Hans Weyandt, co-owner of Micawber's Bookstore, got things rolling Tuesday night when he introduced Ethan Rutherford, author of the new short-story collection, "The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories" (Ecco Press).
" 'Peripatetic' is a word that is not used by anyone anywhere in the United States today," Weyandt said. He said he enjoyed calling up distributors and ordering the book, because it required them not only to pronounce the word but also to spell it.
Weyandt's little bookstore in St. Paul's St. Anthony Park neighborhood was packed to the stacks with friends and fans of Rutherford, there for the first stop of his rather extensive book tour, which will take him to the West Coast next week, and then to the East Coast. Rutherford, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife and toddler son, is a graduate of the University of Minnesota's MFA program in creative writing. Rutherford also reviews books for the Star Tribune.
A friend he met in the program, Matt Burgess--author of "Dogfight: A Love Story"--was up next. (And in the crowd, their writing teachers--Charles Baxter and Julie Schumacher.) (Also in the crowd, novelist Peter Bognanni, winner of the American Academy's Rome Prize, removing his hip white-framed sunglasses as he dashed through the door a little late.)
After a few more jokes about the word "peripatetic" (which Burgess said he had to look up the meaning of), Burgess read a brief, very funny scene from his work-in-progress, "Uncle Janis," a novel about undercover narcotics cops in Brooklyn.
The bookstore was crowded on this warm spring night, and Rutherford swung the door a few times, trying to kick up a breeze. (There was also free beer, which might have served to both cool and warm the guests.)
"This is a sort of wonderful day," Rutherford said. "It's like a wedding, except I don't have to dance."
He chose Micawber's for his book launch, he said, both because it's his favorite bookstore, and because he loves independent bookstores in general. "I've tricked you all here, I've given you free beers, so please buy a book," he urged the crowd. (Any book, he said, though he would especially like it if they bought his book.) (And they did, selling out Weyandt's supply of "Coffin.")
Rutherford's collection contains three sea stories, including the title story (the well-traveled coffin is a submarine), and Rutherford told the audience that it had long been his wish "to write 'Moby Dick II.' It turns out that's not a story that anybody was waiting for."
And then he read from the last story in his collection, "Dirwhals!," a futuristic tale about whale-hunters--though these whales live not in the sea, but in the sand.
And after that, booksigning and beer and the reading turned into a happy party. Like a wedding, but with no dancing.
Oh, gosh, it is brown out there. (But at least it's no longer white.) (Sorry, Owatonna.) But this weekend marks Gustavus Adolphus Library Associate's annual Books in Bloom exhibit at the college in St. Peter, Minn., which features 30 floral arrangements designed to compliment 30 books.
The exhibit will be open all weekend (hours: Friday, 3-5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.) with a book signing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. (Not all writers will be at the book signing. For example, Victor Hugo almost certainly will not make it.)
Some of the titles, such as Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus," or Faith Sullivan's "Gardenias," seem as though they would lend themselves to fabulous and exotic displays. Not easy, but maybe a bit less of a challenge than, say, "Philosophical Investigations" by Ludwig Wittgenstein, or ""The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West," by Patricia Nelson Limerick. Go, florists!
Here are this year's featured titles:
"Minnesota's Outdoor Wonders," by Jim Gilbert
"Little Wolves," by Thomas Maltman
"The Night Birds," by Thomas Maltman
"Because of Winn Dixie," by Kate DiCamillo
"On Three Continents" and "Mimbo Ma Ki Kriso," by Ruth Nelson Johnson
"Les Miserables," by Victor Hugo
"The Disappearing Spoon," by Sam Kean
"The Hunger Games Trilogy," by Suzanne Collins
"Sophie's Choice," by William Styron
"The Hobbit," by J.R.R. Tolkien
"The Lighthouse Road," by Peter Geye
"Planting a Rainbow," by Lois Ehlert
"Black and Bold," by Bruce Gray
"Elizabeth the Queen," by Sally Bedell Smith
"On His Watch," by Dennis Johnson
"The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake," by Aimee Bender
"Downton Abbey," by Julian Fellowes
"The Round House," by Louise Erdrich
"Wicked," by Gregory Maguire
"Yes, Chef," by Marcus Samuelsson
"Team of Rivals," by Doris Kearns Goodwin
"The Night Circus," by Erin Morgenstern
"Olivia," by Ian Falconer
"The Legacy of Conquest," by Patricia Nelson Limerick
"Gardenias," by Faith Sullivan
"Philosophical Investigations," by Ludwig Wittgenstein
"Travels with Charley," by John Steinbeck
"The Boy in the Suitcase," by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
"Supper with the Savior," by Barbara Sartorius-Bjelland
"The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters," by Elizabeth Robinson.
