(Note: When you read the headline above, pronounce MPLS as ‘Mipples.’)
Patrick Stephenson here, with literary coverage from Minneapolis, MN. Last night, this reporter attended a reading by the Scottish author Irvine Welsh, famed among tight jeans-wearing transgressives for such books as TRAINSPOTTING, FILTH, and A SMART CUNT [una novella].
Said reading occurred at 7:30pm in Minneapolis’ Magers & Quinn bookstore, located on Hennepin Ave., the hipster/yuppie locus of uptown. Expecting Chuck Palahniuk-level attendance, I arrived a half hour early with six books, and one DVD, in hand. “You’re not going to be a dick and make him sign all of those are you?” said my friend Ryan. I was, and I did. I am a dick.
Upon arriving, I was surprised to see only one other guy—a bald, cowboy hat-wearing 20 something—in attendance. By the time Mr. Welsh was up to read, however, those numbers had ballooned, with the standing room kinda cramped and every seat filled. Well, every seat except for the two rows immediately in front of Mr. Welsh, to which he said, “There’s two rows up here, so come up and fill them in. It isnae a problem.” Why don’t people ever sit in the front rows at readings? Too shy, I assume.
Before Welsh read, two lingerie-clad burlesque dancers moved through the crowd handing out eclairs. Their presence alluded to Welsh’s new book, BEDROOM SECRETS OF THE MASTER CHEFS, whose front cover features a photo of an eclair entering a full-lipped female mouth, phallus-like, visibly cream-filled. Ryan and I ogled the burlesquers until one reached us, when, with her cleavage in my face, I grabbed an eclair from my big-breasted server’s tray.
Looking quite the ruffian, Welsh stood relaxedly before his admirers, pushing away his podium and settling for mic only. He was, with his iconic bald head, his tattoos and his Scottish accent, completely charming. “I’m so glad we have Groundskeeper Willie now,” he said. “And Shrek, because Americans understand me.” As Welsh read he assumed a stance akin to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow’s in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, with a rock star sway detectable during his performance of three selections from BEDROOM SECRETS.
I have to admit I didn’t think much of BEDROOM SECRETS when I read it last year. Hearing it live changed my opinion, though. I may have to give the book another chance. Welsh obviously relished this chance to perform, adopting unique voices for each character, bellowing certain lines, swaying all the while Depp-style. Watching his reading was a joy. He’s maybe the best reader I’ve seen yet, and I’ve seen billions. What a cool guy.
During the Q&A that followed, Welsh mentioned the Celtic tradition of storytelling, that every childe in Scotland grows up at his grandfather’s knee, hearing loads of enjoyable bullshit. That, more than any book, is what inspired him to write. His credo, according to another answer, is Story First. To aspiring writers, he advises, “Get the story out, and worry about the writing later,” cuz the story is what’s most important. Too many wannabe writers, he said, get trapped trying to make their sentences sound brilliant, when they SHOULD be perfecting their story. Like a complete douche, I nodded during Welsh’s answer.
Another questioner—a former TA of mine, actually—wondered about Welsh’s opinion of Leith, the setting of so many of his novels, including TRAINSPOTTING. The way Welsh depicts Leith changes from book to book, scene to scene. In one selection Welsh read from BEDROOM SECRETS, Leith is at first a place filled with hard men, eyeballing your every move. After a bit of drink, though, Leith’s hard men suddenly seem like salt o’ the earth types, joyful despite the suffering they’ve endured. That, says Welsh, is why so many Scots turn to alcohol. It softens the world, and by extension, Leith.
Another questioner wondered after the etymology of ‘cuntybaws.’ Unfortunately, I don’t remember Welsh’s answer, though it made me laugh.
When I reached Welsh I asked him two questions: (1) Any plans for another TRAINSPOTTING sequel, cuz I see this series as your ANTOINE DOINEL opportunity? Welsh is considering it, but he’s hesitant because he’d have to set it from Begbie’s or Spud’s POV, and he isn’t too fond of either character. Pressed by us for answer, he feels he’s most similar to Renton. (2) Is PORNO finally on its way out in movie form? To which Welsh said, yes, filming starts next year, and Ewan MacGregor and Danny Boyle have worked through their difficulties. As he answered these questions, he generously signed all of my books.
After the reading, a little boy argued with his mother over whether to buy a picture book while the two burlesque dancers—still lingerie clad—looked on. “This book has REALLY nice pictures,” said one dancer. “You should get it.” The little boy ignored her.
A quick note on the Saint Paul/Minneapolitan literary scene: I really feel we’re reaching the old highs. When I moved here three years ago, I watched the scene crumble. Two of our best bookstores—The Ruminator and Bound to Be Read—closed within a year of my arrival, the former from bankruptcy, the latter from owner sell out to Best Buy (FUCK YOU BEST BUY).
Now, within the past month alone, we’ve seen Sherman Alexie at Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, Irvine Welsh and Valentino Achek Deng at Magers & Quinn, plus Arthur Phillips, A.M. Homes and Jonathan Lethem at the University Bookstore. Not to mention the more obscure writers, like Kirmen Uribe, who’ve made appearances. I’m really happy with these improvements. Garrison Keillor’s bookstore should be hosting readings soon as well, and you KNOW that’s going to get some big names. So, thumbs up.
On that note, I noticed that David Unowsky, who owned The Ruminator, works at Magers & Quinn. He introduced Irvine Welsh. When I talked to him, he immediately reminisced about the old store, where—during his first MN reading—Irvine Welsh sent mothers & small children scurrying out with his ‘cunts’ and ‘fookins.’ The same thing might’ve happened last night, but I was too in the mix to notice.
© 2007, Patrick Stephenson. All rights reserved.