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.