Books & Bars enjoyed its biggest audience yet with 140 people in attendance to discuss Audrey Niffenegger’s smash hit, The Time Traveler’s Wife. We were fortunate to be invited to a larger venue, an art gallery named The Soap Factory. Our book club was part of an exhibit called Common Room based on large social gatherings. We made paper sculptures like the character Clare did in the novel and filled out card catalog info with blurbs, soundtrack suggestions and more related to Henry’s character.
Our discussion dealt with free will vs. fate and the metaphor of time travel.We felt the theme of the story was how lovers are not always in sync or even in the same place and time, but we should strive to be here now. Be present in the moment as it is all we really have for certain. Most of really enjoyed the book and more than a few had read it twice. (The movie is not so good, though. Imagine a flip book Cliffs Notes version of the book.)
Join Books & Bars’ Facebook group to see more photos of our event if interested.
Next month we read a lost classic, The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy.
Check out website (booksandbars.com/forum) for our list of upcoming possible selections. Feel free to make a recommendation.
This is not my beautiful wife
Do you trust the critics for your book club picks? I used to rely on them quite heavily for my book choices but am beginning to doubt that process as a viable option. If you’re interested in a new book and can’t get a positive word-of-mouth review from a friend, perhaps it’s more useful to depend on sites like Goodreads.com or Amazon.com instead of paid published book critics. How do you make your book club choices?
Our 63rd selection was Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. Most of the major critics raved about it yet we found it to be lacking, derivative and boring. I had noticed the Amazon.com review drop from 4 to 3 stars soon after the paperback publication which was a sign to me that regular readers may have liked it less than critics.
To be fair, Galchen’s novel does deal with some interesting issues of an unreliable narrator, obsession, jealousy, lasting love, falling out of love, psychosis and enabling. But the purported mystery is not here. It’s obvious from the start the main character is suffering from a mental illness. By the half way point of the book you realize it’s not going to be Vertigo but mostly Harvey meets A Beautiful Mind. Then you have another half of the book to read to this foregone conclusion.
At its best the book captures that feeling summed up in the Talking Heads’ tune, Once in a Lifetime. You wake up one day and wonder how your life became what it is. You feel its not what you had planned yet here you are. How did you get here? What can you do? Is the person you fell in love with the same person today as they were ten years ago? Are we who we think we are or who others perceive us to be?
The critics raved. We read it. We were underwhelmed. What next? I’ll tell you.
Join us at The Soap Factory for a discussion of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. M+Q’s Jay D. Peterson and the West Bank Social Center’s Miranda Trimmier will be curating a number of large group literary games and activities before and after the discussion. Jeff Kamin (that’s me) – comedian and improv artist – will lead the book discussion, per usual.
This event is part of Common Room – a temporary curated gathering space within The Soap Factory designed to facilitate interactivity and the blurring of the boundaries between curators, performers and audience, all within in a casual, living room-esque environment.
I’ll be back next month to let you know about the book club as art exhibit.
– Jeff Kamin, booksandbars.com
Twitter: Jefe23 Blog: mustacherobots.wordpress.com
118 people were in attendance as Books & Bars covered Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex on 6/9. With twenty people over fire code capacity we had our largest crowd (sneaking in) according to the Bryant Lake-Bowl servers.
In discussing Bonk, I allowed (encouraged) double entendres and sexual innuendos but warned you could get a shouted “BONK!” from the audience if you used one in your comments. It was a lot of fun with a seemingly still taboo topic for some people. A majority of the conversation was devoted to masturbation, perhaps not surprisingly, in our group of mostly singles.
Overall we enjoyed Bonk, though we felt it a little unfocused and slight on some of its topics. It may be hard to believe but we were ready for a more in-depth and serious take on the subject matters of sexuality and science. We usually do only one non-fiction book a year in our club. Non-fiction serves as a jumping off point for discussions, which end up being less about the book/author and more about the topics presented. Not always a bad thing, in fact they’re usually heated and informative debates, but after an informal poll we’ll continue reading mainly fiction.
Take a few minutes to see the video for the funny payoffs toward the end.
Next month we discuss Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen.
Thanks for reading.
Jeff Kamin, moderator/director/writer
Seth Grahame-Smith chatted with Books & Bars via Skype video. It was our first video chat with an author and a rousing success we hope to repeat soon. A movie screen on stage held his image while we sat in the theater with a couple microphones to ask him questions. He could see us as though he was sitting towards the back of the theater and also see his own image the movie screen. We discussed his smash hit Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which pokes broader fun at the social changes taking place in Jane Austen’s classic and his other projects for about 45 minutes. Then had time to have our regular discussion without him (another 45 min), making for a good balance. Seth was thoroughly engaging and entertaining, even breaking some secret scoops for us. Topics included the process of writing a mash-up, late night humor, how anything + ninjas = awesome, the drunken washwoman defense, zombies as a metaphor (marriage, etc.), and much more. I’ll let you see for yourselves from the two 8-minute video clips. If you had a particular question you were wondering about, ask me, we may’ve gotten an answer.
