Last Thursday night I went with my writing group, The Bitter Enemies, over to Magers and Quinn to see readings by David Phillip Mullins, John Jodzio, and Dessa. We’ve discussed numerous times the benefits of putting ourselves out there as a group to engage with the amazing literary scene that Minneapolis has to offer. The Bitter Enemies have been locked in a steadfast, once-weekly writing relationship since January. This was only our second field trip. I guess it’s hard to get us out of the house.
I’d never been to a reading at Magers and Quinn, and was delighted to find that my attendance earned me a free Grain Belt beer, wonderfully ice cold. It was an unexpected and very welcome start to the evening. I had wanted to go to Magers and Quinn the night before—author James Wallenstein read from his new novel The Arriviste, published by Milkweed Editions—but unfortunately (not quite regrettably, as I had a fantastic time) I had a kickball game to attend. I overheard at the Thursday reading that Wallenstein was fantastic, the book is wonderful, and the cocktail for that evening was a White Russian. The drinks made the event more like a cocktail party, with familiar faces and interesting people milling around before and after the readings.
As the opener for the group I’m not sure that Mullins interpreted the vibe of the crowd correctly, offering a disclaimer before he began that no one actually likes to attend these sorts of events, and promised to stick to a brief passage. It seemed to me that, sitting in a crowd of people he was, at least in part, referring to, everyone was generally happy to be there. Maybe he was nervous about opening for such “in” local literary titans, felt insecure about his own work, or has had a few bad experiences with a less bookish crowd. Whatever his rationale, he accidentally reminded me that I typically hate live performances of works I enjoy. As a proponent of the notion to “love the art, not the artist,” I find myself typically uneasy at events where I must associate the pristine and godly work that I care deeply for with lowly, smelly, ugly humans. (David, John, and Dessa all looked and smelled wonderful, but as a species we, like most animals, are pretty gross.)
Unfortunately, I spent the most part of Mullins’s reading thinking about the musicians, actors, artists, and writers who have come to ruin performances for me, and consequently feel like I didn’t quite hear the whole of what his story was trying to relate. All in all I think that Mullins’s work doesn’t lend itself to being, well, performed (which is kind of funny, because he looks a little like Donny Osmond, one of the world’s most well-known performers). To be honest, he had a reading style that was a little too rhythmic and reminded me a bit of being a kid, irritated and suddenly sleepy when my mom would turn on Garrison Keillor. I snapped back at the applause following his reading. I should probably pick up his new book, Greetings from Below (published by Sarabande Books) and give it a quietly read shot.
Next up was Dessa. She began by sweetly saying that although Mullins claims no one actually likes going to readings, the writers—who are intimately relating important works of theirs to a room full of strangers—really really hope that they do.
Dessa snapped me back. She was charming and funny. Her stories were touching and relatable. In that moment, I didn’t want to separate the art from the artist—not just because some of Dessa’s work is creative nonfiction, and it wouldn’t really make sense without her, but because she is, like her writing, full of humor and elegance. When I read her book, Spiral Bound (published by Doomtree Press), I will hear her voice in my head and love every moment of it.
Finally, it was Jodzio’s turn. He was, as always, hilarious in form and content. I like the way he reads. It’s as if he’s shouting his stories at you with unceasing urgency, and in those minutes he is akin to a charming psychopath who I at once fear yet am drawn to, making intense declarations about his neighbor returning to him a smelly codpiece. I am, of course, a little biased about his work because, as he announced during the reading, Paper Darts (of which I am managing editor) is slated to publish his next book. It is my wish that he records an audio version.
I think that this might be the first event I was at where I didn’t really want to separate the art from the artist. Honestly, I haven’t put too much thought into why exactly I enjoyed myself so much, and I think that’s because maybe over thinking this stuff is what caused me to compartmentalize in the first place. We’re not talking Gary Glitter here or anything. No, this event was more like a group of friends sharing their art, than writers marketing themselves. It was almost like The Bitter Enemies had invited the authors to come hang with us, instead of the other way around; just some friends drinking beers, telling funny stories and reading beautiful poetry to each other well into the night.