If you haven’t seen the first part of this interview, check it out for the story of how Books & Bars got started. And if you don’t know what Books & Bars is, you might want to read the earlier profile. But really, it’s pretty basic – the name says it all. Basic, but brilliant. In this second part of his Q&A, Jeff Kamin, moderator and erstwhile comedian/improv man, gives us a glimpse into his moderating and reading world.
For a close look at a Books & Bars meeting, check out this recap of the July 13 Skype chat with Lev Grossman, discussing The Magicians.
Q: MinnPost says that you have been getting inquiries from other states about starting something similar elsewhere. Do you think this is reproducible?
A: Yes, if I set it up and “cast” or audition an appropriate moderator. Considering franchising it in cities where I know a solid improvisor/moderator type who is willing to put in the time I have to make it really sing. I think it lives or dies on the strength of the passion of the person in charge.
I could imagine setting it up in other cities in the future and possibly using video chats to maintain or even join other groups together.
Q: Do you think the comedy is an essential element of Books & Bars?
A: Yes, but we can be serious, too. I have to keep it moving and light enough for those that don’t want a class or lecture. It’s not school. A lot of our new members are reading again on their own for the first time since college and are happy to read for pleasure.
Q: Do you consider yourself a serious reader?
A: Yes, but as Lev Grossman wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, “good books don’t have to be hard.” I’m serious about new material, perhaps not as well versed in the classics as I’d like, but looking forward to helping discover the voices of our generation. I try to read a book a week, but they may range from classics to graphic novels to nonfiction.
Q: You are currently not getting paid for moderating this event. How long do you think you can do this on a pro bono basis? Do you think there is a chance this may be monetized? Do you want it to be?
A: Actually, we just arranged a new deal and sponsorship agreement in which we are no longer paying for advertising Books & Bars. I am receiving a small performance fee from Magers & Quinn, and our other sponsors Bryant-Lake Bowl and Surly provide the theater and special pricing on beer. I’ve been fortunate enough to be thanked by our members in the “Moderator Tip Jar,” too.
I write our website, Twitter, Facebook fan page and monthly newsletter. I scan the reviews, the galleys, the interviews for the best picks and plan ahead. The number one stress is picking the book. I have to answer to a lot of people for my choices. I moderate our forums for discussions and suggestions. And basically now, through social media, I will be advertising/promoting Books & Bars and thereby our sponsors, too. Hopefully with our large fan base/newsletter subscriptions (about 900), we’ll keep filling the venues.
“We’re still reinventing the book club.”
Yes, I think it should be monetized, as we bring a good deal of business to a venue on a week night and sell about 75+ copies of our books at the bookstore. It feels good to be paid for an honest month’s work and especially rewarding to get tips. I do feel a bit like I’m busking for books with my hat in my hand at times. But it’s a lot of work.
Q: What do you think it is that makes the Twin Cities such a literary magnet?
A: Smart people like four seasons. Winter lends itself to reading and writing. The U of M and other fine schools in the Twin Cities along with independent booksellers and a community that likes to support their locals. Maybe it’s the Midwestern work ethic or clean plate syndrome, too. You have to eat everything on your plate, so you have to finish a book you start or read a book you bought?
There’s more to come from Books & Bars. I have plans for other shows/series. We’re still reinventing the book club.
Q: If you were stranded on a desert island for a year, which five books would you most like to have with you?
A: This is tough. I don’t like re-reading books at this stage because there are so many greats I have yet to experience. Another reason we have not repeated an author in our 75+ meetings of Books & Bars.
But here goes:
1. SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea by John Wiseman
2. The Holy Bible
3. Collected Works of Shakespeare or maybe War & Peace?
4. Oxford English Dictionary
5. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (maybe third time’s a charm?) [see part one of this Q&A]
What would your choices be? Leave your list below!
Note: The August meeting of Books & Bars was not held this week due to the Fringe Festival using the venue. The meeting will take place on August 24 at 7pm at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, where they will be discussing Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. No reservations needed, come as you are.