MSP Reading Time: 100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die

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The bucket list, all that stuff that one should experience in life before one, well, “kicks the bucket” seem to be a pretty popular format to base local travel books around currently. Perhaps due to its slightly morbid nature, I find it a fascinating concept, having browsed through various lists before, 1000 albums, 1000 books, etc. I am a bit of a list junkie, I must admit, as I write about over on my other blog, Reading Rainstorm. It looks as though this one is only one among many books detail the essential one hundred things citizens should experience before dying (or moving?) So, of course, I was eager to check out the list of must do activities in my home metro of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their various suburbs. All in all, I found 100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die to be a pretty solid list.

While it might be a bit more of a stretch in a medium size metro area like the Twin Cities, I feel that compiler Tom Weber put together a very nice list of some of the most awesome things to do around here, including museums, annual festivals and events, famous local cuisines, and our well known performing arts venues (oh, and sports). It was quite fun going down the list with my fiancee, a transplant from California, tallying off all of the things we’ve done. Even with all of my activity in the course of writing this blog (and my 34 years in the area compared to Lindsay’s 4 years), she’s beaten me out. I’ve only accomplished 42 of the suggestions in, while she’s gotten up to 46. Almost half! I guess we locals occasionally take the wonders held in our neck of the woods for granted while people seeing them through new eyes get through more. I have certainly had a lot of fun adventures with her over the last year.

Of the ones I can check off, a few of my favorites from the blog appear in the list, though I’m definitely looking forward to getting through even more of them with my love, and there are quite a few that I have yet to experience that seem pretty interesting. Of course, as is true for any such book published two years ago, it is not quite up to date. There are a few on the list that, if you haven’t accomplished them already, will be impossible (eating at the Oak Grill at the Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis, for instance).

Of the entries that remain, though, there is plenty of exciting inspirations. I really enjoyed the lists taking advantage of the extreme seasons of the Twin Cities, not forgetting to neglect all of unique experiences to be had in the dead of winter, from ice skating to art sled racing. Over the course of the next year, I’m hoping to check off a few of the more interesting things I haven’t done yet and write about them here, one for each season.

Specifically, I’m hoping to do #27 and experience Powderhorn Park’s May Day Parade for spring, check out a free summer movie or concert in one of Minneapolis’ park (#25), finally get to #23, one of BareBone’s Outdoor Puppet pageants for Halloween, and hopefully next winter they’ll be enough snow for next year’s #31 art sled rally.

Also, regardless of season, I’m looking forward to #64, touring the Capitol with my state worker sweetheart this year, as well. In any case, we’re well set to check off half of Weber’s list in the next year.

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

 

 

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Minneapolis Reading Time: Jazz Music at the St. Paul Public Library

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Rice Park’s statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald on a snowy spring day not unlike today. You know, Fitzgerald hated snow!

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages]

I attended a very interesting little event at the St. Paul Public Library a few weeks ago and have just gotten around to writing about it! Music of the Jazz Age was a relaxing, casual Sunday afternoon event held at the ornate Magazine Room on the third floor of the George Latimer Central Library. This was one of the first events by a new literary group in the Twin Cities, Fitzgerald in St. Paul, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the achievements of classic American author F. Scott Fitzgerald in his hometown of St. Paul.

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George Latimer Central Library, St. Paul

This is particularly interesting to me as I prepare to move in with my sweetheart into Fitzgerald’s very own neighborhood in St. Paul! Yes, I’m crossing the river and moving into the other Twin City! As was mentioned by the librarian in the introduction to the Music of the Jazz Age program, we were walking in the footsteps of Fitzgerald in at the George Latimer Central Library, and in my own daily life too! Of note, the Magazine Room also houses the F. Scott Fitzgerald Reading Alcove. It was a superb space to listen to some of the music of his time. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald themselves coined the term “the Jazz Age,” to refer to the era they lived in, and some very talented musicians were invited to perform some examples of the jazz that inspired the moniker.

