Copious crowds expected for short-story writer

BY KERY LAWSON | JUNE 19, 2009 7:21 AM

Writer Simon Van Booy claims that most of what he says is drivel, but his avid readers would beg to differ. After a successful reading at Prairie Lights Books two years ago, he will return to Iowa City tonight to read from his second and much anticipated book.

Van Booy reads from Love Begins in Winter, a collection of stories, at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., today at 7 p.m.

“He’s one of the few writers who has come around in the last five years who is a sure thing,” said Lance Edmonds, a bookseller at Prairie Lights. “You can give this book to anybody, and everybody will like him.”

Love Begins in Winter tells a number of stories that follow people from different backgrounds who share the same problem. One tells about a cellist who is emotionally detached thanks to an event he witnessed in the past, while another chronicles the life of a diplomat.

“It’s about people who are emotionally distant from their own lives,” Van Booy said. “Maybe things haven’t turned out the way they wanted, or the way they imagined … There’s very little hope for any kind of emotional connection, and then suddenly, almost by magic, they meet some random stranger, and all that changes.”

Following the release of his first book, Van Booy’s inspiration to write a collection came from an unlikely source. A 9-year-old from Tennessee called Van Booy out on the form of his first book, The Secret Lives of People in Love. In her letter, she demanded to know just why his short stories were so short.

“The 9-year-old finger was pointing at me accusingly,” Van Booy said.

Van Booy’s friend and now literary agent, Luc Hunt, an Arts and Culture DI alum, persuaded the Welsh native to visit Iowa City nine years ago. Although Van Booy now resides in New York, he looks back on his days in the City of Literature fondly.

“[Luc Hunt] was from Iowa, and he said come and visit, and I did,” Van Booy said. “We lived in a room that was about 150 square feet, it had no air conditioning, [and] I came in the summer. We set up two desks … And we called them dueling typewriters. We spent the whole summer writing and smoking cigars.”

Iowa City was more than just a place to write for Van Booy — it was also a place to explore. Between visits to the Iowa City Public Library to watch 1960s Italian movies and trips to the lake, the writer took in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the city.

“I remember once we had so little money that the only thing we could afford to eat was one soft shell tortilla from Panchero’s,” Van Booy said. “It was 50 cents, and we got one soft shell tortilla, and rolled it up … we had $50 for beer and cigarettes, but that’s all we had to eat with.”

However, Van Booy’s stay here did not include attending the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He considered himself an outsider.

“We knew of the workshop, and we visited it a few times unofficially,” Van Booy said. “[We] were really curious as to what was going on and sort of wanted to be a part of it, but we didn’t want to impose. The people from the Workshop were very interesting, and they were sort of celebrities.”

Since living in Iowa City, Van Booy has reached his own celebrity. Even without a stay at the workshop, he has certainly found success with Iowa City readers.

“People who read [The Secret Lives of People in Love] come back in looking for more of him,” Edmonds said. “They come back in begging for people that write like him, or anything by him. It’s quite a phenomenon, and we’re expecting a really big crowd on Friday.”

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