Martha Grover at Sewicks

Last night was the inaugral LitHop PDX, a literary pub-crawl that stacked a whole bunch of East Hawthorne venues with novelists, poets, and essayists. I had a great night that began at BOG, meandered through Sewick's and Angelo's, and ended in a blaze of regrettably stiff whiskey drinks at the Eagles Lodge. (Sometimes bartenders think they are being nice but they are not being nice.)

It was the first of what's projected to be a twice-yearly event, and I'd call it a qualified success. Here are some thoughts, and some unsolicited ideas for next time:

• The weather was rainy and not particularly conducive to wandering the streets, but attendance was really strong. Every venue I stopped into was reasonably full; some were packed. There's clearly an audience for an event like this.

• Some venues accommodated readings better than others, and some were downright bad. You can't beat the Eagles Lodge—for anything—but Sewick's just kinda plopped a microphone in the middle of a room, lighting and sightlines be damned. BOG was probably great if you had a seat, but it was too crowded to even see when I walked in.

• Everything stayed on schedule. People read where they were supposed to, when they said they were going to read. It sounds basic, but plenty of events can't pull it off. I was impressed.

• The literary community needs to talk to the performance community. Because you know what the performance community knows how to do that the literary community, by and large, does not? Talk into a microphone. Speak comfortably in front of a room full of people. Emcee an event in an entertaining way. Produce an event—yeah, I'm talking about lights and sightlines again. Talk to each other. Talk to each other. You all live here. You're all making shit. Talk to each other.

• I like books. I don't like readings. In general, I am pretty much not interested in hearing someone read me a chunk of a novel that I could just as easily read myself. Poetry—particularly funny poetry—went over great last night, because listening to poetry is actually a great way to experience poetry. It is not a great way to experience most novels. I loved Martha Grover's reading at Sewick's—she read the entirety of an essay about having a brief fling with a man that she wasn't attracted to, in order to make herself feel better about being rejected by her ex. It was funny, personal, weird, and honest. It was great. And because it was an essay designed to be consumed in one gulp, it was completely satisfying. You don't get that when someone reads from a novel; you get "...and I'll stop here." I go to readings fairly often, even though I don't like them, because books are incredibly important to me, and I want to participate in the literary culture of my city. There were a few moments last night when the readings didn't feel like an obligation, like paying my literacy tax; there were a few moments where they did. I'd like to see the festival explore more ways of celebrating literary culture—and involving authors—beyond just straightforward readings, whether that be with trivia, storytelling, themed venues, or whatever other ideas smarter and more creative people than myself can come up with.

I also asked Merc freelancers Jacob Schraer and Thomas Ross to weigh in wtih their thoughts on the event:


Fun experience over all. Some of the venues were more hospitable then others, in terms of layout and general atmosphere, but that was my only complaint. Fun readings, good crowds, schedules stuck to.

The Tin House reading was good, but Bar of the Gods was loud. For whatever reason, people quieted down better for prose than poetry, which seems weird. Veselka especially had the whole bar pretty silent.
The Eagles lodge was awesome, terrible pickled eggs, 50¢ popcorn and all.
Here are two awesome lines from the James Gendron reading. He read a long new piece about witches:
"On top of the mountain, the air is so thin all the blood is blue. The blood is so blue it is invited into the sky."
"Satan runs a hand through his hair. All Satan's hair is pubic."

It's okay if you missed LitHop PDX, because it'll be back in the spring—and there are plenty of other great Wordstock events this week.