Vocalist Connie Evingson, accompanied by Dan Chouinard on piano and Chris Bates on bass, performed some elegant renditions of some popular pieces from the 1920s, including some mentioned in a few of Fitzgerald’s stories. Three O’Clock in the Morning, one of the songs sung by Evingson, was mentioned in The Great Gatsby, for instance. A few excerpts from Fitzgerald’s works were read and one felt almost as though one had gone back in time, to when you were actually allowed to smoke in the library! Although Lindsay and I were among a handful of people under age 50 in the audience, I would recommend people of all ages keeping an eye on Fitzgerald in St. Paul, which will be offering a monthly series the first Sunday of every month at FitzFirst@Four. The next one, at Common Good Books, discusses Fitzgerald’s story The Rich Boy on April 3rd at 4 pm. Similar stories appear in one of the books I mentioned in my entry My Twin Cities Reading List, The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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153518Next, I think I’ll be reading this book, A Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul.l Perhaps, as I walk in the footsteps of the great writer, I’ll share more of my discoveries!

 

 

 

 

 

MSP Reading Time: Rain Taxi and George Saunders

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages]

On Monday, I was excited to head out to Macalester College see a writer 25893679who has been described as “the best on the planet,” George Saunders, presenting in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the awesome local literary publication, the Rain Taxi Review of Books. Publishing four times a year and offering reviews of independent and obscure works of literature in diverse genres, from poetry to graphic novels, memoir to science fiction, if you see it in the racks at local coffee shops or bookstores, don’t forget to grab a copy. They’re free! Like the City Pages, and the late lamented Vita.mn and Onion papers, they have a tendency to pile up on my couches and in the backs of my friends and family’s cars. Of course, for the low price of $12 a year, you could subscribe and make sure you get all four copies. Always plenty of fodder to pile up on that ever growing reading list!

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Crowd queuing to listen to George Suanders, Kagan Commons, Macalester College

When Rain Taxi began back in 1995, one of their first issues reviewed a book of short stories by a new writer, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders. To help celebrate this, and the new edition of Saunders’ charming and eccentric children’s/adult’s picture book, the Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Saunders visited the Twin Cities to read a few of his works and talk about his writing style. I don’t think you could choose a better introduction to the wit and style of George Saunders than the Gappers of Frip.  Read to a rapt audience by George Saunders himself, it was great way discover Saunders’ humorous and surreal, yet true to life writing. I can thank my English major sister for introducing me to his work, though I am still trying to complete my reading of his opus. I would also recommend listening to Saunder’s audiobooks, as he has a great, expressive reading voice, which made his live reading even better! Saunders was even kind enough to mention that the Twin Cities is a great place to do readings!

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George Saunders discussing Gappers to rapt attention

There is nothing cynical in Saunders’ work, but it also does not shy away from depicting the dark injustices faced by every citizen in our imperfect world, poverty, prejudice, greed, apathy, fear. Yet these elements are accompanied by a gentle, bright humanism that really shines through as well, making it a great exploration of the world as it is.

I’ve read that one, along with his latest collection Tenth of December and have always been in absolute awe at his writing prowess. More than any other author, I feel, he is able to capture the idiosyncrasies and feelings of everyday life infused with a total oddness that is itself true to life. In both Tenth of December and CivilWarLand, normal, flawed humans deal with absurd and bizarre situations they way we do with all of those inconvenient but normal problems of everyday life. Each story, also, takes a totally different and unique situation and takes it totally unexpected directions. In his discussion of his writing, Saunders mentioned a really interesting thought, that the writer’s job is really to bring their subconscious to the table, to make the richest and most resonant writing.

This is the stuff that draws me into Saunder’s stories, and into the deep, obsessing world of books in general. As Eric Lorberer, editor at Rain Taxi said in the video celebrating the magazine’s 20 years, books, “as the vital transporters of ideas, and of culture, and of values,” writing as a work of art and books will never leave humanity. Nothing exemplifies this better than the work of George Saunders. 

MSP Reading Time: new book Downtown Minneapolis in the 1970s launched at the Mill City Museum

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Mill City Museum at night

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages where I discuss some of my favorite nonfiction books discussing the 1970s]

One of my favorite attractions to suggest to visitors to the Twin Cities is the Mill City Museum. A cool and innovative space nestled inside the stony, almost medieval looking ruins of the Washburn A. Mill, the museum informs and illustrates the history of Minneapolis unlike any other place in the city, I think. Back in the day, the mill district was processing more wheat than any other location in the world, feeding people across the globe and of course, making tons of money for the gilded age mill barons. If you are a local and haven’t been there, it’s one of those cool local places that should be a must see.

