Libraries at the End of the World: Books, Beer, and Banter

This is a cross post with my BookLikes blog, Reading Rainstorm.

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Magers and Quinn display showing off Books & Bars choices.

The other week, I attended Books and Bars, a Twin Cities book and social event that visits pubs and bars in Minneapolis and St. Paul, for the first time. The book on the docket for this session, held at Republic in Uptown, was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the most riveting and affecting novels I have read this year. Organized by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, Books and Bars crisscrosses some of the best drinking establishments in the Twin Cities and starts up wild book discussions. Station Eleven certainly sparked a healthy and thought-provoking debate, and was a great book to start with, I think.

First, I must say, Station Eleven is the most fascinating, thought-provoking and touching post-apocalyptic novels I have read yet. In both its depictions of the “world before” and the new world in the aftermath of the “Georgian Flu,” an incredibly virulent virus that came out of nowhere to kill off an estimated 99% of the Earth’s population, the novel shows the resilience and power of the human spirit.

Mandel’s writing is incandescent, painting a vivid, realistic world of the future and what it lacks; “No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.” As she expressed, she wanted to write a love letter to the modern world by taking it all away.

These stories are about human resilience, and what can be done to preserve the culture of the past. As I mentioned in the discussion, I’ve been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction lately (see my two prior BookLike entries), and it seems I’m not alone. In the last one, I discussed one of the overriding themes of the genre I had noticed; a preoccupation with the past, both the positive and the negative. This was reflected in Station Eleven as well, as the narrative spends nearly equal time in the world of today and twenty years in the future, when the survivors of the global epidemic begin to organize enough to try putting society back together, at least in a localized fashion.

Equally hopeful, brutal, and mundane, it follows a caravan of actors and musicians, the Traveling Symphony making their way along the banks of Lake Michigan, performing music and Shakespeare. The parallels between the plagues of Elizabethan England and that of the new world is an interesting thread, along with the question of what survives and what we lose, as before even the end a character muses “I’ve been thinking lately about immortality. What it means to be remembered, what I want to be remembered for, certain questions concerning memory and fame.” Arthur Leander, an actor who begins the novel by dying of a heart attack on stage on a snowy night in Toronto, coincidentally the night before the plague hits North America. Illustrating the lives of Leander and some of the people who knew and interacted with him creates a moving and effective bookend for the scenes of post-civilization. It shows what we had, good and bad, and what we lost, what we may or may not regain; and should we regain it all? A little piece of civilization, for instance, in the form of a small-press art comic book, had a wildly different effect on two survivors, which led to some of my favorite discussions in the book.

As expressed in one of the key quotes of the novel, the motto of the Traveling Symphony, “Survival is insufficient,” a maxim promoting the need for art and imagination in a world ravaged by pain and privation. A world not unlike our own, really. This quote, so integral to the life of people still trying to keep artistic and cultural expression alive in this world was itself a survivor from the old ’90s TV-show, Star Trek: Voyager, a meaningful vestige of the previous world. Even an obscure, self-published graphic novel, the eponymous Station Eleven, survives the end of the world to have great, and completely different, impacts on the new world.

At Books and Bars, there was a lot of great discussion regarding the book among the participants as we enjoyed the craft brews and cheese plates offered, we talked about why, and how, the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre has become so popular of late. One of the first things brought up (by myself, incidentally) was the parallels between Station Eleven and Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, which performed at the renowned Guthrie Theater this spring. Both were concerned with what would survive cultural collapse and how society might rebuild itself while recalling what came before. The setup of Mr. Burns is weirdly similar to Station Eleven; a group of survivors of a global plague begin talking about their favorite Simpsons episodes after the power grid and government fails- in a few years, they start a traveling troupe to perform recalled episodes in front of other settlements. A few decades later, the plays have transformed into an epic recounting of the sins and triumphs of the electric age, recalled by people who cannot actually remember it. What, of our current world, our comfortable lives today, will survive the ravages of time?

The Books and Bars discussion of Station Eleven will be broadcast on the StoryNorth podcast, available here. Next , at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul (a favorite of mine), where Julie Schumacher will be present to discuss her book, Dear Committee Members, which I talked about in my favorite books of 2014. Looking forward to it!

