Lit Up Late (1/3)

Something crucial often gets lost at a literary event. There’s a thrill in seeing an author you admire in the flesh, getting your new book signed and personalized, getting to ask a question during a Q&A. There’s revelation in hearing a sentence uttered by its creator, the inflections you wouldn’t have ascribed to a line. There’s the community of the event, being surrounded by fellow readers. There are often snacks, sometimes free booze, sometimes raffles and giveaways. Sometimes literary events have little to do with literature-see Revolver’s amazing boxing party from a couple years ago. Sometimes the whole point of going to a literary event is just to reassure yourself that people who like to read aren’t going extinct. There are many of us, and we’re not going anywhere. So what’s that crucial missing component?

Oh yeah. Books.

murakami mitchell darnielle Continue reading

Marisha Pessl

by guest contributor Josh Plattner

“Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are. Will you step back and cover your eyes? Or will you have the strength to walk to the precipice and look out?”

I was sweating, and no one was surprised.

Lit events always incite this unsettling mixture of excitement and anxiety within me. Is it the anticipation of the author’s reading? Is it questions of whom I might run into? Maybe it’s the perpetual nagging of an inner voice whispering: ‘the author won’t even like you!’ (That’s too neurotic, right? Can’t possibly be healthy. Like, who actually cares if an author is a fan of someone they’ve never met and, likely, will never interact with? Well certainly not me and I definitely didn’t fixate on Marisha’s failure to respond to my tweet inquiring about the designer of her killer heels!) Continue reading

Tao Lin

8430331964_d17994fbab 2 Common Good Books and Paper Darts teamed up to host Tao Lin, author of the divisive and gloriously covered Taipei (as well as cult-faves Richard Yates, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am, as well as a few others) to the Paper Darts Pop Up last Wednesday, June 26, 2013.  Tao Lin is heralded among many for his active online persona (which happens to be a subject of his new novel, though the book isn’t fully autobiographical–merely about a novelist with an active online persona). For all of his many admirers, however, his new book seems to have achieved that odd and bittersweet career milestone of widespread yet often negative critical attention, at least in traditional media outlets like the LA Times, NPR, and even the Millions. Continue reading

Deborah Baker

I was torn this evening. On the one hand, Deborah Baker was making a rare appearance in the Twin Cities in support of her 2011 National Book Award finalist The Convert (Graywolf Press). No doubt she’d have Common Good Books hopping with fans, readers, and a solid cohort of Graywolf personnel. Just down the road, however, Peter Geye was reading at SubText: A Bookstore in support of his recently released and much-buzzed-about The Lighthouse Road (Unbridled Books).  There are few novels I’m more excited about than this one, and this would be a chance to hear him read from it before it starts garnering awards of its own.  What’s a lit-lover to do? Continue reading

Paula Bomer & Scott Wrobel

A strange thing happened at Common Good Books on Tuesday, November 27 2012. Paula Bomer, author of Nine Months (SoHo Press), and Scott Wrobel, author of Cul de Sac (Sententia Books), shared a podium and read excerpts from their respective books. What gave this event a bit of idiosyncrasy was that, rather than being mere colleagues or cohorts or simply literary peers, Bomer served as editor and publisher of Wrobel’s work. What’s more, after two years of poring over and working on the manuscript that would become Cul de Sac, Tuesday night marked the first time the two had every actually met in person. Continue reading

Ian Frazier

I first read Ian Frazier, much like many who have read Ian Frazier, in the pages of the New Yorker. His name was already familiar to me for his work as a humorist: he wrote, among other things, the “Cursing Mommy” columns. But it was his quasi-serialized travelogue that later went on to be published, in much fuller form, as the book Travels in Siberia that really caught my attention. He’d written exquisite nonfiction before this (Great Plains, On the Rez), but I’m a helpless Russophile, and Travels in Siberia seemed specifically designed for me. It’s a vast, calm, sometimes chilling account of a journey through a landscape with similar attributes. It’s one of my favorite books for its realistic, measured, and patient voice–attributes which are nowhere to be found in the book (and persona) that Frazier was in town to promote this Sunday, November 11, at Common Good Books in Saint Paul. Continue reading

Heartland Fall Forum

It’s no terrific secret that operating an independent bookstore is a tough gig. Even before e-books and Amazon, there were Barnes & Noble and Borders to contend with.  But recently, with the tablet revolution in full swing, keeping the doors open to a small, curated inventory of new and used books has been particularly difficult.  This might not be evident in the Twin Cities, where stalwarts Magers & Quinn, Birchbark Books, Boneshaker, and Micawber’s seem like standbys, and where new or upgraded shops like Common Good Books, SubText, and the almost-open Moon Palace Books crop up at a regular pace.  The rest of the Midwest should be so lucky: nearly every issue of Publishers Weekly bemoans another fallen ally.