It also makes an atmospheric place for events and last Thursday I attended one such free gathering, the launch party of the new Minnesota Historical Society Press book, Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s. Photographer Mike Evangelist was a suburban kid working downtown during the 1970s, and used his time off to take photographs all over downtown Minneapolis, capturing this period in which the modern, corporate city we know today was emerging from the body of the older Minneapolis. The IDS Center sprung up, skyways began to arch over the busy city sidewalks, while areas such as the Gateway District had been flattened for parking lots in previous years.

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Crowd at the Mill City Museum entranced by presentation of Downtown Minneapolis in the 1970s- 1970s skyline compared to today

The Mill City Museum made a very appropriate and atmospheric locale for this discussion and gallery, as the mill district was all but dead at the time, the milling having left for other places and this area of downtown was all but abandoned, a victim of the changing of the times explored in these photographs. The launch party presentation was fascinating as Evangelist and his collaborator on the book, writer Andy Sturdevant, discussed the background by the photos and the world that they came out of, along with a gallery of the original photographs to examine. This seems to be a particularly interesting period of the city’s history and I’ve found myself quite curious about the 1970s myself. While I was not alive in any part of the 1970s, my parents certainly told some stories about the period and it was great to see what has changed and what has remained the same. In particular, the common appearance of bicycles in these photos illustrate the place they had in Minneapolis even forty years ago, the first year that bicycles outstripped the sale of cars in the 20th century. We even learned some rare and hidden information, such as the current, secret location of all of those classic Nicollet Mall streetlamps prominent in these photos. I am looking forward to reading this book in more detail soon. Available currently at local bookstores, and of course, the Hennepin County LibraryMay need to wait a little while for that one, after the discussion on MPR the other day, the number of requests have jumped!  

Make sure to follow the Old Minneapolis Facebook page, for those of you who are into that whole social media thing. I just checked it out and there are all sorts of intesresting vintage photos and stories posted very frequently. Great for something to look at on a lunch break downtown!

MSP Reading Time: Talking Volumes talks Welcome to Night Vale

[Cross post with my BookLikes book blog, ReadingRainstorm]

Minnesota Public Radio’s nearly twenty season old program, Talking Volumes, always has some fascinating, inspiring conversations with some of the best authors working today. As the autumn begins, new shows begin to appear, marking the perfect time to grab some new books and listen to the authors expand upon their writing. Hosted by Kerri Miller with the help of the Loft Literary Center, I always like to attend at least one of them a year.

Back in 2013, I attended the thought-provoking conversation with everyone’s favorite Canadian speculative fiction rock star Margaret Atwood, getting a couple of my books signed. It was very interesting to listen to her thoughts on the use of science in literature, and writing about the apocalypse, which seems to have become a bit of a theme for me.

On Sunday, I attended the equally thought-provoking show with Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, creators of the super popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale and the new tie in novel, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Perfect for the coming Halloween festivities, I’ve been listening to Cranor and Fink’s creepy, witty, inexplicable stories, utterly mystified by its popularity. The two writers’ voices mesh so seamlessly into one stylish, eerie whole, aided by the pitch perfect announcing of voice actor Cecil and the atmospheric music of Disparition.  How did something so weird, so admittedly inaccessible, become such a big thing? It was very informative to listen to Kerri Miller chat with the two writers about their philosophies and craft, especially in the portions where she disagreed with them. These were some of the questions I had with the show too, and I am very curious to see how it all translates into a novel.

It was an intriguingly appropriate venue to discuss the meanings of Night Vale and how the authors create such a memorable, intricate, and bizarre, every myth is true setting. After all, Night Vale is a radio drama in the form of a podcast, detailing the community news, eccentric personalities, tongue in cheek commercials, and musical interludes. Seems familiar, eh?  I have a deep interest in fictional towns, so this parallel made for some cool discussions.