Link to video clips:
Next month – non-fiction (!): June 9th we cover
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach.
Please comment here, there, in a car, by a bar, with a goat, on a boat,
anywhere (otherwise we’re just yelling into a dark cave):
Thanks for reading,
Moderator, Books & Bars
Book Club as Metaphor — Guest Post from Jeff Kamin’s Books & Bars
Books & Bars’ 60th meeting was a rousing success with the right crowd, comments, weather, new sound system and more. But the star was the perfect book choice, Kafka on the Shoreby Haruki Murakami. Easily my favorite since I’ve been blogging about needing a better book and one of my top ten of our 60 picks.
Kafka on the Shore was like one long, strange, beautifully haunting dream. Readers had lots of questions. No one really had concrete answers, but we all seemed to enjoy the trip. The story deals with a retelling of the Oedipus myth, music, talking cats, living ghosts, Colonel Sanders, dangers of living in the past, and trying to live in the present. Imagine Holden Caulfield as Oedipus’ son in modern day Japan directed by David Lynch. Everything is a metaphor.
Whew, and that’s just scratching the surface.
Murakami has said it “contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”
I’ll read it again when I have a chance. I love how a book changes with what you bring to it. Where you are in life at the time of reading affects it and how none of us ever reads the same book as our neighbor. We all imagine different things.
Over 100 gathered to dissect and praise it. We had people sneaking in over fire code, shhh…Usually when we all love it, it makes for a less interesting conversation, but not with the riddler, Murakami at the helm.
Next month we cover the “IT LIT” sensation, Pride and Prejudice and Zombiesby Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. It’s sold out everywhere. Our sponsor store, Magers & Quinn, sold 100 copies already. Grahame-Smith will be joining Books & Bars via Skypefor a discussion of his mash-up on May 12th. Should be brain-eating fun.
Follow me on Twitter: @jefe23
Anarchy at Books & Bars! Guest Post on Ursula K. LeGuin’s Dispossessed
Here is this month’s guest post from Jeff Kamin, reporting on Minneapolis’ Books & Bars Book Club which met this time to discuss Ursula K. LeGuin’s novel The Dispossessed. Last month Jeff reported on their discussion of The Monsters of Templeton, read that here. I love how the below conversation went — anarchy rules!
It might seem obvious to try to stay on topic when discussing a book with your club, but when you’re dealing with 80 people raising their hands to talk, you may have a tougher time.
Usually, I run the Books & Bars discussion based on research and questions I’ve brought to the group. People raise their hands and I call on them to speak. I try to pick people who’ve not spoken yet to give everyone a chance to explore the aspects of the book they came to share. Sometimes our conversations bounce around quite a bit while still talking about the book.
This time, in honor of our latest pick, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, we attempted a new trick. No hand raising, no waiting to be called on, just jumping into the discussion when you had something that applied to the topic. Cut off your neighbor! Make yourself heard when you want! Sounds rude, but it was actually quite civil.
Believe it or not with a slightly smaller group (75 people) in attendance, it worked. Our classic sci-fi pick was not as popular with everyone as I would’ve hoped, but a greater number actually read and liked it than I had anticipated. As many sci-fi books go, there’s a lot of early exposition and made-up names to get through, but the meat of the story gets juicier around the half way point. And no, to answer my question from last month, this was not the stellar winner I was hoping for in the club. But, we had no regrets for our lively political discussion and genre-expanding tale.
The Dispossessed’s protagonist states, “Revolution is our obligation; our hope of evolution.” We pondered whether it’s the people’s responsibility to maintain the mindset that made the initial revolt possible in a society founded upon revolution. Are laws or popular opinion a more effective tool of governing? What keeps us more honest: fear of getting caught or being shunned by our neighbors and society?
Loyalty is regarded as the characteristic that allows the strongest to survive in the utopias presented in The Dispossessed. One of the major themes is the ambiguity of different notions of utopia. None are presented as perfect here. We were able to compare and contrast current notions of socialism, communism and capitalism along with allusions to the feminist movement in the 70s and Vietnam. Did I mention we drink during our meetings?
Next month we enter the dreamy world of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.
I’m thinking about hand raising and calling on the members again, but maybe asking for people to try staying on topic and exhausting it before moving on to the next one. I’ll be back to let you know how it went.