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Minnesota Food Truck Fair & NE Brewer’s Block Party

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Minnesota Food Truck Fair, St. Paul

Busy weekend, I packed a lot into a couple of hot, humid, Twin Cities days. Among the activities, birthdays, and shows, I checked out a couple of food-centric events. Throughout the country, street food and food trucks have been becoming more popular, and the Twin Cities are no strangers to the trend, at least during the summer months! Cheap, delicious, and convenient, it can be difficult to track ’em all down. Working downtown a lot, I can avail myself of the various food trucks that park along Marquette around lunchtime, but at other times, it’s often up to pure luck or, checking out one of these events!

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A food truck village!

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A couple of treats!

 

Saturday evening, I checked out the Minnesota Food Truck Fair, billed as Minnesota’s largest gathering of food trucks, in downtown St. Paul. Grouped in a parking lot in the shadow of the Xcel Center, a variety of familiar and new food trucks were selling their wares to a hungry crowd. It cost $2 to get in, though many visitors seem to miss this and just walked right into the circle without noticing, before being quickly referred to the entrance (myself included). Live music, playing mainly a collection of late ‘80s covers and one of those animatronic bull things, added to the festivities.

There were so many choices that it turned into a bit of a struggle to decide which to go for, including so of my favorites, like Potter’s Pasties, Foxy Falafel, and Rusty Tacos. I ended up grabbing some awesomely delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup from O’Cheese and some great mushroom fries from the Moral Omnivore. The sushi, on the other hand, was nothing to write home about, especially for the price. Along with a Chestnut Hill Brown Ale from Lift Bridge Brewery, and some frozen yogurt from Fro Yo Sol (in which you load up your own dish of the stuff, along with all the toppings of candy, chocolate, and fresh fruit you wish), I was fortified for a night of underground hardcore punk! (See more in a coming post).

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On Sunday, I biked up to Northeast to attend the NE Brewer’s Block Party, held at Sociable Cider Werks. Here, too, a variety of food trucks and activities were set up in a parking lot. Sociable was serving up their cider inside their brewery while Indeed Brewing was also on hand with their beers. With plenty of bike parking, biking in was a lot more convenient than finding street parking, of which many people seemed to be having trouble with. You could get into the party for a buck, or with a piece of nonperishable food to donate.

Along with the brews, I had maybe the best veggie burger I’ve eaten from Simple Steve’s, one I’d not seen before, and I could not pass up another frozen treat from Frio Frio and some of Cranky’s ice cream. Why not? The sun beat down on the asphalt, and it was kind of a baking desert in the parking lot with not a lot of shade. However, a Pinch Flat cider (a funky but refreshing beverage) along with the music of Aby Wolf made it a pretty good time. A local Minneapolis vocalist, her music has an ethereal complexity that I really enjoy.

All in all, pretty nice for a lazy summer afternoon!

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Crowding a parking lot for food and beer under the burning sun!

Moth St. Paul Story Slam at the Amsterdam

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The Moth Story Slam: Adventure theme begins at the Amsterdam, May 2015

So, back in May, I attended the monthly Twin Cities branch of the Moth Radio Hour, performed at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in Downtown St. Paul. The Amsterdam seems to have become one of my favorite venues in recent months, with a pretty good beer list and some delicious Netherlands style Frites.

The Moth, “True Stories Told Live,” is one of my favorite events there. Coinciding with events in locations throughout the nation and the world, the Moth celebrates the “art and craft of storytelling,” by inviting people to step up to the mike to share their own stories, based on a chosen theme. I am big follower of the Moth Story Hour NPR radio show and podcast, and I find storytelling in general to be a very interesting and dynamic genre. When your own life is dull and mundane, how fun is it to live vicariously (and learn) by listening to others. What a great way to gain insight into other viewpoints, lives, and experiences and learn how others transform their dull and mundane lives into interesting and affirming tales. Some of the stories are heartbreaking, some are hilarious, and some bridge the gap between these; some are action-packed, some languid. All are wonderful.

At each Moth event at the Amsterdam, the audience is invited to write their name down and throw it into a hat to be randomly drawn to perform at this month’s show. A few rules are provided, as expressed on the sign here.

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The rules…

The theme at the Amsterdam in May was Adventure, a fitting one for me, of course, though in spite of a few beers, I did not have the confidence, quite yet, to step up and throw my name into the hat. There were a lot of exciting, funny, and affecting pieces shared, from road trips, camping in Alaskan bear country, among others. The favorite piece is then voted upon by the audience and submitted to this years’ Moth Grand Slam, which I wrote about last June, and a chance to even appear on the radio show/podcast!

