LitClub:  Books & Bars
Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota

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WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU take a book club and put it in a bar? That's what Jeff Kamin wondered 10 years ago. He's now running 3 meetings a month for those who appreciate a little "liquid courage" when talking about books. We spoke with Jeff. . .

Liquid courage—that's good. How many courageous souls turn out for Books & Bars?
Quite a few—over 2,200 fans follow us on Facebook and 1,800 subscribe to our newsletter. Each month 175 make it to one of our three Tuesday meetings.

So you're not exactly sitting around a cozy circle. How does it work?
It's really a show with audience participation: a book discussion, sometimes with an author in attendance (or on screen), and a bit of improv comedy on my part.

I moderate, roaming through the audience with two wireless mics for those who want to speak. When no one's talking I keep things moving with jokes and some research on the author and book.

It's fun, but it's also a serious book club discussion. Take a look at our demo video on our website if you want to see us in action.

You've clearly had a little practice at this.
A little. My background's in improvisation, both performing and teaching. I'm also a producer for Minnesota Public Radio...and an emcee for various cultural events.

Who are your members?
Minneapolis is considered one of the most literate cities in the country, and our membership reflects that—young singles, married-with-children, and more mature readers. We also dispel the notion that book clubs are for women only: about 40% are men.

Here's where you tell us what you've read.
We've read some impressive books over the past year.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Beautiful Ruins
Fault in Our Stars
How Should a Person Be?
Orphan Master’s Son
Dog Stars
Where’d You Go Bernadette
Round House
Carry the One
Other Woman
Rin Tin Tin: Life and Legend
Turn of Mind
Tragedy of Arthur

Any favorites over the years?
These are some of the real standouts:

Kafka on the Shore
Ready Player One
Let the Great World Spin
History of Love
Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Geek Love
The Sparrow
Raw Shark Texts
Art of Fielding
The Road
Carter Beats the Devil

How about disappointments?
Some books people just didn't care for: The DispossessedAtmospheric Disturbances, and Goodbye Lemon. Others, like Beautiful Ruins, were well loved, but we didn't have much to say about them. The discussions weren't as deep we expected.

You occasionally invite authors to your meetings.
Yes. Peter Heller of The Dog Stars joined us last year (2013). We also do video chats—Carol Anshaw (Carry the One), Susan Orlean (Rin Tin Tin), and Arthur Phillips (The Tragedy of Arthur) skyped with us over the past year.

And a road trip?
A number of us headed out to Connecticut for the Big Book Club Getaway at Mohegan Sun Casino, where we met Hank Phillipi Ryan, author of The Other Woman. It was the first year for the conference, which features authors, panel discussions, and a chance to socialize.

Any fun stuff at meetings?
We'd read all the Harry Potter books, so the week the final film was released we dressed up in costumes and had fun with trivia questions. When discussing Ready Player One, we played video games from the 80s.

So for the benefit of those living in the Twin Cities, what's your schedule?
We meet on Tuesday nights: the first three of each different bars (check the website for times):
1st Tue – Chanhassen – The School II Bristro & Wine Bar  (Sept through May)
2nd Tue – Minneapolis – Republic – Calhoun Square
3rd Tue – St. Paul – Amsterdam Bar

Finally, what would you like our readers to know about BOOKS & BARS?
We're looking to expand nationally and do podcasts and video sessions. Do you want Books & Bars in your town? Contact me through our website.

After going global, we're totally up for being the first book club in space.


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