Sunday, December 27, 2015

Read, Talk, Dance, Repeat

(H.I.P. Lit principals reflect on the state of the novel in a relatively subdued moment)
Date: December 17, 2015
Authors: Adam Wilson, Amanda Petrusich, Tim Kreider,
Venue:  Hideaway Lounge, Be Electric Studio, Bushwick
Free Drinks: yes
Q & A – no
Unemployment check # -- benefits long gone

 I went to a reading in Bushwick last week and a party broke out. Or was it a party at which novelist Adam Wilson, music writer Amanda Petrusich and humorist Tim Kreider read their work?
If it was a party, it was a good one. Most of 30 or so people there knew each other, but even people like me, who on the face of it don’t have a ton in common with these Bushwickers, were made to feel welcome. Full disclosure: I don’t even live in Brooklyn.

Novelist and Wyckoff Star coffee shop manager Paul Rome curated the event. The writers are all friends of his and he introduced them by reading passages from their work. I talked with Paul after the reading and we agreed that the MC at a reading shouldn’t read their own writing. If you want to promote your own work, start a magazine, but it looks shoddy at a reading.
The reading was sponsored by H.I.P. Lit, which is Erin Harris, Brittney Inman Canty and Kim Perel. Erin and Kim are literary agents and Brittney is also a publishing industry veteran.

As is the case when any three readers or writers come together, there is no denying that H.I.P. Lit has a strong theoretical base. I was able to track the influence of Derrida, Barthes, Bloom, the nouveau roman, the new criticism, the new journalism and Cyndi Lauper (“Young Professional Women Just Want to Have Fun”) in the presentation of their event last Thursday in the Hideaway Lounge, a small room in an upstairs corner of the cavernous Be Electric video production studio.
Erin stated this last theme, fun, before handing the event over to Paul. “It always seemed strange that when other readings end, the people just stand up and leave without talking to each other,” she said. Indeed, part of the H.I.P. Lit manifesto reads “We’re making Lit Parties fun again because reading and dancing are not mutually exclusive.”

The first person I talked with was Tony, Brittney’s husband. He said he wanted to write children’s’ books. I think he struck up a conversation with me cause I was sitting there looking, in the poet Frank O’Hara’s phrase “as ill at ease as seafood.”  In truth, I’d had groupie-like conversations with Amanda and Adam at previous readings, but I hadn’t been out to Bushwick for ages.
Later on, one of the H.I.P. principals said Tony had done all the carpentry work on the Hideway Lounge. She said the wood that he hammered together to give the space its hunting lodge look was all collected on the neighborhood’s streets. My conclusion: the H.I.P. Lit reading series is so good it features not only superb writers, but also locally scavenged fixtures. Match that, McNally Jackson.

To introduce the first reader, Amanda Petrusich, Paul read a passage from her book “Do Not Sell At Any Price.” If a worshipful reader like me had to blurb Amanda’s book, he might say it is about her journey into the world of ’78 record collectors. But the depth and range of the topics it tackles goes way beyond that. Suffice it to say that it belongs on your bookshelf next to classics like “Mystery Train.” And even that book’s iconic author, Greil Marcus, never pursued a story by going skin diving in a frozen Wisconsin river as Amanda did.
At the Hideaway, Amanda read her essay from the about “The River,” Bruce Springsteen’s fifth album. The fact that the “Boss” still has some relevance to Bushwick writers and readers speaks for itself, I suppose. As a performer and an interpreter of early 60s AM radio, he’s great. And there’s no doubt that as Amanda describes him, he is “the chocolate lab” of the crop of new Dylans. Probably it is best to leave my Bruce Springsteen issues, my ambivalence, for another place, but my point here is Amanda killed.

Next up was Tim Kreider, who wore a suit and managed the difficult reading feat of punctuating his reading by sipping whisky and making it seem un-stagey. He gave the audience, seated not in a grid, but in chairs and sofas around the small room, the choice of hearing an unfinished piece or something he was more confident was good.
We chose the new piece and Tim drew a lot of laughs with his story about a professor who struggles to balance his lechery with his professional duties as a teacher at a womens’ college. One line of his was “I believe you should have as much sex as possible while you’re alive.” As funny as his reading was, it also talked about the more serious topic of how someone can be a nice guy and a prick at the same time.

Adam Wilson continued the trend of reading new work as he read a passage from an upcoming novel, which he said he’d been writing for four years. Once again, the Hideaway crowd was in stiches as he read what he described as a prequel to his characters’ divorce story. In what was, in a way, a nod to the intimacy of the H.I.P. Lit event, Adam said he’d named his rapper character, Web MD, after Amanda’s husband’s workplace.
After the reading, I heard there were plans to play some Bruce Springsteen. I left, considerately, before the dancing broke out. Whether they celebrated ’57 Chevys and Madam Marie or Hotline Bling, novelists or Pitchfork’s finest, H.I.P. Lit made a convert out of me. I want to be their Harry Dean Stanton.

Read, Talk, Dance, Repeat