By all accounts, this dwindling has been evident in recent iterations of the Heartland Fall Forum (formerly MBA).  Attended by representatives from independent booksellers across the region, the Forum is a place for publishers and book-related goods manufacturers to showcase their products, hoping to win some interest and distribution. But as fewer and fewer independent booksellers could afford to make the trip, the show seemed to be losing its impact.

So this year, they did something different: last week, the Depot and Renaissance Hotel in Minneapolis was the site of the inaugural Heartland Fall Forum. Rather than having two separate regional trade shows, the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA) and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (GLIBA) combined their events and have agreed on alternating host cities–next year’s will be in Chicago.  The result?  A well-executed, well-attended, and altogether successful event.

The bustle and buzz abounded.

Booksellers from at least twelve states were on hand to peruse upcoming titles, discuss marketing and sales techniques, and get the scoop on which books will be getting the biggest push next spring. Several major publishing houses were in attendance, including Harper, MacMillan, Penguin, Random House, and Norton. But the local publishing scene was well-represented as well, with Twin Cities staples Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, and Milkweed Editions showing off their exciting spring catalogs and recent titles.

Caroline Casey of Coffee House Press. Drinking coffee.

I was on hand as a representative of Rain Taxi Review of Books, helping spread the word to publishers and booksellers about the Twin Cities Book Festival next week. The primary difference between the Heartland Fall Forum and the Book Festival, of course, is that the Festival is a public event, while the Heartland Fall Forum is open only to publishers, booksellers, and registered media. (, I will be clear, was not registered media; I’m pirating this report to you from beneath Rain Taxi‘s cloak.)

The Forum officially began on Wednesday, October 3rd with an opening reception featuring local literary heroes Hans Weyandt (co-owner of Micawber’s books in Saint Paul and editor of Read This!, Coffee House Press’s new anthology of book recommendations from booksellers across the country), Garrison Keillor (A Prairie Home Companion, owner of Common Good Books), and Louise Erdrich (author and owner of Birchbark Books). On Thursday, exhibitors and participants were invited to a ticketed breakfast wherein Justin Cronin (The Twelve), Peter Geye (The Lighthouse Road), Christina Schwartz (The Edge of the Earth), and Emma Straub (Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures) signed books, nommed with attendees, and likely spoke a bit as well.  Thursday also included the heavy portion of entertainment:  panels on bookselling strategies, trends in the book-buying world, and the “wouldn’t-be-a-book-conference-without-it” discussion on bookselling in the digital age. Thursday evening, keynote author Tom Perry (Visiting Tom) helped celebrate the winners of the Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards (Chad Harbach, Cheryl Strayed, Todd Boss, and Loren Long, in their respective categories).

Leslie Koppenhaver and Michael Taeckens of Graywolf Press

I’m sure the Wednesday and Thursday programming was terrific, but I can’t say because I wasn’t there. The only portion of the Heartland Fall Forum I experienced first hand was the exhibit hall on Friday: an ice-skating rink-sized pavilion filled to the gills with galleys and gizmos, free swag, and handouts galore. I spent the bulk of my shift spreading the word about Rain Taxi and the Book Festival, and became adequately roused about a few books coming up in the next quarter: Eduardo Halfon’s The Polish Boxer, for one, and Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely for another.  Also an exciting development: Coffee House Press will be re-releasing Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station with new cover art.

Mostly, it was an excellent chance to hear from people outside of the Twin Cities, but also interested and invested in literature, just how impressive our community is in terms of publishing, bookselling, and all-around lit-love. Across the Midwest and beyond, everyone knows we’ve got something special happening here, and we should feel lucky to be a part of it. I know I do–and if you’re looking for a simliar thrill, come check it out for yourself next weekend (shameless plug) at the Twin Cities Book Festival.


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! Be sure to check the schedule to the left and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!