I’d never been to a book launch before. I wasn’t sure how, or even if, it would be any different from your standard reading. I’d half expected something like the old bawdy houses we used to have in Waterloo, with raucous readings, cheap wine, nibbly little cheese things, and pleasant, half-drunk conversation. I suppose McNally Robinson is not exactly the place for that sort of thing (more because of its location in the city than the fact of it being a bookstore), though there were readings and pleasant conversations. I didn’t realize until I got there that tonight’s launch was actually for two books: Terry Griggs’ Thought You Were Dead, which was why I went, and Vicki Delany’s Gold Digger. Generally speaking, one wants to go to a book launch or reading intending to buy the author’s book, if one hasn’t done so already, but my budget only allowed for one, so it was Thought You Were Dead that I was reading on the subway home. At the request of Ms. Rebecca Rosenblum, and despite a bad experience playing journalist in the past (and with no digital camera available), I took notes. Behold the result:
The McNally Robinson is much like the flagship store in Winnipeg was when my sister took me there a few years back: large, bright, clean, with the appearance of a big box store, but with more knowledgeable staff and a selection focused more on readers than on some marketing guy’s idea of what should be in a bookstore. There was a space set up on the second floor with spotlights, a very cool input/output node for a sound system, complete with mixing board and switches to control the store’s PA for the immediate area (it was extra cool to hear the volume go down on Madeleine Peyroux’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” in only our little corner), and entire shelving units mounted on casters to make room for the little stage with its academic looking podium and elegant display table. We sat on surprisingly comfortable, vaguely Eames-like faux Modernist chairs. It all felt rather intimate.
There were about a dozen of us, including the authors themselves, a turnout I think is indicative more of McNally Robinson’s remoteness than the drawing power of the event (I spent nearly two hours on the TTC to get there). We were a microcosm of the standard literary crowd; we were the disheveled, the semi-formal, the prim, the greying, the youthful and the almost perversely bookish. There was even a lady in a spectacular hat of the 19th Century New Orleans variety. The only group not visible was the lit punk brigade, whom I represented in spirit, if not appearance. One likes a diverse crowd.
As it turns out, the woman in the spectacular hat was Vicki Delany. She was up first, preferring mostly to “chat” rather than read directly from Gold Digger (though she did that too). The genesis of the novel is apparently a canoe trip Delany took with some European friends (well, one assumes they were friends), when she struck upon the idea of how ridiculous it would seem to the voyageurs and the prospectors during the Klondike gold rush that we would spend our money and leisure time exploring what, for them, was a lifestyle often fraught with hardship. The idea sat in the back of her mind, eventually finding expression in a historical murder mystery. She went on to explain how she was fascinated by the idea of the Klondike gold rush as the last great exodus spurred by optimism, and with certain parallels she sees in our optimism about how technology is shaping our future. I’d never thought of it quite that way before, and she’s right: it is fascinating. I kind of wish I had the time to get into all the other interesting bits of her talk, but I just don’t (I wrote a bunch of them down, though; ah, the joy of taking notes). Delany closed her talk by reading from Gold Digger, and though not the best reader in the world, she was confident enough to be better than most. Gold Digger may see itself reviewed here yet.
Terry Griggs took the stage next, sans spectacular hat, but armed with a lovely green pendant and an anecdote about (possibly) seeing Elizabeth May on the train reading P.D. James (we’re all mystery fans, I think, even if we don’t always go for detectives or police procedurals). Vicki Delany quipped that she should be reading Canadian (true!), and chuckles could be heard maneuvering through the crowd. She wasn’t as big on impromptu speechifying as Delany was, so she got right down to the reading.
Griggs’ reading was very dynamic, but not at all what I was expecting. She reads well, but when I see her fiction on the page, it has, not just an energy (it was still quite energetic when read aloud) but a rapidity about it. One doesn’t skim Griggs’ work (if one does, one misses quite a bit), but the voice in my head is considerably quicker than Griggs’ own when she reads. I enjoyed listening to her read a great deal, but I think I prefer her words on the page.
I was able to meet Griggs after the reading, and of the dozens of authors I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the last few years, she is one of the most open and personable. We had a nice chat, during which I displayed my complete inability to engage anyone in reasonable small talk, and instead talked far too much about myself. She was obligingly patient with my shortcomings, and I left with a signed copy of Thought You Were Dead to start reading on the subway home. I’m only a touch over thirty pages into it, but I’m enjoying it so far (I finished Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior on the way to the launch, and I’ll be writing a review of it tomorrow night). I’ll have a full review up when I’m done reading it, but in the meantime I think that if you have the opportunity to attend a reading or similar, you should go.
Since this report was lighter on Terry Griggs stuff than I intended, allow me to point you in the direction of some more Terry Griggs stuff elsewhere on the internet, like this recent interview with Pickle Me This, the Revenge Lit flash fiction contest, and her recent takeover of the National Post’s book blog. While you’re at it, why not check out Vicki Delany’s site. I hope you enjoyed this eleven-hundred word reminder of why I’m not a journalist.