NYC Launch of Daniel Canty’s Playful “Wigrum: An Inventory Novel” at Mellow Pages

Zine wallWednesday night at Brooklyn’s Mellow Pages Library and Reading Room francophone novelist from Quebec, Daniel Canty and his translator Oana Avasilichioaei, jointly read from his book, newly published in English, Wigrum, subtitled by publisher Talonbooks of Vancouver BC, An Inventory Novel. Canty and Avasilichioaei were joined by poets Brandon Downing and Michael Ruby.

It was my first time at Mellow Pages, and I found it a very genial place for presentations and literary appreciation. Located in the same loft building on Bogart Street in Bushwick that houses the art gallery Studio 10, very near the Morgan Street ‘L” train subway stop, Mellow Pages is a big square-ish room with a stamped-tin ceiling high overhead, wide windows of the sort with wire mesh threaded through the glass, and two walnut-paneled walls festooned with chapbooks, zines, monographs, and printed material of all kinds. Along the walls, bookcases and shelving combos were arranged, with books on vertical and horizontal axes. The chapbooks and zines, being so thin and hard to shelve, were hung, and in some places fastened to hangers on the walls.

Jacob, co-proprietor of Mellow Pages, kicked things off by describing how the library and reading room works–people can pay to be a member; as well, if you donate 10 books to the library’s inventory, you’re a member. Their tumblr includes this statement: “Mellow Pages is an independently-run library & reading room located in Brooklyn, NY focusing on providing limited-print fiction and poetry to the neighborhoods of Bushwick, East Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy. With a collection of over 1,200 titles and zines, come check out the space and have a coffee, crack into a new one.”

After Jacob finished his set-up, before the readings began, Brandon Downing asked me to say something about Talonbooks, and I obliged, mentioning their Vancouver location; their extensive list of contemporary Canadian playwrights; They Called Me Number One, a memoir of surviving the punitive residential school system by Chief of the Soda Creek First Nation band Bev Sellars, #1 bestseller in British Columbia; their poetry and translated fiction list, with such examples as Wigrum.

Brandon was then the first reader, presenting several multi-part poems from his current collection, coincidentally titled Mellow Actions (Fence Books, 2013). He said that unlike the truly mellow vibe of the library and reading room where we sat, he’d chosen his title a bit sardonically. In fact, several of Downing’s poems expressed honest anger, always a tonic to hear read aloud, with anger so often suppressed in polite company. He was followed by Michael Ruby, who in a nod to the evening’s Pacific Northwest motif, read three longish poems inspired by Seattle’s hometown rock heroes, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, from his American Songbook (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013).

Then Daniel and Oana moved to the front of the room and, trading off, they read alternating sections from Wigrum. I’d been dipping in to the book all week in advance of the reading and found it to be an ingenious creative enterprise. The novel is ostensibly the census of an idiosyncratic collection of objects, owned at one time by the elusive figure, Sebastian Wigrum. The printed book itself is beautifully presented with crisp typography and clean design on bright white paper. Precise drawings, each one well printed, depict each of the 149 objects in Wigrum’s mysterious collection. This imaginary world has also produced a novel with marginal notes and an index. Here’s a list of five of the objects catalogued and described herein:

  1. 1) a feather from the wings of Icarus;
  2. 2) Holden Caulfield’s “ear-flap hat”;
  3. 3) a handkerchief that William Faulkner had asked be tucked in his funeral suit, though it never was;
  4. 4) a set o keys called the “Come and Gone Keys”; and
  5. 5) a special egg that P.T. Barnum held in his museum of marvels. As the book reads on page 74, Barnum once had occasion to show it to Benjamin Franklin,: “On tiptoe, [Barnum] led the philosopher to his desk, extracted this egg from a drawer stuffed with banknotes, telling him the daughter of Cristobal Colon slumbered forever within, and that if he brought the egg close to his ear he would hear an endless refrain of all Native American nouns of animals and plants. Barnum dropped the egg while handing it to Franklin, spattering his forick coat. He apologized, profusely, but Franklin obviously thought the business was putting him on again. He makes no mention of the incident in his Autobiography.”  

Their reading was very well received, with everyone enjoying Wigrum‘s humor and philosophical play. Book sales and informal conversation followed. I took a few photographs during the readings and was pleased to see, blinking through the window behind the readers, the lights of the Chrysler Building. Barely a half-hour subway ride from Midtown Manhattan, this view typifies how easy it is to visit Mellow Pages. I’m sure I’ll be coming back for a return visit soon. Here are those pictures:


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