I was having a conversation with my friend Pat, who doesn’t read much, but who is nonetheless imbued with inebriated folk wisdom, he asked me, “what are you doing tonight?”  ” I am going to see (insert any name of any author reading in the Pac-NW) read at Third Place (or Elliot Bay, or Hugo House, or Pilot).” “Dude.” “Yeah.”  “. . . what the hell is a book reading?” “It’s when someone reads from something they’ve written, and you sit in the crowd and listen.  Then it’s usually followed by questions.”  He looked over at me with a dead look in his eye, “No offense dude, but that sounds boring as hell.  It reminds me of being in school.”

From August 12th – 21st Dark Coast author Jarret Middleton will be embarking on his first book tour, accurately named This Man is Dying, Folks, to support his debut novel about the surreal-mystic death of the Irish-American poet named Dallin, An Dantomine Eerly.  Jarret will be reading in New York City, Metuchen NJ, Boston, Portsmouth NH, and South Berwick ME.  Now, taking into account the former quote from my state-the-obvious friend, I’d like to address what was so obviously stated.  Book readings are boring. But this is not lament, this is about how we want things done differently, and encourage all those participating to join in.

Tour Poster

Planning this tour, I worked together with Jarret, thinking way outside the normal box in order to create publicity for ADE, and make the release of his book as successful as it could be.  Other than terse work ethics and our clearly awesome learnedness, the two of us share a punk rock ethos that makes what to others would be next-to-nothing appear to us as more than we could ever need to get rolling.  And so you have the attitude that relentless touring on no budget makes for a successful artist.  Jarret has read throughout his home in New England long before ADE, and has since read furiously in indies and the many literary venues here in the Northwest.  He’s read, I’ve hosted events, and all of us – including you dear reader – have attended our fair share of readings.  We all know how they go, and doubtless we’ll all be reading more, hosting more, and attending more of them.  The plan for This Man Is Dying, Folks came together on the premise that we would try as hard as we could to not do whatever we normally would.  If this model works, then we’ll book a similar stretch down the west coast of the US in this coming late-fall/early-winter of 2011.  Similar to how Stephen Elliot successfully toured for The Adderall Diaries last year, mixed with our own lo-brow preferences of dive bars, house parties, folk music, and barns in the middle of fields.

First we broke down the mysterious concept of these, how you say, “book readings.”  The anatomy goes as follows:  The Venue, typically a book store, café, or an auditorium; The Author, reading hopefully from a published or (an awesome) unpublished work; The Audience, present (if you’re lucky), prostrate, polite and questions that border on the awkward inquisition by the parents of your date on prom night to the job-interview of how you came up with the idea for the book and what you think about e-readers, and vampires.

It goes on, but those are the essentials.  And it will still mostly always be that.  I believe it is our duty to do much more because, personally, I am bored with the typical book reading.  Although I feel like I have to partake in the typical reading structure, if we change it just a bit we could open the doors and broaden our readership, and reading in general. I think we are letting people down if we do not make the reading of our literature relevant again, for everyone, in more than one possible way.  Try your best to think of the last time you were blown away by an author reading and I bet only a few come to mind.  That few are not enough to get the typical consumer, reader, person, or human being back on the books are relevant again! band-wagon.

But I am not, your typical consumer – scratch that – reader, person, human being.  I like hearing how the author intended for the reader to read a novel.  I like to hear about mistakes, fears, and inside jokes.  I like the strange stuff in books to be addressed.  I like the air to be cut and everyone to feel involved.  The problem is, I want to expand the readings of novels and stories to the people who are not like me, but still read books, or those like my friend Pat, who like music, a drink, a good time, conversation, and anything that is interesting.  My goal is to make readings by our authors into social events.  I came to the conclusion that if we can make the book reading into “something to do” instead of feeling like a chore, or school, than we could potentially have some success, and have some fun doing it.

Jarret Middleton reading at Richard Hugo House

I love what the Naked Girls Reading series is doing, and there are other series that do cabarets, story-time, music, death matches, and other formats, some that work very well (some that don’t).  I did make the executive decision that, for the sake of men and women everywhere, and the humble man himself, Jarret should keep reading with his clothes on.   For now, anyway.

The first date kicks off Friday the 13th (how rad is that?) at the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan, from 5 – 7pm.  Fellow Dark Coast author Jennifer Natalya Fink (V, Burn) will be reading from her new novel The Mikvah Queen and her story collection 13 Fugues, forthcoming from Dark Coast Press May 2011.  It’ll be a Dark Coast night in NYC, with the after-party (that’s right, an after-party) at Motor City Bar in the Lower East Side.  For a reading tour, only two of the five readings are at bookstores.  One such reading is Jarret’s “homecoming” reading at the wonderful RiverRun Books in Portsmouth, NH, on Tuesday August 17th at 7pm, with author Tim Johnston (Irish Girl), which is going to be so excellent.  But, even the other bookstore reading, at The Raconteur Bookstore (hyperlink) in Metuchen, NJ on Saturday August 14th at 8pm, is stacked with features, such as spoken word by punk rock veteran ‘Old Man’ Pedro Angel Serrano, and a set by the acoustic master ‘Solo-Man’ Jon Andrewto finish off the night.  Then, to truly finish off the night, there is yet another after party in New Brunswick, at Pat and Deborah’s place.  The same Pat who was quoted at the beginning as saying book readings sound boring.  Well, I’m bringing the party straight to his house. Then, there is a living room reading with folk musicians in condo in Boston (Boston in the summer, yes please), and a reading with Tim Horvath (Circulation) and Chuck Galle (Stories I Never Told My Daughter) and subsequent party in a barn in a field in Maine.

The center of everything, of course, are the authors and their works, but before and after the social-gathering aspect could very well just make the actual readings loosely structured, engaging, and interesting as hell.  The greatest social lubricant, alcohol, will be at each event.  It’s a strange concept, but we are going to try and have fun on this tour.  If we have fun and create the atmosphere around us, I think the people around us will be having fun as well.  We’ll sell some books, drink, and talk to anyone and everyone we come across, the often private reactions and subtleties of literature tossed in with all of life’s other crazy shit.

If it sounds fun, come on out.  If you can’t come to the event, come to the party.  Listen to some crazy good authors, ask out whatever’s on your mind, shake hands, dance, tell me what I can do to make things better the next one around.  For those who don’t live on the east coast, I will be posting a tour diary on TNB.  So please, stay tuned friends.

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AARON TALWAR is the publisher and co-owner of Dark Coast Press, a literary fiction publishing house in Seattle (www.darkcoastpress.com). He has been profiled in The Stranger and Shelf Awareness as an exciting, up-and-coming indie publisher. Aaron has an unhealthy exuberance for good books, Guinness, and hockey. The fact that he was born and raised in New Jersey contributes to his foul mouth and obtuse sense of humor. He lives in Seattle, WA.

6 responses to “This Man is Dying, Folks”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    Lovely post, Aaron. You hit on so many key points.

    If you’re a writer, an aspiring writer, or a lover of literature, this is your culture calling. Come out and help make it what you want it to be.

  2. Were I remotely close to Brooklyn, or New Hampshire for that matter, I’d come check it out, Aaron. Totally agree on the idea of changing the static model of readings. There has to be a better way. Or at least one that’s a lot more fun. Just read Tim Johnson’s latest about a month ago. Congrats on getting that date.

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    Goddamnit.

    All the cool literary stuff happens in the States.

  4. dwoz says:

    as it happens, I’ll be in Portsmouth that Tuesday. So there might be at least ONE person in the audience!

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