Expectations are weird. A natural occurrence of that silly brain of ours, having them often doesn’t do any good at all. Mostly, having expectations just leads to unwarranted disappointment about things that we could have made the most of if we’d approached them with no expectations and a good attitude. Having Great Expectations can lead to falling in love with a girl who has been trained to never requite that love.
However, in this age of immediate party photos, Facebook invites that reveal a list of people who “are going to” attend, and access to unlimited opinionated reviews, it’s kind of impossible to not have any expectations and just, like, live in the now, brah. Being of the moment may have a hippie sort of stigma attached to it, but it’s an important thing to experience, because with each handheld device we collect it’s getting harder and harder to live life in the here and now.
So when my circle of local literary buffs started chirping on the Twitters and typing in all caps on the Facebook about how AWESOME The Walker’s Open Field event Field of Reads on Saturday, July 14—an event meant to ask if reading “somehow become[s] more attractive, more meaningful when surrounded by others (a crowd) who also have taken time to intentionally read” and if reading could be a social activity—was going to be, I got the excitement sweats. Little Free Libraries! A book swap! A mass read-in hosted by Reading Room! Having never been to an Open Field event before, I imagined trading books with one of a thousand strangers who had a taste for a favorite new type of literature that I had yet to discover, all in the shade of our perfect modern art museum. My brain conjured up a large lawn of strewn bodies, each holding the work of unrelenting genius, reading over one another’s shoulders and cooing over brilliant quotes.
On the big day, I picked a heat-appropriate outfit, slathered on the sunscreen, and when it was time to select a book to swap, I picked up two of my favorites—The Dirt by Mötley Crüe and Lenny Bruce is Dead by Jonathan Goldstein—and weighed them each in my hands. Each has quotes underlined and both made me cry, but eventually I chose Lenny Bruce is Dead because it’s achingly beautiful and hilarious. (Besides, I’ve lent out and repurchased The Dirt three times now, so I’m pretty sure this copy is going to be the one I pass down to my kids, and I therefore couldn’t possibly give it away.) As I opened the door to face my destiny as a member of this thriving literary community I thought to myself, “This city loves to read. Everyone is going to be there. This is going to be amazing.”
When I got to the Walker I was kind of bummed. It was hot. There weren’t a ton of people there. I felt uncomfortable with the book I was reading,* though the book I swapped for was a good one. Based on the introduction to this piece, you can probably guess what I’m going to say next. Field of Reads at the Walker did not live up to my expectations. But you know what? My expectations were stupid. I thought I understood what the event was supposed to be—everyone in the city who loves to read shows up to read together and prove some sort of point about how much Minneapolis loves to read more than other silly cities—but I didn’t get it. My expectations had led me astray. For help in figuring out what I was missing, I contacted Chris Fischbach, publisher at Coffee House Press and the mind behind Reading Room, and asked him if he thought Saturday’s event was successful.
“I don’t know how to measure the success of the mass read-in, or of any iteration of Reading Room,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I don’t measure it by how many people show up to the actual event. I know, for instance, that two people traveling in Portland who couldn’t be there who did a simultaneous hour of reading there…It’s hard to measure its success. I don’t know what that looks like. It’s an action. An instance. A happening. A concept. It’s not overly important, and I hope that people don’t take it too seriously. I just want people to think about reading.”
To that end, the event was a success. It doesn’t matter how many people were there. What matters is that the event happened at all. It was planned, and people did show up, in the sweltering heat, to browse through the books of strangers and read next to those very strangers, sharing some space and silence on a sweaty Saturday afternoon.
* My year of genre has led me to a month of erotica, for which I have chosen to read The Story of O, which is about a woman who gives herself over to a group of strange, well-to-do men, their servants, and her lover in an attempt to learn freedom by way of sexual slavery…or something along those lines. I hate the book but am really, really far behind on my reading schedule, so I’ve got to just keep pludding away at it (pun intended). Reading this novel (hardcover with the dust jacket removed, like a criminal trying to hide a crime) is not a social activity, especially in a family friendly environment. It hurt my soul to read it (silently, of course) in the presence of children. My apologies to their parents.
Photo by Courtney Algeo