“I think more people have read my book in the Twin Cities than everywhere else combined,” Elliott Holt told the audience at her reading last night, June 4, 2013, at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis. A solid contingent of readers, writers, and publishers turned out for this Tuesday night event, and it did indeed appear that many in attendance had already read the speaker’s debut novel, You Are One of Them.
After an introduction from the event’s co-sponsors Hazel & Wren, Holt read from the beginning of the book–always a solid choice, in my opinion–but not before she set the tone by belting out a verse from Sting’s Cold War anthem “Russians” (“I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too”). The verse was meant to portray the bombastic tension between Russia and the US while Holt was coming of age, as this sentiment flavors the book (or at least the excerpt she read).
Reading prose is generally a trickier thing than it seems. It’s basically a lot of talking at someone, minus the unpredictable variations of a conversation or an impromptu monologue. Also minus the flair an actor might bring to the job, and, in the case of a reading from a novel, far too small a sample to get a real sense of story or tension or anything other than wordplay to capture and maintain an audience’s attention. I’ve been to a few readings, and the vast majority of these are by novelists, so it’s no small acknowledgment to say that Elliot Holt is one of the better readers our there. Nothing particularly enthralling about her delivery, just a steadiness and confidence that translated to a pleasant listening experience. Not too monotonous, not too much expression. A happy medium, as though at some point in her career someone might have said to her, “You should record yourself reading so you know what you sound like,” and she said back, “Nah.” I guess leading off your reading by singing a verse from an outdated, over-the-top pop protest song lets you set the bar wherever you want it.
The transition to Q&A suffered from the typical awkwardness. “Really? No questions? Not even if I write with a pen or if I type?” Hold said, prompting M&Q’s events manager to toss the life vest–“What five books would you take with you on a desert island?” Holt’s response included three Russians (Anna Karenina, Lolita, and Master and Margarita), as well as a slew of alternates (Munro, Anne Carson, that anthology Jeffrey Eugenides edited).
On a slightly different note, I want to be sure to mention that rather than taking place tucked into the poetry section, M&Q set this reading up directly in the center of the back room–a new and vastly improved arrangement. Sightlines were better, the audience had a touch more breathing room, and the event was visible from the moment you walked in the door. A good sign for a great bookstore and a staple of the literary events world in the Twin Cities.
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 to be at the next LitSeen.org attended event.