In fact, the podcast has often been described to me as Garrison Keillor meets H.P. Lovecraft, or the Prairie Home Companion crossed with the X-files. This is, as Kerri Miller pointed out, we were sitting in “the house that Lake Wobegon built.” The show started off with a trivia contest, asking audience members questions of whether something happened in Night Vale or Lake Wobegon, which again hinted at the parallels between these two imaginary communities and the weird relationships they have with the “real world.”

I am captivated, obsessed with this theme that both radio dramas share, the fictional town or community set in our world, but just a little bit outside of our normal, everyday experiences. In some ways, they are able to express the feelings of place, and of region even better than an actual location. Fink, for instance, spoke about how he sees “the places often pretty clearly, the place is important, I feel, the setting” and mentions using the hometown library he remembered growing up, a weird, inexplicable place” as the real world inspiration for Night Vale’s own “unknowable” library and its dangers.

Throughout my attempts to dabble in fiction, I have always found myself captivated, obsessed with some of the ideas explored in Welcome to Night Vale and found myself drawn into these elements specifically. One thing that Night Vale seems to specialize in is a juxtaposition between the mundane world that we all live in, and the weirder, stranger world that exists just outside our understandings. Things are weird in Night Vale, and the people accept this.

Meanwhile, the music highlighting the show, original songs by Aby Wolf, were a great compliment to the eerie, beautiful atmosphere of Night Vale and is definitely worth checking out by itself. After all, one of my favorite aspects of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast is being exposed to new, local music scenes.

I’m looking forward to reading the book!

You can listen to Sunday’s show here right now, and keep an eye on the future scheduled shows as well!

Club Book at Stillwater Public Library: Emily St. John Mandel

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Front entrance of the Stillwater Public Library, on a chilly Monday night in October

Monday, I attended one of the Twin Cities many author events, listening to the Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel discuss her book Station Eleven at the Stillwater Public Library, in the Washington County Library System. I do not often make it out this far east, sadly, so I had not yet been to this impressive library building before. A beautiful, impressive Carnegie Library building updated to serve the modern world, I would love the chance to explore the stacks and resources at my leisure in the future. Hosted by Club Book, one of the many free literary events hosted by local library systems, courtesy of the Legacy Amendment! Check out those writers coming up in the next few weeks!

The evening was a grey and chilly one, the historic town nestled into the St. Croix river valley under hazy clouds and quickly changing autumn leaves. Perfect for the approach of Halloween and a discussion of the end of the world. As I wrote recently in my book blog, I have been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic literature lately and Station Eleven was by far my favorite, and one which generates a lot of discussion, as I discussed here. When I heard that Emily St. John Mandel herself would be in Stillwater to talk about it, I was there! Listening to her discuss her writing process and reasons behind writing about this topic was inspiring. Why are people so interested in stories of the end of the world? Some of the theories Mandel has heard include the continued reality of economic inequality, divorce, or a longing for redemption. For us impermament beings, perhaps, it just feels like this “fraught world we lie in always seems like its ending.”

She chose to write of the world after the Georgian Flu and the end of the modern world in order to reflect upon her sense of awe at this world we live in, one in which we can talk to people on the other side of the globe instantaneously and travel there in a matter of hours. For a lot of people, myself included, much of this world seems so precarious, yet of course we always take it for granted the internet will still be working in the morning. As Mandel said, “every season brings a new wave of absolutely disastrous narrative.” It appears that, just last week, some weirdoes were predicting that last Thursday would be, for real, judgement day. I just saw a new article discussing which American cities would be totally underwater in a century or so. Whatever your background or belief system, it seems that the end of the world is a perennial interest of many of us; I know that I find myself pondering what the coming years will bring.

In Station Eleven, the cause of the collapse of the age of electricity is the Georgian Flu, a virulent epidemic that kills an estimated 99% of the population. Mendel said she chose an epidemic due to the apolitical, timeless nature of the threat- unlike a nuclear war, the political climate will not become dated. Plagues and epidemics are among the scariest threats, like earthquakes, it is not a matter of if, but when. People might dress themselves as the walking dead and drink a lot, as in the upcoming Zombie Pub Crawl this weekend, but the fear remains- not of zombies, but of germs.  

