North Shore…”). He was insightful and eloquent in his responses, and above all humble before his audience. He began the reading by thanking the series for having him back (he read at a Fireside Reading Series event two years ago to the day, according to his calendar), and for the generous turnout. Similarly, he closed the night by encouraging everyone to come back for next week’s reading, which features poets James Cihlar, Sun Yung Shin, and Joanne Esser. For anyone interested in straight-up no-bones literary readings, this series is about as good as it gets. Plus, if you’re brave enough to risk losing a finger, there are cookies.
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 to be at the next LitSeen.org attended event. See you around!