I can count on one hand the number of readings I’ve been to in which the purpose of the event (a publication party, say) is perfectly matched with the location and theme. It makes sense to give a reading in a bookstore, or to throw a party in a bar. But the release party for Sarah Stonich’s Vacationland (University of Minnesota Press) was either a work of beautiful, thoughtful planning or a lucky series of coincidences.
Held in the Turf Club’s “Clown Lounge”—a below ground room with ample seating and beers on tap—the venue sported quasi-tacky ephemera from the Minnesota north woods. The landscape paintings hanging on the wall may as well have been taken right out of the book: lakes and forests, sun-dappled cabins. As if to complement the wry humor and ironic overtones that frequent Stonich’s prose, the Clown Lounge even boasts stuffed-and-mounted rear end of a deer.
The venue was so suited to the book that I didn’t even pause to wonder why it didn’t host readings more often. The walls are lined with booths, and a sizeable open space in the center is perfect for removable seating. There’s even something of a stage at the far end, with lights and a fully functioning sound board. It’s a literary event’s dream space, provided the music venue upstairs isn’t thunderously rocking out.
The room, though, was a small part of what made this event such a perfect celebration of Vacationland’s release. As a novel in stories, the book is composed of many different voices. It was only fitting that Stonich invited some friends and fellow authors to read various portions of the book. Danny Klecko stared down a bull moose, Carol Connolly hatched a homicidal plot, and Martin Kihn lusted after underage sunbathers. Later in the evening, Peter Geye, Pamela Klinger-Horn, Kathryn Kysar, and Andy Sturdevant all read from sections of the book, as well. Each reader brought their own personality to the words, their own interpretation of syntax and emphasis, and it showed just how distinct the chapters and characters of Vacationland are.
Because this was a party, there were also games and favors. Everyone received a Vacationland beer coaster, and participants in the fashion contest competed for coveted Hamm’s-themed awards: a wall clock, two retro prints, mousepads, and beer cozies were gifted to the individuals wearing the best camo, most plaid, best example of blaze orange, and the most obvious “612er”—that is, someone very clearly visiting the northwoods from the big city.
The Vacationland book launch was everything you could ask for in a literary event: creative, entertaining, and well executed. Above all, it offered a thorough sense of the book we were there to celebrate, and it made this attendee want to go home and read it. I’m wont to think that this was by design.
*Update: for some great reactions and photos, visit the Facebook Event.
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