Author Archives: Claire Kirch

World Book Night in Small-Town America

Claire Kirch -- April 24th, 2013
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Last year, a woman at the Anchor Bar in Superior, Wisc. wanted our picture taken after I gave her a book.

World Book Night was a lot of fun last year. I hit two iconic bars in Superior, Wisconsin, the hard-scrabble, blue-collar town across the St. Louis River from Duluth, Minnesota, where I gave away 20 copies of A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. This year, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone again, drive over the bridge to Superior, and give away copies of Population: 485 by Michael Perry, who writes books about his life and times in a small town in the Wisconsin north woods. There’s also, for me, one degree of separation between Perry and me: his cousin, Penny Perry, a native of Wisconsin who now lives in Duluth, is a friend of mine. I felt like this gave me instant street cred.

Things didn’t start so auspiciously: I dropped a book in a puddle even before I left Duluth. But once I got to Superior, it picked up – I ended giving away all 19 copies in less than 30 minutes, minus driving time.

I started off at about 5 pm at the Red Mug Café, a hole-in-the-wall not far from the bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin. I approached a table of four middle-aged women, enjoying each other over cups of coffee. “Happy World Book Night!” I exclaimed, explaining that on April 23 each year, volunteers “all over the country like myself” give away books to strangers. Holding up Population: 485, I said, “Michael Perry writes about small-town life in northern Wisconsin. Can you relate to that, or what?” The women were very kind, and all four of them took a book and graciously thanked me. Emboldened, I walked around the café and handed out books to a woman slurping a bowl of soup; a middle-aged man on his iPhone, who was initially reluctant, but said, “Well, I am flying to Chicago; I do need something to read on the plane;” and to a young man at the counter, who high-fived me after I handed him a book and told him, “Books rock! Reading rocks!” Continue reading

An Ode to Shakespeare and Company

Claire Kirch -- December 15th, 2011

Ever since I profiled Shakespeare and Company’s 30-year-old owner, Sylvia Whitman, for PW’s “50 Under 40” series in 2008, and, last year, broke the story that the bookshop was launching a prize and a literary magazine, my editors and I have joked that my territory as a regional correspondent for the magazine extends far beyond the Midwest, all the way to Paris, France. Last night, when I heard of the death of George Whitman, who founded Shakespeare & Co. 60 years ago, I was as personally touched by the sad news as I had been the day before, when I was informed of the death of another legendary book person, Ned Waldman, who once owned a publishing company and a distribution company here in Minnesota.

George Whitman’s death indeed marks the end of an era on the Paris bookselling scene. Even in an age when online retailers and e-books seem to hold sway in the book industry, though, Shakespeare & Co. surely will thrive, continuing to draw customers to the little bookshop near the Seine, with its slightly-dilapidated façade, the cute little courtyard in front filled during store hours with bookcarts, the wishing well in the center of the main floor, and especially the rabbit warren of rooms on three floors, all filled with books, that can be accessed only by climbing rickety stairs.

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Harry Potter and the Midnight Special

Claire Kirch -- November 19th, 2010

It’ll probably come as no surprise to any of my book industry colleagues, but I was the parent deputized to accompany my 13-year-old daughter, Rachel, and her two friends, Ella and Elise, to see the 2-1/2-hour film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) at 12:01 a.m on November 19.

Excited phone calls and text messages pinged back-and-forth between the three families’ households after school Thursday afternoon and evening, solidifying plans for the movie and sleepover afterwards, a rare treat for seventh-graders on a school night. By 10 pm, the three girls – each sporting a Hogwartesque-tie under their winter coats – were ready to go. We drove to the Duluth 10 theater complex in downtown Duluth, Minnesota, where a noisy crowd already stood in a huge line snaking throughout the lobby and beyond for the midnight showing, which had sold out three weeks previously.

It was a joyous crowd, and a friendly one, as we all clutched our tickets and buzzed excitedly with those around us, when not people-watching. The three girls were among the youngest in line, while I was among the oldest. Most of the 700+ ticketholders appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s – the readers who literally grew up reading Harry Potter from the beginning, since the first book was published in the U.S. in 1998. And were they dressed to impress! We saw easily recognized characters, ranging from Harry to Hermione Granger and Professors Trelawney and Snape, as well as numerous audience members dressed simply in traditional British boarding school attire – ties, skirts or dress pants, and blazers. Even the refreshment stand attendants had gotten into the spirit of the evening, dressed as witches, wizards, and elves, as they served up popcorn, candy, and soft drinks to the multitudes milling about the lobby.

It felt like a Halloween party with a Harry Potter theme, or a Harry Potter convention.

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