The next show is on Wednesday this week, with a theme of Balance, “maintaining equilibrium in a board room or on a surf board.” I’ve made it a goal this year to throw my name into the hat at some show this year; we will see if that happens!

Amsterdam Bar and Hall, 6th and Wabasha, St. Paul. Easy walking distance from St. Paul Central Station Green Line, parking lot available across street. Moth Story Slam tickets $8 online, $10 at door. Doors open at 6:30, stories start at 7!

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Amsterdam Bar and Hall

Beer, Bikes, and Trains

The upcoming Rails and Ales event looks pretty fun, but I’ve been thinking of planning my own public transportation/bicycle pub crawl as well, perhaps for my birthday (which is coming up way too fast, maybe). While planning logistics, I noticed this very helpful article by Brian Martucci on MinnPost the other day, Pedals and Pints. Definitely interesting reading. Also, I might get some hands on experience for planning for biking and drinking at the NE Brewer’s Block Party, organized Sociable Cider Werks, this Sunday. Another Sunday bike ride into Northeast? Of course! Once I get things put together, I’ll report on how my particular bike/light rail pub crawl adventure works out!

The Floating Library 2015

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The Floating Library

On Saturday, I went on yet another new adventure, one of my favorites of the year so far.

After the fierce storms of the night before, which knocked out power across the metro (and which I completely slept through except to note, hey, there’s lightning), the day opened sunny and warm, with a stiff, refreshing breeze. My internet was down. A perfect day to head up to Silver Lake at Silverwood Park and visit the Floating Library.

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These open topped kayaks were a little funny.

The Floating Library is an experimental public art project organized by Sarah Peters, a library of art books set adrift upon an urban lake, one the Twin Cities most prized summer locales. Also, as a librarian, I find it awesome to see how the ideas of the profession are reflected through the lens of art; Peters’ collection of unique and bizarre, lovely and thought provoking books, zines, and other mediums which expand what can be thought of as a book and what can be thought of as a library.

It is a great melding of Minnesota’s geological landscape with its wonderful cultural resources, the natural and the made coming together. On its third year, the Floating Library has traveled to Silver Lake, in St. Anthony, which seems a great place for the project. Silverwood Park is the designated “art park” of the Three Rivers Park system, and one I had never been to before. The lake is a small but picturesque place, with a couple of wooded islands, all bright green under the blue skies of the Minnesota summer. A perfect backdrop to enjoy some art books and zines.

Renting kayaks from the park facilities, my sister and I paddled out to the Floating Library, we found ourselves the first visitors to this years library. We pushed through the wind, moored to the cute library raft with its fluttering flag and shelves of materials overlooking the water and learned about the project and its history from Sarah. The collection includes circulating materials, which you can take anywhere in the park to peruse at your leisure, and return in some of the book drop receptacles scattered throughout the park.

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Library Ahoy!

Though the breeze on occasion made browsing a bit duct over the next couple hours, we browsed many titles from the stacks, both from the circulating materials and the reference collection, being recommended many interesting materials by Sarah and the other volunteers. There were examples from all over the country and the world, but my favorites were of course the local pieces. The little purple zine recording all of Princes’ lyrics that mention food, or the book that detailed the bodies of water from all of Minneapolis’ sister cities throughout the world. The breathtaking stereoscopic photos of miniature ships in their little box with the viewfinder like viewing glasses was particularly awesome, but those were among the tip of the iceberg of the things kept in the library. Speaking of that, the iceberg book, made of biodegradable ricepaper printed with images of icebergs patrons were encouraged to set adrift in the lake was also a really fun project. Of course, I have to mention the folding collection of water themed postcards, being a postcard fanatic.

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Duck Rabbits, accompanied by an art book available from the library.

I was really inspired by the innovation and creativity illustrated by these items; so many different styles, subjects, and ideas. You really have to see them to appreciate the diversity of the offerings. I have come to be very interested in zines and other physical self publishing, especially after the work my cousin accomplished in the medium, and I just need a little push, I hope, to start putting together more of my own. My goal next year is contribute something to the library, which is made from the donations of artists, bookmakers, writers, and other creative types.

In addition to the books and zines, we enjoyed the natural denizens of the lake as well, the turtles, purple martins, dragonflies, great blue herons and egrets that inhabited the banks.

The library will be setting sail again next weekend, July 25-26 11 am to 5, and on the evening of August 1st, for a moonlight paddle and poetry reading closing event at 8:30. Visiting Silverwood Park and the library is free, though you can rent canoes and kayaks from the park for the reasonable price of $5 an hour, if you can’t bring your own.