We’re considering many book options. See our list on our booksandbars.com/forum or Facebook page. Make a comment here or there and let us know what you think.
More Monsters! Books & Bars Guest Post on The Monsters of Templeton
Here is February’s Guest Post from Jeff Kamin, moderator of Books & Bars Book Club in Minneapolis, MN. Last month the group sat down to discuss Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You and this month (on their 5th anniversary!) they tackled Lauren Groff’s bestseller The Monsters of Templeton. Read on to see how discussion of a book not necessarily loved by all can still provoke a lively debate.
Books & Bars celebrated 5 years this month! Our 58th book was The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. I was nervous going into the night’s discussion having read some grumblings on our forum that it was not one of our better picks.
OK, so I was right…about the book not being well received but I was wrong to worry about it. It turned out to be one of our funniest and most enjoyable discussions. When you have references to bad David Spade films (Joe Dirt – but really, isn’t there only one good David Spade film, Tommy Boy?), the music of Prodigy, practical jokes mistaken for ghosts, and your bookseller/sponsor accidentally sitting on this piece of anniversary cake…how can you go wrong?
I was a little surprised by the somewhat negative reaction Monsters received. I don’t usually prefer a book review to be reduced to a simple 5 star rating, but with the advent of social networking book sites (you’ll find Books & Bars on Shelfari.com, Goodreads.com and Facebook) we’ve come to accept, nay, expect a book to be rated. I’d actually rate Groff’s debut about 3 – 3 ½ stars of 5. Many of our members would have rated it lower, though about 1/4 of the 100 people in attendance agreed with me.
I admired Groff’s ambitiousness but others felt it was her downfall. She may have tried to do too much in the historical saga with too many narrators. Our group didn’t like or believe most of these characters except for favorites, Charlotte and Cinnamon (pyrokinetic and poisoner) and the monster in the lake, Glimmey.
We wanted more of the monster, Glimmey. So much so that one member pulled out a homemade sign during the discussion and held it up in the back of the theater. More than a few of us did love the ending, especially the last few pages, but it didn’t seem enough to redeem the book entirely.
To give you an idea of our group’s sensibilities, The Monsters of Templeton was deemed to be too precious or twee for us. We’re looking for a little more darkness with our humor, a little more sharp edges, less neat and tidy corners. An example of a homecoming story we liked better was The Epicure’s Lament by Kate Christensen.
Feel free to recommend something.
I’m itching and anxious for a very well received book after two in a row that haven’t been up to our usual standards. Will I get it with a classic poli-sci-fi, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin? Check back here next month to find out.
Join our Facebook group
Jeff Kamin – Moderator, Books & Bars
No One Belongs Here, Reading this Blog, More Than You — Guest Post from Books and Bars in Minneapolis
I’m pleased to offer the latest guest post from Jeff Kamin at Books & Bars in Minneapolis who last month discussed Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses (which my book group just picked btw). This month this unique book group met to discuss Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. What I love about this post is how it reinforces the value that being in book club adds to a book — even if it’s a book you don’t enjoy, there is always something to be gained from talking about it.
No One Belongs Here, Reading This Blog, More Than You
Books & Bars discussed Miranda July’s short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, for our January event. Another standing room only crowd of about 100 people wowed me with their insight and appreciation.
Miranda July has said she wants to create art that makes you want to create your own art. She loves it when you see a movie, read a book, or see a painting and then feel propelled or able to create something. Things are not the same anymore. July is also striving for the mutual recognition between strangers with her writing by conveying simple truths. Many of us at Books & Bars got it and felt that, too. It seems some very talented authors can make it look easy, almost effortless. From our discussion it appears she has succeeded on these fronts. Members talked of being inspired by her prose style and method of story telling to write their own fiction.
It had been a while since we read a collection of short stories by one author. Her stories followed a kind of pattern:
Person is unhappy -> Something offers them happiness -> They realize it’s unreality -> They end up in unhappy reality over happy unreality. The longer these stories were, the more invested we were. A few of the shorter ones didn’t affect us as much. Standouts were: The Swim Team, Something That Needs Nothing, I Kiss a Door, Making Love in 2003, Mon Plaisir, Birthmark, and How to Tell Stories to Children.
Not everyone agreed. Others felt the stories were incomplete or sounded too much like the same narrator (Miranda herself?). Some thought they would have enjoyed them more if they read them separately. Her characters and observations were unique yet some of us could relate while others wondered what was wrong with these people. We debated whether the characters are just lonely or whether they are longing for things they can’t realistically have. July’s writing style is eccentric and original which was a pro and con for some of us. Some of it was pretty dark, especially sexually, again for our group a turn on/off, depending. It was too much of the same darkness and loneliness to handle in one collection. The book had a lot of laughs and poignancy but was a bit too similar over the course of 200 plus pages.
