Vermin on the Mount: A Night of Irreverent Readings

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by Elizabeth Manson

From Vermin on the Mount

On Sunday, January 10th, the Mountain Bar in Chinatown served as the venue for Jim Ruland’s ongoing series of “irreverent readings” lovingly called Vermin on the Mount. For the past five years, host Jim Ruland (The Big Lonesome) has been running this successful reading series featuring writers from across the country. This month’s ‘vermin’ were Vicki Forman (This Lovely Life), Goodloe Byron (The Wraith, Revisions Of), Porochista Khakpour (Sons and Other Flammable Objects), and Vanina Marsot (Foreign Tongue).

When I first walked into the red-lit lounge, I was immediately treated to a free copy of Goodloe Byron’s novel Revisions Of and a raffle ticket for a chance to win one of five new copies of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Free stuff in one hand and a drink in the other? That’s my kind of night. I quickly grabbed a seat (lucky I did, too, since the room filled so fast that stragglers were forced to stand in the back), and prepared myself for a night of promised irreverence.

The evening began with Vicki Forman reading a selection from her new novel; it was a heartbreaking vignette about the emotions and memories that flood a mother as she watches her young son die. Though the mood was somber, the words and imagery were rich and beautiful. The bar had been set.

The mood quickly turned as Goodloe Byron (already a favorite of mine for giving me free swag) stepped up to the podium to read excerpts from his novel The Wraith. He approached his readings as if he were just a guy reading to his friends (if friends do that sort of thing); he would flip to tabbed pages and preface his passages with remarks like, “Oh yeah, this part is all right!” or, “I don’t know why I chose this section.” His tangents and anecdotal footnotes were just as entertaining as the snippets he read.

Next was Porochista Khakpour, who described her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects as the story of an Iranian-American family in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, “but funny.” I’m sold. Her reading, however, was from a draft of her next novel, tentatively titled The Big Wow in which a David Copperfield-like character prepares to make some national monument disappear…on September 11, 2001. I sensed a theme. She hoped that reading from this unfinished work would allow her to break through her writer’s block, and I hope it did—The Big Wow belongs on the shelves.

The night ended with Vanina Marsot reading a passage from her novel Foreign Tongues in which a French-to-English translator studies and relearns French slang in order to prepare herself to translate a poorly-written erotic novel. I couldn’t help but giggle like a twelve-year-old along with the rest of the audience as the words for different body parts and sex acts were analyzed from the perspective of an outsider.

When the readings were done, the crowd flocked to the merchandise table to pick up copies of the novels as well as mingle with the writers themselves. After chatting with a couple people and ordering another drink, I left the venue content and a little more knowledgeable on French slang (what more can you ask for on a Sunday night?). The only downside to the night was that I didn’t win the raffle, but you can’t have everything I guess.

Check out the next Vermin on the Mount on Sunday, March 14 with readings from Jamie Attenberg and Jennine Capo Crucet, and be sure to keep up with the Vermin on the Mount blog (http://www.vermin.blogs.com/) for details and interviews.

WHO: Vicki Forman, Goodloe Byron, Porochista Khakpour, and Vanina Marsot
WHAT: Vermin of the Mount
WHERE: The Mountain Bar
WHEN: January 10, 2020 (8-10)


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