Another great place to check out zines year round in Minneapolis is the MCTC Library Zine collection; a few that I’ve collaborated on in the past can be found here, along with a lot more.

Silverwood Park, 2500 County Rd E
St. Anthony, MN

Minneapolis Community & Technical College
Library Zine Collection
1501 Hennepin Avenue

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Book Return Box, Silverwood Park

Open Streets Mpls: Northeast

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13th Avenue NE, Open Streets Mpls Northeast

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A couple tulips of Dangerous Man’s specialties.

On Sunday afternoon, I braved the hot and sticky conditions to check out another great event I had not yet experienced, the Northeast iteration of Open Streets Mpls, a series of events throughout Minneapolis intended to allow citizens to explore and interact with the city in a much more intimate, collaborative way. Closing a few streets to traffic to allow bikes, pedestrians, skateboarders, and other non-motorized traffic to take to the streets for community engagement. Participation is free for all of these events, not counting the myriad food trucks, breweries, and boutiques along the way, of course! I discovered some really cool stuff and I’m looking forward to future Open Streets events as well.

Starting out on 13th street, I paused to write down a wish to add to a wishing tree, and then pedaled down the marked streets people watching, checking out local groups, and hoping that it wouldn’t rain (then again, a few drops might have cooled things off a bit!). Pausing for some of the Anchor’s finest fish and chips, I grabbed a few delicious beer selections at Dangerous Man Brewing (the rich peanut butter porter and some cardamon infused Scottish Ale. I had been craving some fish and chips and the Anchor is my local favorite; Dangerous Man’s brews went down very well after the satisfying meal of fried goodness. Refreshed, I browsed used books across the street at Eat My Words!, while listening to local bands perform on the street outside. A Northeast bookstore I’d never been to before, it had a great selection of books, including a really cool selection of zines! I wish I had thought to bring a bag to carry back some finds, I shall have to return.

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Some of the Cycling Museum of Minnesota’s collections.

Heading up towards central, past Northeast branch library, I visited the wonderful Cycling Museum of Minnesota, a brand new volunteer run museum devoted to the history of bicycles in the Twin Cities. Located above the Recovery Bike Shop on Central, the museum had an interesting collection of historical bikes, from the 1880s to the 1990s, including some cool Norwegian and British bicycles. It looks like tehy have the start for a really interesting, dynamic new institution in Minneapolis. I am definitely looking forward to see what they do next.

Central Avenue was alive with bicycles, pedestrian, puppet shows, and community groups. The Friends of the Northeast Library had a few tables set up with withdrawn and donated books to peruse- of course, I couldn’t resist. Nor could I leave without grabbing some gourmet hand crafted ice cream from Cranky’s. It was a hard choice, but I decided to go with the Doughnut Ice Cream, I rich vanilla filled with chunks of actual cake doughnut. I’ll go for the beer ice cream next time. By this point, I was really starting to feel the heat as the sun began to pierce the clouds and beat down upon the streets of Northeast Minneapolis, so I pedaled back through Northeast Minneapolis to relax at home and cool off. In any case, I was quite impressed with Open Streets Mpls and will attend later events, it was a great way to explore different areas of the city close up, in a laid back way. The next one will be East Lake Street on Sunday, August 2nd, which definitely looks to be an interesting one as well! See you there!

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Central Avenue, Open Street Mpls Northeast

University of Minnesota Farmers Market

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McNamara Alumni Center, Gateway Plaza hosting University of Minnesota Farmer’s Market, July 8th, 2015

Yesterday was a beautiful day, so with an empty refrigerator and some hours of free time, I knew I’d need to head out for supplies. What great serendipity when, while browsing Twitter, I read, courtesy of the U of M’s Library, about a new farmer’s market in town starting that very morning at my old alma mater, the University of Minnesota. I made up an ingredient list and wasted no time in biking over.

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Summer vegetables at U of M Farmer’s Market

After all, I need little reason to hang out around the U of M and feel nostalgic. The market was held at the Gateway Plaza, under the shadow of the McNamara Alumni Center (you know, that strange, geometric building near Stadium Village- always thought it looked kind of like a giant twenty sider). Some seven or eight local farmers set up tables on the plaza, selling their produce, including the U’s own organic Cornercopia student-managed farm. There was quite a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables to choose from; I picked up some blueberries, rhubarb, beets, potatoes, green onions, garlic, zucchini, peppers, basil, cilantro and kohlrabi (needed to try out something new). I also saw turnips, lots of greens, strawberries and raspberries, ands sweet onions for sale. Along with the produce, there were also food trucks and food offered by the University Dining Services; that does not sound that promising, but my lunch was actually quite delicious- a roasted vegetable skewer lavash along with a cup of basil ginger lemonade.