One of the things that I liked most about Station Eleven is its realism, but also its hope, whatever comes, humans will survive, and more than survive. The novel’s arc words, “Survival is insufficient,” reflect this, as the members of the Traveling Symphony continue to travel the Great Lakes region performing Shakespeare. As a librarian, this is always the crux of my thoughts; how will we keep up, preserve, the cultural, artistic, and scientific achievements of this and earlier ages? Throughout Station Eleven, aside from the works of Shakespeare, one of the leading remains of our world that reminded was the small press graphic novel of Miranda, which was read and absorbed by surviving generations in very different ways. I am sure that, in coming centuries, this confluence of the St. Croix, Minnesota, and Mississippi Rivers will continue to remain a hub of human activity, and I hope that we can make it better and continue, not just to survive, but to thrive. 

Before I left, of course, I had to purchase another of Emily St. John Mandel’s novels, which I look forward to reading soon!

Here are a novels that depict a post-apocalyptic world in the former Twin Cities; check them out at any of our local libraries! Let me know if you discover any others!

River Rats, Caroline Stevermer, 1992– a young adult novel set after a nuclear war, following a group of young traveling musicians as they travel up and down the Mississippi. The silent and empty ruins of Minneapolis and St. Paul are among the most haunting portions of the novel.

Bone Dance, Emma Bull, 1991 – An interesting cyber punk, post-apocalyptic urban fantasy (how often do you see one of those, especially in Minnesota?), Bone Dance doesn’t go right out a say it is set about a century after a nuclear war devastated North America, but there are plenty of hints to show where it is, including a climatic scene in the remains of the IDS Tower.

Minnesota Cold, Cynthia Kraack, 2009– This interesting novel depicts Minnesota after an another nuclear event, as an orderly but tyrannical rogue state, which I can describe only as North Korea as run by Target. It is interesting that I can still recognize aspects of the state in the author’s descriptions.

Cifiscape Vol. 1, The Twin Cities– This intriguing anthology of local speculative fiction has a post-apocalyptic bent. Most of the short stories and comics collected here depict the Twin Cities after some kind of collapse or dystopia. The cover image, from Ken Avidor’s Bicyclopolis is one of the most atmospheric images of an apocalyptic Twin Cities I’ve seen.

Undertow

 

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Washington and 8th, in the North Loop

On break yesterday evening, I strolled down Washington into the North Loop, pursuing a story I had heard about on the social networks. Holding out my phone, checking the glowing icons as my location was tracked and I approached my destination. I was not quite sure how it would work but I was intrigued. I would not be disappointed. This was, it turned out, a quest perfect for a MSP Reading Time.

Revolver, an arts and cultural magazine I’ve been following since they started in 2012 announced Undertow, a program in cooperation with a local events app, Leav, a “mobile platform” which allows people to access different pieces of interactive art in various specific locations around the city. A very interesting concept, I thought. With Undertow, Revolver invited seven writers from the Twin Cities to write about their neighborhoods, accessible on the Leav app from the locations the stories evoke. Each week, another new story while be shared on the app, and you’ll have to find your way there to experience them.

The first is poet Sarah Fox’s “Somebody Save Me,” in the North Loop neighborhood. I happened to be working nearby at Minneapolis Central Library, so this was a fun and mysterious excursion that I could manage on a half hour break. Walking along Washington, enjoying the brisk weather, I realized that this was a part of town I have not often visited for some reason- a lot of interesting things happening around here, perfect for a bit local tourism on a work day.

Fox’s piece, read aloud, was evocative, surreal, heady. I listened to it standing on the street corner, hearing her voice resonate out of my phone, mixing with the sounds of the city. Next time, I think I’ll remember to bring my headphones. With a lot of interesting elements drawing on many subjects, I will definitely check her work out.

I grabbed a Be’Wiched sandwich for lunch and headed back. This was really cool, an everyday literary adventure that can take you anywhere in the city, illuminating the secrets and magic of places we take for granted every day.You should download the app and experience it! You can listen to “Somebody Save Me” at the corner of Washington and 10th until the end of the week. I am very curious where the next week’s will take me! 

