There’s a great monthly reading series at Phinney Books called Dock Street Salon. It’s organized by Dane Bahr and Heather Jacobs of Dock Street Press, a boutique publishing house in Ballard. The press was founded by folks who believe that “a book is a piece of art.” Dock Street brings that same sensibility to the reading series with the goal of stimulating thoughtful conversation and creating community.
Phinney Books, a small, cozy space in Greenwood, is a great place to do that. It’s owned by former Jeopardy champion Tom Nissley. I remember watching Nissley on the show, struck by his quiet demeanor as he calmly cleaned up the board. No wild jabbing at the buzzer, no panicky shouting of answers. Just an understated delivery of correct replies from a human fount of knowledge.
Nissley opens each salon with a reading from his A Reader’s Book of Days, a collection of literary anecdotes, facts, and events in the lives of famous writers, organized by day of the year. For example, on the evening of April 20, the date of the most recent salon, Nissley shared what happened on April 20, 1827:
Charles and Alfred Tennyson, ages eighteen and seventeen, celebrated the publication of Poems by Two Brothers by riding to the coast and shouting their verses into the wind and waves.
Nissley’s tribute to literary ancestors adds to the sense of community fostered by the salon. We were tickled by the image of the Tennyson brothers bellowing odes at the ocean and imagined ourselves doing the same next time we’re out on the peninsula. It readied us to inhabit the stories told by the three writers featured at last Thursday’s salon.
It was a well harmonized trio of writers whose individual works made for a fine sequence of narratives – a lively, story of a smart but troubled teenage girl clashing with the adults around her; a relaxed, easygoing delivery of the hilarity involved in confronting a rude birder; and a meditative piece about moving forward after a breakdown in trust.
Ann Teplick led off the evening with an excerpt from her YA novel in progress. I’m a fan of Ann’s poetry and anxiously await the completion of her collection of Motown poems which dazzle with the images of the Motown era and capture the personal and collective restiveness of those times. The same vibrant language and energetic rhythms of her poetry infuse her prose. Her excerpt from Hey, Baby, Wanna Dance? was a delight to listen to with its humor, sharp observations, and convincing voice of an intelligent but unsettled teen.
Jennifer Munro, known for her witty, humorous essays, read a piece called “Birders Behaving Badly,” an account of an encounter with another birder while on a boat in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Protection Island. The island is a refuge for birds, which is closed to visitors to protect the fragile habitat for about 70 percent of the nesting seabird population of Puget Sound and the Strait. Among the polite society of birders crowded on deck, binoculars raised to their faces to spot auklets, gulls, and puffins, is one not-so-polite birder who blames Munro for her inability to get a good look at the action. Munro’s telling of her own in-your-face confrontation with her accuser is funny and satisfying. Munro blogs at Straight-No-Chaser Mom.
Memoirist Ann Liu Kellor read an excerpt from a personal essay called “Heron” about betrayal and the restorative effects of nature and its ability to center us in the midst of feeling lost. It’s a pensive, introspective look at how a forfeiture of trust can threaten one’s sense of self, and how re-establishing that sense of self and declaring “I am here” can involve etching an indelible symbol of the natural world on one’s body and perhaps one’s soul. An element of Kellor’s essay dealt with the story of the tattoo on her arm. Upon request, she revealed it – a gorgeous bird feather, which elicited gasps of appreciation.
During the Q and A, I asked the writers what books they were reading. Here are their responses in case you want to add to your reading list.
Ann Liu Kellor – The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit and When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams
Jennifer Munro – Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, Lust and Wonder by Augusten Burroughs, and Shrill by Lindy West
Ann Teplick – The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward (and Ann is re-reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin)
And don’t forget to read work by Kellor, Munro, and Teplick. It’s all a Google search away.