I thought there were brilliant glimpses into the human psyche. It contained moments of observation and conversation which rang true. I found it insightful and funny and really was into some of the quirks and foibles of the characters. July captured the beauty of our individuality. As Poi Dog Pondering sang “You should wear with pride the scars on your skin. They’re a map of the adventures and the places you’ve been.” I recommend you read it, maybe in smaller doses, at least try a few of her stories and see for yourself.
Overall it was a good pick for Books & Bars because many of the people who didn’t love the book left our meeting with a greater appreciation for it than when they walked into the theater. They told me this is why they come to our events even if they didn’t really like the book. They can enjoy that others enjoyed it. And that is really all I can ask for from our meetings. We’ll laugh, get a new perspective and appreciate someone else’s point of view for a while. (All while drinking and making friends.)
If you’re interested in more of our thoughts and comments on Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You, please see our forum at booksandbars.com. Feel free to read along with us and join the discussion. Our next book is The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff for Feb 10th.
Jeff Kamin, Moderator, Books & Bars
“For those who take their books straight up – not off Oprah’s list – Books & Bars is the cure.
Bookended by social hours, it’s a perfect opportunity to meet hip literary types –
and the liquid courage doesn’t hurt.”– MPLS. ST. PAUL magazine, July 2008
“People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook.” (p. 73) — Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born.
I opened our Books & Bars discussion with my favorite quote from this quiet and introspective book which drew a surprisingly overflowing crowd of 100+ people. It obviously struck a chord in our cities of Scandinavians.
Some of the questions we pondered were:
Is Trond holding back emotions that are too painful? Do we eventually become our parents? Trond was making peace with his father, but did his mother really make him the man he became? Is the climax of the story when Trond stands up to fix the logging problem? The setting’s similarities to Walden – a book, chair, a cabin in the woods. Was it the author or was it the translator’s style which evoked Hemingway? How much of the English language book is Anne Born’s vs. Per Petterson? Do we lose something in translation but gain something by reading “foreign” books?
What do you think of any of these ideas we pondered? We welcome your opinion.
Some of the comments we had:
“I think there’s a lot of beauty in the subtlety of this book.” – Female, 25
“I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, yet, but I enjoyed reading it” – Male, 25
“I fear a “nothing happened” reaction from folks.” – Male, 35
“Such complaints typically reveal more about the reader than about what has been read, but it is a legitimate concern about this book. I enjoyed it a fair amount, but I wouldn’t dare recommend it to someone without already knowing they responded favorably to quiet, introspective stories. Jurassic Park this definitely is not.” – Male, 40
“The day after I finished the book, someone asked me what I thought, and I replied with, “It’s like listening to a story my grandpa’s telling me. It might be an interesting story, but it takes forty-five minutes to tell me he went to the store.” – Male, 30
“I agree with the comparison to a grandparent telling a story, but for me the connection is that sometimes a grandparent will talk about a shocking event from the past in an startlingly nonchalant tone of voice. The drama is still drama, but it’s no longer immediate. There’s been a whole lot of time to erode some of the sharp edges from those experiences; those edges would make the story more gripping, but if we’re being honest, that’s not the way this character would tell the story. ” – Female, 25
“Maybe the sharp edges had been dulled with time. But after a number of dulled pivotal moments, I felt I had been missing something quite pointed. Like he (and she, the translator) had lulled me into letting some yet more subdued climaxes sneak by. This was a grandparent story I felt a need to give time to. A grandparent who usually got down to brass tacks eventually. And more than that, has come to a place I wish to be, when I get there.” – Male, 35
As the moderator, I agreed with all these sentiments, good and bad. I liked it, but it did feel a bit longer than its actual length. It seemed like a long short story in which not a lot happens, but that is just in present time. Many life changing events are reflected on: an affair, a divorce, a war, an accidental killing of a twin brother, a young man comes of age, a wife dies accidentally and a sister dies leaving an old man possibly preparing for his own death, quietly and alone.
The introspective style may have made it more poignant with its non-traditional plot progression. And the major events felt hazier as though tempered by time. It was perhaps more true to life than a more typical narrative style would have been. “We do decide for ourselves when it will hurt.” – p. 238, the last line of the book really rang true. The David Copperfield idea of being the hero our own life story plays a big role for Trond. Things happen to us, but we ultimately decide how we are going to react to them and how they will affect our lives. Out Stealing Horses may reveal itself over time and stick with us.