Autoptic Festival (and others)

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Aria and the Alliance Francaise, site of Autoptic Festival 2015

Another busy weekend, but for me, by far the highlight was the Autoptic Festival,  a two day festival of independent cartoonists, zines, and other graphic art culture. Perfect for an MSP Reading Time adventure. Started in 2013, this was the first time I’ve attended, though I was only able to attend the first day, I will most definitely return next year. The DIY ethos of the artists, writers, musicians, and others who packed the old warehouse of Aria in the North Loop was inspiring to me and really resparked my desire to try my hand at some comics of my own (in spite of my own lack of drawing background). It was almost overwhelming how many awesome people and creations were being shared.  Held in conjunction with MCAD’s week long comic residency program Pierre/Feuille/Ciseaux, an experimental comics workshop which invited cartoonists from across North American and Francophone countries to collaborate in cartooning, the event celebrates the possibilities of comic art. The Minnesota comics scene has been really interesting and Autoptic is a perfect celebration of this dynamic and wonderful artform, and its great that our city plays host.

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Interior of Aria, Autoptic Festival exhibitions

 

I biked downtown on Saturday morning to see what was happening, having not attended Autoptic before. The event was free to the public, and full of really interesting programs, exhibitions, special guests, and art. Two of my favorite cartoonists, Gabrielle Bell and Jillian Tamaki discussed their comics, and independent comics in general. Listening to this conversation was the highlight of the day for me.

Bell’s work has been a favorite of mine for five or so years, with her self-deprecating memoir and semi-autobiographical comics, especially The Voyeurs and Truth is Fragmentary. I find her both her ability to express everyday thoughts with such elegance and her use of magic realist elements to illustrate these feelings to be fascinating and her use of travelog to be a major influence.

Jillian Tamaki’s work has really impressed me as well, and I recently read, and loved, her webcomic Super Mutant Magic Academy, with fandom parodies and absurdist comedy. Of course, I also was wowed by her Caldecott winning graphic novel, This One Summer, written with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, finding it to be a very evocative and thought-provoking look back at the confusion, joy, and fear of childhood.

In their conversation, I was particularly struck by Tamaki’s comment regarding how it doesn’t really matter what the comics look like, but how effective the message is. Of course, her art is beautiful, but it is still inspiring to those of us who are still working on their art, as it were. Bell’s comments on how the internet greatly expanded her ability to share her work were also very interesting, as I toy with the idea of getting more of my own work out there.

Of course, I really identified with both of their statements on how they first were introduced into the comics scene; through newspaper comics, Archie, and Mad Magazine. For a long time, I never really considered myself a fan of comics, having never gotten into the superhero type that seems to be what people think about when the word comes up, but then I thought, too, how big an influence Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side were upon me growing up, and how much I enjoyed those comic versions of classic literature. There are so many different ways comics can express the human condition.

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Portrait by Gabrielle Bell

Later, I listened to the idiosyncratic cartoonist Charles Burns talk about his artistic style, seen in his most well known work, Black Hole and, most recently, his X’ed Out trilogy; his work has always been a little hard to approach for me, but fascinating, and I love his art style and his  melding of everyday suburban banality with grotesque, monstrous horrors; interesting how well they pair…

There were some interesting parallels brought up by an audience member too between Burns’ work, which reimagines mid-century kitsch and pop culture (romance comics, Tintin, etc.) with that of Mark Mothersbaugh, a child of same generation who also refurbishes pop culture into new, and bizarre, configurations.

In addition to picking up a nice selection of rare, limited edition comics and art, I was extremely lucky to get my portrait done by the fabulous Gabrielle Bell herself! I always feel so awkward chatting with authors, but I now have an awesome new picture for my social media accounts. I am writing more about the comics I read, discovered, and devoured on my BookLikes blog, Reading Rainstorm. Also, check out my sister’s take on the event at her comics blog, I’m Reading Comeeks! We were both wowed.

A lot was happening on Saturday in downtown Minneapolis; after heading out of Autoptic, I went a few blocks down the street to check out the Pizza Luce Block Party, also for the first time. A hot, humid day for some hot music, hot pizza, and some cold beer and ice cream. This, too, was free to get in to enjoy the music, though of course you could spend plenty on the refreshments. Izzy’s ice cream is always good, especially on a hot day, and I also tried out some of Summit Brewing’s new Make It So, and extra special bitter infused with Teasource Earl Grey. Beer and tea? Of course I had to try it, and it was a rich, wonderfully citrus beer I will definitely have again. After listening to Minneapolis bands Tiny Deaths and Pink Mink, and enjoying the people watching, I headed to the next thing.

