To celebrate the reopening of Common Good Books at its new location right on the doorstep of Macalester College, Dave Enyeart and crew have planned a three-day-long series of events to kick off the many successful, page-turning, book-loving, reading aloud to a captivated audience years ahead.
This week, Common Good is starting the party with the Spring Poetry Free-for-All on Tuesday, May 1, at Macalester’s Weyerhaeuser Chapel. The event will feature an open mic and an opportunity for audience members to read aloud, backed by a jazz trio. These shenanigans are followed on Wednesday at Common Good by a dramatized reading from Garrison Keillor’s new book Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, read by Prairie Home Companion actors Sue Scott and Tim Russell along with Keillor himself. Capping off this week of literary lightheartedness on Thursday, May 3 at Common Good Books is “Tell Garrison a Story,” a literally titled event where regular old folks like you and I get on stage and tell Garrison a story, to which he will respond with questions and comments.
With such exciting events coming up, I just had to know more, so I caught up with Dave Enyeart—Common Good Book’s new assistant manager, events planner, and all-around nice guy—via e-mail to talk about what it’s like to plan a week of such craziness, which Twin City is better for readers, and about the future of the reading.
Common Good reopened in early April. Why pack the first week of May with events?
Garrison Keillor’s latest book—Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny—comes out May 1, so we knew we’d be doing something big around that. When we knew the new store would also be open by then, it made sense to expand that a bit and transform what might have been a single event into a grand opening mini-series. It also allowed us to focus on all the details of closing down the old location and getting up and running in the new space before our big premiere.
Whose idea was the “Tell Garrison a Story” event?
That’s something that Garrison has done many times before. I admit I’d be a little intimidated to get up in front of a big crowd and tell a story, but Garrison is good at helping find the best way to convey their ideas.
The Spring Poetry Free-for-All isn’t taking place at Common Good. Why?
We’re big poetry fans at Common Good Books, and we wanted that event to be as large as possible. The chapel at Macalester College is a big and beautiful space. A setting like that can really help people to focus on the words they’re hearing, and that’s what we hope happens on Tuesday.
What will happen to the store and its events when Macalester lets out for the summer?
There won’t be a lot of change, really. St. Paul has plenty of readers, so we don’t need to cut back on anything just because the students are away. We’ll keep the same hours year-round.
How do you go about selecting events for Common Good?
When I’m considering an event, my primary concern is finding an audience. Occasionally, you can draw people based on reviews and media coverage alone, but more often there’s some work involved. I look for authors who are good at reaching their fans and making them aware of an upcoming reading. I also try to find organizations who can help spread the word to their members. That can help to reach a more focused set of potential readers. And once or twice a year, I allow myself a passion project, and do all the work myself; but you can’t do that all the time.
This is the second bookstore in Minnesota where you’ve handled events. What draws you to this work?
I really enjoy connecting authors and their readers. A lot of authors have told me how much they enjoy meeting their fans. As a fan myself, I know that feeling is mutual. I think the experience of reading is always enriched by being shared. That can be something as small as telling a friend what you’re reading and what you think of it or as large as attending a reading in a packed theater. Either way, I think the awareness that a book is a gateway to a larger world of people and ideas is always powerful and valuable.
What are some of the challenges in trying to set up events?
The challenges are mostly logistic—finding a date when everyone is available and spreading the word effectively. The secret, though, is that everyone involved wants an event to be a success. I don’t have to twist anyone’s arm; I only have to show them the best way to proceed.
Is it pretty neat meeting all sorts of famous writers?
I won’t kid you, it’s a nice perk that I get to chat with famous people from time to time. There’s not always time for more than a few moments of conversation, of course. There are always a million little details to deal with before the curtain goes up, so to speak. Even more than the big names, though, I like seeing the audience enjoying their time with an author. That’s more rewarding than any namedropping I get to do.
What’s it like working with Garrison Keillor, a man who—aside from the snow—is the only thing that most Americans know about Minnesota?
All the pleasures of connecting authors and fans are magnified when that author is a star like Garrison. He has a devoted following, so mostly I just try not to get between them and him. And since he’s a skilled performer, there are none of the worries about the event itself. You know it’s going to be good.
Do you believe that one of the Twin Cities has a leg up over the other in terms of literature?
No, I see the same passion and enthusiasm for books in both cities. I think the range of authors, readers, and events in the Twin Cities is outstanding, and that’s only true because there are audiences to support them. Neither city has a lock on enthusiastic readers.
How do you think that the addition of the light rail will change the literary atmosphere of the Twin Cities?
I hope the light rail will encourage more people to venture across the Mississippi and see what the city next door—whichever city that is for you—has to offer. There’s probably more going on than you know. You could probably double your opportunities for bookish fun just by venturing to the other city.
What has been your favorite in-store event that you’ve ever planned?
The kid in me loved it when Laura Erickson brought her owl Archimedes to a book signing. But my all-time favorite has to be an author fair for new writers that I hosted last summer. I can’t say I planned it all by myself, because someone else did a lot of the leg work. Most of the authors were self-published, so it was a real chance for the bookstore to serve as a community meeting place. Friends and family turned out in droves to support the authors, and you’ve never seen a happier group of people in a bookstore. It was loud and crowded, and I had a grin on my face for two solid hours.
What about your least favorite?
I’ve been fortunate not to have had any events that I haven’t enjoyed in some way. Even when a particular book doesn’t speak to me directly, I can still find a lot of pleasure in other people’s enjoyment of a reading. I only regret small things like mispronouncing an author’s name. Sorry, Dave Zirin!
Do you think the traditional reading is dying? If so, what should it be replaced by?
I think there’s still a lot of value in the traditional reading/Q&A format. When an author is also a skilled performer and reads aloud from her or his own work, it can really illuminate a book and make you understand it in a new way. I don’t want to replace that, but I’m happy to try other formats when it will present a book’s ideas more clearly. Sometimes that means inviting two authors to read together or to engage in a conversation. Other times, I’ve hosted artists and even politicians for panel discussions. Books are a central part of our culture, and we need to see them as tools to expand our minds and enrich our lives. The joy of reading is only the first half of the pleasure a book can give you. The rest comes when you look up from that book and see your world anew.
Photo courtesy Common Good Books