This year's Books in Bloom, which is at the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library, is dedicated to the memory of Marlys Johnson, one of the event's founders, who died last month after a short illness.
The Loft Literary Center today announced the winners of the 2013 McKnight Artist Fellowships for Writers.
The winners are Matthew Batt of St. Paul; Minneapolis writer Eric Braun; writer Susan Koefod; and memoirist Kao Kalia Yang of Minneapolis. The young-adult winner is Anne Ursu.
Honorable mentions went to Jonathan Odell, Pallavi Dixit, Katie Hae Leo, Yuko Taniguchi, Will Alexander, Brian Farrey-Latz, and Lynne Jonnell.
It is a testament to the depth of the field that among the honorable mentions are a National Book Award winner and two winners of a Minnesota Book Award.
The awards carry a prize of $25,000 each.
Matthew Batt is the author of the memoir, "Sugarhouse," and his work has appeared in Tin House, Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He teaches at the University of St. Thomas and is at work on a collection of essays.
Eric Braun, winner of a Minnesota Monthly Tamarack Award, has published short stories in a number of literary journals.
Susan Koefod has widely published prose, poetry and mysteries.
Kao Kalia Yang is the author of the memoir "The Latehomecomer." She co-hosts a weekly radio program focusing on the Hmong community.
Anne Ursu's latest book is "Breadcrumbs." She teaches at Hamline University.
Hint: It helps to have a prop. Last year, I brought my puppy and my mom. This year, Lucie Amundsen brought her son and her chicken purse.
Yesterday was the second World Book Night USA, a celebration of reading during which 25,000 volunteers hand out 500,000 copies of special editions of 30 different books. Each volunteer chooses one title and hands out 20 copies. For me, yesterday afternoon, it took hours. Unlike last year, my mother was busy and couldn't go with me. And my puppy had grown from a tiny ball of soft black fur into a squirrel-chasing handful, so this time I set out alone.
Down at Como Lake, I gave away two copies of Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time," one to a guy in a cowboy hat who said, with delight, "I'll even give it to someone else when I'm done!"
But I also got a lot of refusals. I wasn't sure if it was my patter--I decided that opening the conversation by saying, "Would you like a free book?" was the wrong way to go about things, because it was too easy for people to simply say "No," and keep walking---or if it was the stiff breeze coming off the lake ice.
So I headed over to Conny's Creamy Cone, the little ice-cream stand on the corner of Dale and Maryland. I talked to three high school kids, one of whom said, "Sure, I'll give it a try," which--peer pressure, maybe--led the other two to say yes as well.
Score! Five down, 15 to go.
At Lake Phalen on St. Paul's East Side, I gave one to a guy who was fishing--he had fish guts on his hands, and apologetically asked if I would mind putting the book in his backpack--and to a woman who was watching the raft of loons who were floating out near the ice. A blue-eyed, silver-haired man grinned when I offered him a book. "I read about this on the computer!" he said with excitement, and in return for the book, he told me a joke. ("Where do you bring your dog if he loses his tail? To the re-tail store!")
I returned to Como for the last five books, where a teenage girl who prefers science fiction accepted Egan's book of narrative nonfiction, and where two women jokingly offered to swap their dog for a book.
I am mystified by people who decline the book--some might have thought I was trying to sell them something, and a few simply said they weren't readers. But those who listened to my whole spiel (which got better as the afternoon went on) and still declined?
Here are a few other reports from yesterday's World Book Night in MInnesota:
At Edina High School, Emma Westbrook handed out copies of "Looking for Alaska," by her favorite writer,John Green. This was Edina's first participation in World Book Night.
Up in Duluth, Lucie Amundsen and her son, Milo, give this report:
When approaching strangers on World Book Night, there’s a disquieting for a few seconds just before people get it. You’re not selling anything, you’re not panhandling, it’s just a free paperback – no strings attached. To help lighten this awkward moment, I brought two things: my nine-year-old son Milo and my rubber chicken purse. “This is the best!” he said, “You never let me talk to strangers!”