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Pink Mink perform at the Pizza Luce Block Party 2015, in downtown Minneapolis.

Finally, over the weekend I also checked out a couple more Fringe Festival shows before the end of this years fest; The Morning Meal Society and Too Punk to Care. Each of these were great ways to end off the Fringe Fest season. The Morning Meal Society was a irreverent and political parody of The Breakfast Club and ‘80s culture in general, performed by the Young Artists Council of Youths, all under 18! Quite interesting to see the group take on this nostalgic culture that existed before they were born, and use it to reflect their own concerns in 2010s America. Basically, it has everything the Fringe goer is looking for (they say so themselves!).

Too Punk to Care was one of my favorites, the actors debating and fighting as they attempted to pin down the meaning of punk in the Minnesotan hinterlands, starting up bands, playing instruments, and belting obscenely hilarious jokes.  The mayonnaise guy was particularly disgustingly funny. Personally, I’d rather go for some lutefisk than mayo straight from the jar! From the use of a zine for the show’s program, to the song lyrics and the frenetic instruments, the DIY ethos of punk came through very strong, and I was really impressed with the music, too.

MSP Reading Time: Books and Bars Reads Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members

[Cross post with my BookLikes book blog, ReadingRainstorm]

I attended my second Books and Bars event held at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall last night, which was focused on one of my favorite books I read last year, Dear Committee Members. Written by Julie Schumacher, a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota, I found the book to be a fast paced read, sharp, biting, and delightfully prickly. Making this Books and Bars even cooler than most, Julie Schumacher herself was present to discuss the book and her writing. This led to some fascinating discussions of the novel’s lead character, J.T. Fitger, the state of academia, the neglect of English departments, and writing seminars. Along with a few beers from Bang Brewing, and some of the Amsterdam’s interesting broodjes (little sandwiches, including goat cheese, eggplant, and many other varieties) and some frites, it was definitely a good time. I will have to pay a visit to Bang Brewing, as I found the Como, an American Bitter, to be very good, but I’d have to try more!

An epistolary novel of academic and professional ennui, Dear Committee Members is a wry and bleakly comic account of one curmudgeonly chauvinistic creative writing professor’s rather unfortunate semester.  Told through a collection of sarcastic letters of recommendation, interdepartmental memos, and other correspondence penned by the bitter English Professor and would be great author, Jason Fitger, of the “second rate” private liberal arts college Payne University, we are treated to his passive aggressive barbs aimed at his students, his colleagues, and his former friends and lovers. Fitger rarely passes up an opportunity for editorializing, ranting, and self aggrandizement, particularly in letters to former flames and ex-wives, there is a pathos here that laments the current state of academia in addition to one man’s feeling of personal failure, as we are forced to watch him grapple helplessly with clunky online evaluations, callow undergrads, unsympathetic administrators, and the toxic dust being pumped into his department by the refurbishment of the economics department while his window still doesn’t close; there is tragedy and comedy, as well as a depressing amount of familiarity.  Payne University, located somewhere in the Midwest, could definitely be a Minnesotan institution; in fact, I may have visited at some point!

Schumacher writes with a deft pen, granting the egotistic professor with a pathos that makes him feel sympathetic, and as she admitted, she sometimes identifies with him herself. I, too, could definitely relate to his environment, if not his sarcastic personality, and his wit and venom certainly led to some laugh out loud funny moments. In Fitger, Schumacher has created a great unreliable guide to the world of the English department. I just wonder how he’ll respond when he discovers RateMyProfessor!

I found Julie Schumacher’s insights into the publishing world and how even something as simple as a cover chosen for your book can dictate how you are going to write it. If you’re really sad you missed it, the last few Books and Bars discussions were recorded and will be broadcast on the Story North podcast by September. Speaking of September, the next book chosen for reading is Go Set a Watchman, that sequel that’s been in the news lately. So, better get your reserves set up fast! Currently sitting at 1722 at the Hennepin County Library, but only 25 in St. Paul! Personally, I’d say that Dear Committee Members is probably a lot more fun. I recommend it!

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!