I post this latest guest post from Jeff Kamin, who runs Minneapolis' fantastic book club series Books & Bars having now actually met Jeff in person! As you know, I was in Mankato and Minneapolis this weekend and Jeff and I had planned to meet for coffee on Monday. I bit off a bit more than I could chew (ahem, at Culver's) and after visiting two of Maud's Minneapolis homes and the house that Mary Richards lived in on Mary Tyler Moore, I was panicked that I had no time left. Thanks to my trusty blackberry, I figured out that Magers & Quinn Booksellers, the biggest independent bookstore in the city, was pretty close and Jeff graciously agreed to stop by the store so we could meet. I spent a bit of time exploring Magers & Quinn and was really impressed. I picked up my book club book, Case Histories and then got to chat with Jeff about the store and his unique book club series held at the Bryant Lake Bowl which is getting more and more attention. This month the group met to discuss Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. Stay tuned for next month when they'll discuss Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife -- right before the movie comes out, which I think is wise timing. And for August only, they'll be meeting in a new location, where the book group will sort of be part of an art exhibition, which I think sounds really cool. Read on.
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 it's 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. Magers & Quinn'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, Books & Bars