Next month’s book is No One Belongs Here More Than You, Stories by Miranda July. We meet Tues, Jan 13th at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. We’re always open to discussion on our forum. Look for my next blog the Friday following our event. Make it a New Year’s resolution to join a book club…or start your own.
Thanks for reading,
Jeff Kamin, jeff AT booksandbars DOT com, Moderator, Books & Bars
Hi, I’m Jeff Kamin, moderator of Books & Bars, the biggest book club in one of our nation’s most literate cities, Minneapolis. Books & Bars is not your typical book club. We provide a unique atmosphere for lively discussions of interesting authors. Every second Tuesday about 100 of us meet in a theater attached to a bowling alley in Uptown Minneapolis. We drink, eat and socialize before, during, and after the book discussion. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we do seriously get into discussing our books for an hour and half each meeting. (Tongues loosen with our liquid courage.) Our newsletter goes out to over 550 people each month. We’ve had regulars and newcomers the 55 times we’ve met in our 4 1/2 years together. An average crowd is made up of about 60-65 women and 35-40 men in their 20s-40s with some a few…wiser. We strive not to be the women’s only, Oprahesque, suburban group. We’re not your mother’s book club, but we welcome her, too.
Our latest pick was The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. We gathered our own Frozen Chosen on the first snowy Minneapolis night of the season. 85-90 people braved the early winter weather to participate in our discussion, meet some new people, and have a few brews. The book was well received for the most part, but it had its detractors. We’re not much of a mystery-reading club, having done only a few standouts in our past like Case Histories by Kate Atkinson and Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. We probably posed as many questions as we did answers with this Yiddish puzzler.
Everyone loved Chabon’s rich characters and sparkling witty dialogue. Policemen and former couple Bina & Landsman had a playful Nick and Nora (The Thin Man) vibe. Perhaps the best character is actually Sitka, the territory. We had a few members on hand with Jewish backgrounds to help contextualize some of the customs and background for us. Apparently there is even a boundary maven working in one of our local suburbs. I even received e-mail from a club member with Yiddish phrases in it. Nu is the new buzzword to use. Try peppering your slang with some Yiddish. It’s fun. And our appetites were stirred for noodle kugel. Overall, it wasn’t the easiest read to get into, but fortunately the paperback version contains a Yiddish glossary among other interesting interviews and essays in the P.S. section.
Some felt the protagonist Landsman (an old nickname for a fellow Jew especially during the blacklist days) was redeemed through solving the Mendele case or with his relationship with Bina or the even stronger bromance with Berko. Other attendees who were more well-mystery-read (not just having a past with Encyclopedia Brown, like yours truly) felt that a detective is never really redeemed. Mystery fans argued that redemption equals retirement for a gumshoe. What do you think? Does a detective in a mystery ever get redemption? If they’re redeemed are they done as a detective? Can a mystery transcend the genre? Does it need to?
Chabon fans spoke of feeling his presence in the narrative, as per usual, but in a good way. There were the familiar themes of fathers and sons and also the prerequisite-closeted gay character. Chabon embraced his “fan fiction” theory of writing what he loves and paying homage to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Chabon wears his influences on his sleeve, refreshingly so. The pie shop and dwarfish Willie Dick character seemed to be allusions to Twin Peaks.
We wondered why the book has been considered science fiction even winning awards for it. The counter-factual aspects of history were fascinating fun like JFK being married to Marilyn Monroe. They reminded us of our last book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and its references to the Watcher and What If series by Marvel Comics. Chabon plays the Watcher here posing his what if Jewish theories post World War II. What do you think makes the book sci-fi?
Some members felt the book lost its way or even “jumped the shark” with the red heifer, conspiracy theories and government terrorists by the final third. The Mendele/Messiah aspect of the book seemed to get left behind with more government agents and old men pulling strings off camera. Speaking of which, we’re anticipating a very good film adaptation from our hometown heroes, the Coen Brothers. Casting ideas have been posted on our site. Some of our members even had the chance to be extras in the next Coen film, A Serious Man, shooting here this fall.
Overall, the detective mind seemed to be the writer’s mind and I think our mystery bone is being tickled for more cases. We enjoyed our time in Sitka with these characters and would recommend it with some reservations. I expect we’ll be doing more mysteries in the future.
Our next book is Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson on Dec 9th, an even more apropos book for Minnesnowta with its Norwegian roots. You’re welcome to join our discussion on our forum or even come to our event if in the Twin Cities.
Let me know what you think of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, mysteries, and more. Thanks for reading.
Jeff Kamin, Moderator, Books & Bars, jeff AT booksandbars DOT com