We broke into our box of Michael Perry’s “Population 485” with an acquaintance up the street. I know she’s single, has a passel of small children and probably hasn’t thought about reading for her own pleasure in a long while. She accepted the book gracefully and listened to us stumble over our spiel.
Then we braced ourselves for prime time and hit the Kenwood Laundromat. There we found a middle-aged man sitting at a table poking at his mini iPad. “We’re out with World Book Night celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday…” was a great icebreaker, and so was painting the picture of an army of volunteers giving away half a million books in one evening.
As awkward as approaching strangers can be, it’s equally sweet to watch an adult just trying to get through what’s got to be done, take the volume, work it with his hands and smile. “What an awesome thing. Thank you,” he said not taking his eyes off of it. When we left, he was reading page one.
Similar scenes played out with the staff of Papa Murphy’s, the liquor store and with a woman sweeping up from a haircut at Great Clips. Giving free paperbacks to people pursuing the book section at Saver’s felt almost like cheating. We did it anyway.
A woman in the parking lot rebuffed us, as did the guys working at Disc-Go-Round, but meeting the folks stranded in a broken down minivan proved to be an evening highlight. While talking about their car woes, the woman in the passenger’s seat said that getting the book was the best part of her day. The man with her said he really liked my chicken purse.
Our last book, Milo tucked into the Little Free Library on Skyline Parkway where we often walk. I’m not sure if it qualifies as giving the book away, but we liked the idea of someone coming upon it and feeling like it was a lucky day.
Also up in Duluth, Claire Kirch handed out 20 copies of Michael Perry's "Population 485" at two local bars. The books went fast, she reports: She told people that Perry was the "David Sedaris of northern Wisconsin," and the books went like hotcakes.
Twin Cities writer Kate St. Vincent Vogl also gave away "Looking for Alaska." Here's her report:
No better place to go with a hand out than back stage at a high school theater, especially if you've got the YA blockbuster "Looking for Alaska." At my daughter's school, I found a small group in the cramped space stage right. They were tapping out a sequence for the upcoming musical, waiting for their time on stage.
"I'm here for World Book Night," I said. "I've got John Green."
One girl started explaining to another: "You know the Vlog brothers, don't you? This is one of them."
The tall one by the cabinet hung towards the back. "I don't have any money," he said.
"Oh, they're free. Free books!"
They all snapped them up then. I couldn't get them out of the box fast enough. In two minutes I'd given away two thirds of my box of books.
Over in the cafeteria, I found another clump of students.
"I don't really read," one of the guys said.
"I'd take one, but I should leave it for someone who'd really appreciate it," said another.
So I circled back to the theater and waited for the practice to finish. It didn't take long. Anyone who thinks kids aren't reading these days just doesn't know where to find them. But they're there: The ones hungry for story are the ones telling it any way they can.
And meanwhile, in Jerusalem.... former Minnesotan Michael Dickel files this report:
One cafe I frequent in Jerusalem, as much bakery as coffee shop, is called simply Hafukh (ha-FOOKH). This means, literally, "upside down," which is the idiom for latte or cappuccino, depending on who translates the menu.
This morning when I stopped in for my usual two lattes (or cappuccinos) to go, the barista showed me a collection of Hebrew poems left by another patron for World Book Night. He was rather pleased that the patron appreciated them so much as to leave a book.
Feeling appreciative myself of a barista who knows my order and makes upside down coffee according to the legend of its idiomatic name--pouring the coffee into the foamed milk--I took two English poetry anthologies in this afternoon. I happen to be in both and to have co-edited one, but hey, that's why I had extra copies around.
My morning barista was off, but his afternoon replacement took the books. With a puzzled look, he assured me that he would see that the morning man received them. I guess that I'll find out tomorrow.
Here's to reading.
And it's not over yet! Though World Book Night is, technically just one day (or night), local writer Reese Hendricks reports that a scheduling conflict prevented her and an illustrator friend from handing out books on Tuesday. So today they'll give away 50 copies of their own book to children at Clover Ridge Elementary School in Chaska.
"For the kids, every day should be World Book Day anyway!" she said.
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