The Originals Series: Laura van den Berg & Steve Gunn


I was initially going to miss this Originals Series due to band practice and send a friend in my stead – but a quick shift of the schedule meant I was free to now attend WITH my friend, for what was an interesting entry into the series.  And by interesting, I mean that it felt different from the past two I’ve been to – and whether that’s a good, bad, or indifferent thing will ultimately depend on, well, how you feel about these sorts of events.

Getting the logistics out of the way first: the space at Varick St felt a little crowded this time around – not because of people but because there was some art installation on the far wall (where the projection of the hashtag usually goes – I hate myself for asking this but WHITHER THE HASHTAG?!) – and there seemed to be more technical difficulties than usual.  I’ve seen them do great things (pulling up and screening a YouTube video that was being discussed by the panel, for example) and while it’s not the most acoustically awesome space, the audience was a bit perturbed at the fluctuating pre-show music volume and the generally extended pre-show period.  But, eventually we got underway and all was well.

Some-time host, full-time madman (I mean that in the best possible way) David Rees was unavailable so the amazingly awesome Sloane Crosley was our guest host.  Apparently she’s got some stuff coming out from FSG soon (says her bio) which is SUPER exciting – but regardless of that, if you’re unfamiliar with her essays and writings… make yourself familiar with all speed.  She’s funny, canny, and hella smart – and she brought all of those things to the table as host last night.  Her questions, especially those for Laura, were charmingly insightful and she had some great quotables on the night.  A sampling:

  • “You both do a really great job at bringing thoughts to completion.” – regarding how both Steve and Laura tell stories through their art and are able to actually wrap it all up nicely (“unlike A LOT OF PEOPLE,” she continued).
  • “I basically did “Acrobat” [a story from Laura’s collection] – it was mimes and another city than Paris, but, yep.”
  • “The stories in this collection are like… Lorrie Moore meets Spring Breakers.” (**this one is my favorite.  Seemed like it was everyone’s favorite.  Also: pretty damn accurate.)
  • Explaining the difference between an essay writer and a fiction writer: “Your worry is that they kidnap your parents, mine is that they kidnap me.”

Laura was charming and brought the same measured magic to her comments as she does to her stories (the collection, The Isle of Youth, is out now from FSG Originals by the way and it is absolutely fantastic).  She also gamely answered a couple of really tricky questions from the audience (and deftly sidestepped the boorish lout who was effectively heckling the Q&A session / asked a drunken Tea Party shout about Obamacare – seriously, if it’s not obnoxiously loud attendees, it’s weird ones) with some really insightful answers about her style and why she writes what she writes.

Steve, just back from Russia and gamely plowing through what I have to imagine must be unbelievable jetlag/exhaustion, told a beautiful story (“you just ended that the same as “and then I found five dollars”.  Spill the rest.” – Sloane, to Steve) about an old man he’d come to know and befriend in Brooklyn – and then played some stuff from his new album “Time Off”.  With the lights of the city twinkling behind him, it was a perfect end to the evening.

So why, then, (asks you, the gentle reader) was I seemingly a bit hemming-hawing at the start of this recap?  And well, gentle reader, I can only say that while I loved the nitty-gritty of the conversation about Laura’s book… I missed a bit of the unhinged strangeness of past events.  This felt like a more traditional book launch sort of evening, albeit with music and a ‘cooler’ vibe.  I still thoroughly enjoyed myself but, outside of the heckler, the night felt pretty tame as compared to the last two I’ve attended.  How you feel about that, as I said, really depends on how you feel about these sorts of events in general.  And hey, we can’t always be running through a lion cage waving a steak – sometimes, the calmer version works just as well, as it did last night.

One comment

  1. Pingback: The Bellwether presents NOCTURNE | Raging Biblio-holism

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