As students, faculty, and just community members filled up their canvas bags with vegetables, had lunch, or spoke to one of the University and regional institutions set up, we were treated to live music by local Minneapolis band Sister Species. I’ve always enjoyed bands made up of siblings that have accordions, so they added a lot of cool ambiance to the market and I’m definitely checking out their music.

Upon arriving home, I threw together the zucchini, green onions, basil, and cilantro into a delicious cheesy rice hotdish from the MHS cookbook, Hot Dish Heaven. One of my favorite summer comfort food recipes. I’ll have enough to try out a few more recipes as well this week.

Looks like the market will be held every Wednesday for the rest of the summer, from 11 to 2. Another great place to buy some local wares in a metro full of farmer’s markets. I biked over, used the plentiful bike racks in the area, but there is plenty of car parking at the nearby ramp for a cost of three bucks. It’s a short walk over from the nearby Green Line East Bank Station, so that’d be a good choice, too.

McNamara Alumni Center, 200 SE Oak St, MPLS

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Sister Species performs at U of M Farmer’s Market

Freedom From Pants 2015

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The USS Sex Panther prepares to roll out of Northeast.

Well, I finally did it! Over the last few years I’ve been hearing about the awesome good time to be had every Fourth of July in Minneapolis with the Freedom from Pants Ride, but I haven’t had the chance to join the fun myself. Not unlike Improv Everywhere’s No Pants Subway Ride, a New York phenomenon which has spread to Minneapolis, the Freedom From Pants Ride is an irreverent celebration of American exuberance (not that other countries aren’t exuberant, of course!). For 2015, I jumped on the chance to join up and roll out with the crowd. As expressed by one of the many participants as he passed me on his bike, this is a great example of the wonderful “microcosm” of this city, a well kept secret of “coolness.” Why not go outside in your underwear during our few short months of heat? While Minnesotan inhibitions might not allow for anything more than just underwear for most of us (myself included), unlike some other cities, there was still plenty of transgressive American fun to be seen.

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The riders arrive in Loring Park, Freedom From Pants 2015

What better way to enjoy a hot summer day than by wearing as little as possible and riding your bike with a few hundred other people through the streets of downtown Minneapolis. As the procession of not fully clothed bicyclists let freedom ride throughout the city of Minneapolis, we responded to confused onlookers with cries of “Freedom!” and “Join Us!” Heading from Northeast Minneapolis, we crossed the Hennepin Avenue Bridge and rode towards Loring Park, whereupon fireworks were let off and dancing commenced. It’s a great feeling to be among such an eclectic and fun loving crowd, making a bit of a good-natured scene and presenting an aura of exuberance. Plus, it’s another fun thing to do that costs no money whatsoever (as long as you have, or can borrow, a bike).

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We ride on Lyndale.

Much ingenuity was presented as people towed mobile dj setups, including my friend, with his USS Sex Panther speaker system, a furry musical which attracted a lot of loving attention from onlookers. It was definitely an awesome piece of work to be riding next to, though he is promising to make it even more impressive next year.

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Fun at Cedar Lake

After Loring Park, the hoard traversed the streets toward Uptown, waving to the many enthusiastic onlookers eating at restaurants or gathered in their backyard to take in the pre-fireworks show. Arriving at Cedar Lake, we cooled off in the crystal waters of one of the city’s best swimming beaches. As the sun, red through the haze of smoke from the Canadian wildfires sunk into the horizon, we relaxed in the cooling waters as the heat of the day mellowed. Finally, the call was given and the festivities continued back through downtown, a line of flashing lights and ringing bells, arriving at Nicollet Island to take in the city’s firework shows (and let off a few of their own as well, perhaps a little recklessly). On the way home, I grabbed some delicious frozen yogurt from one of the last remaining food trucks, Fro-Yo Soul and went home, exhausted but happy.

Really, I can’t think of any better way to spend the Fourth in Minneapolis. For next year, I would recommend taking lots of water (especially if you plan on having a drink along the way), and also make sure to pack out any garbage that you produce to keep the city nice and the reputation of the spectacle good as well. Check out the City Page’s account of the event, as well.