Closing the 'Ville

I am a bit sad today, and it's not just because it's tax day.

No, I'm sad because my online home is shutting down.  The current incarnation of the Readerville Forum will be closing its doors sometime in the next several weeks, and I'm growing as maudlin as the final episode of Cheers in the process.

Readerville.com got its start back in 2000 when Karen Templer decided that moderating the book discussions at Salon.com was less fun than setting up a website of her own for such discussions.  A group of Salon veterans joined her at the new site, and they immediately started inviting everyone they knew.  Since I'd made friends with one such veteran, the estimable Kristjan Wager (now blogging away at Pro-Science), at my previous online home(the long-lost and -lamented Hot Buttons chat room at Doonesbury.com), he invited me to join in the literary discussion.

It was transformative.  Here was a community of people who cared about topics that I cared about--everything from fantasy paperback covers to the serial comma to the poetry of W.D. Snodgrass--and were interested in both sharing their ideas and considering mine.  I got into arguments (mostly about Billy Collins' work, if I recall correctly), I made groanworthy puns (and groaned at those of others), I created parodies of Disney songs and Hunter S. Thompson novels, and I got to know about books and writers I'd never encountered before.

A partial list of those books and writers I explored because of Readerville would look like this:  * David Quammen * Pale Fire * The Lecturer's Tale * William Manchester * Word Freak * the Penguin Lives series * Salvation on Sand Mountain * John Crowley  * Gabriel Said * American Born Chinese * Mike Carey * Scott Wiedensaul * Promethea * Kirsten Bakis * Dan Simmons * Kingsblood Royal  * What They Did to Princess Paragon * Spix's Macaw * Jonathan Carroll * Hope Is the Thing with Feathers * Jeffrey Eugenides * Fast Food Nation *

Karen was constantly bringing writers in for week-long discussion events, allowing us the chance to pick the brains of people like Sherwin Nuland, Charles Johnson, Stefan Fatsis, Tony Horwitz, and the irrepressible Jim Crace, whose online exchanges are brilliant and hilarious enough to read like a Stoppard play.

And that's not counting the writers who were actually hanging out in the 'Ville with me: Katharine Weber was there, a literary Kevin Bacon, with ties to everyone from George Gershwin to Martha Stewart; Russell Rowland, mad Montanan and fantasy baseball stud; Marta Randall, grande dame of the science fiction field; Anne Ursu and Gretchen Laskas, twin daughters who'd never actually met; Gayle Brandeis, whose prose just astonishes; M.J. Rose, whose drive and initiative inspired everyone; David Abrams and Lauren Baratz-Logsted and Bard Cole and Amanda Eyre Ward and Brian Malloy and Roxana Robinson and Andi Buchanan and Laura Ruby and Dan Chaon and Danielle Smith and Carl Rollyson and Rosemary Graham and Caroline Leavitt and Bill Norris and Janis Jaquith and of course Amanda Davis, who'd been in Readerville for only a short time before she died.  It was a rich community, full of veterans and newbies, ready to answer questions and offer support and let you feel that yes, this verdammt manuscript could in fact be wrestled into shape.

And of course, it was through Readerville that I first learned Paul Dry's name and he learned mine.

And the readers, of course, whose passion for the book is what allowed the writers to have a voice in the first place:  if I name Kat Warren, Charis M, Katherine B, Boromir, Tabby, Cindy, Emily Christensen, Joseph Finn, Niki Winters, joseph scott, Christina Pellini, Fishboy, ana purna, RML, Janet L, Bob B, karla, Tana, cd coleman, Miriam, Sethra, Joel, thelmac, Mark Perez, derik badman, Marion Howard, sheba, Randall Stickrod, michelle furphy, Tom D, CKDexterHaven, mikedoodler, Kaethe, and the inimitable dg strong, I'm certain to be forgetting dozens of friends and acquaintances, but I suppose that's inevitable.

If I had to boil it down to a few memories, though, I suppose I'd have to pick these:

*Writing "Loose Canons" with Paul Clark, a/k/a tpc.  Paul's sense of humor is closer to mine than anyone I've ever met, except that we've never actually met.  All our collaboration was done online.  There are those who theorize that the universe will end in a violent matter-antimatter explosion if we ever shake hands.  It'll happen someday, folks (though you may want to watch through a piece of smoked glass when it does), but if it does, you'll never get to see our unpublished column, "The Legion of Diversity vs. Deadwhiteman!"

*Arguing with Edward Cole.  Edward is passionate, sensitive, and sometimes an exhausting person to argue with.  He's had a life radically unlike mine, and our divergent opinions on many subjects (cf. Billy Collins) have sent us to opposite corners of the ring a number of times, but I've never encountered anyone online who has made me think about what I'm saying more than he has.  And for all our disagreements over the years, the main thing I remember about him was our shared fanboyish glee when our online discussion of a poet we both love--W.D. Snodgrass--prompted Snodgrass himself to email us.

*April Fool's Day, 2001, when Katharine Weber and Katherine B swapped vowels and pretended to be each other (Katharine B and Katherine Weber) all day.

*The California Tour, when I got to dine with an Rville group that included Russell and Katharine and CK (whose story of trying to buy a kosher Coke in Alabama was the highlight of the meal), got to ride up I-5 in Randall's black convertible Targa, and got to spend a morning in the San Juan mountains watching life birds settling on the feeder from karla's front porch.

*Seeing Kelly's writing in print.  The Readerville Journal (in its original print edition) published one of her short stories, "The Whispering Dictionary, " and the knowledge that thousands of copies of this story were now floating around the country only a few months after I'd first seen it handwritten on notebook paper was somehow more bizarre and thrilling than the knowledge that Paul and I had a column appearing in the same issue.  My favorite thing that ever published in TRJ, though, was a single sentence in Kelly's review of Philip Petit's To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers:  "The wire is gone, the towers are gone, but you can't destroy what was never there to begin with; and somewhere above Ground Zero the line Philippe Petit walked is still there, pointless and stupid and beautiful."  I still get chills.

*Preparing nervously for my first-ever reading at the Va. Festival of the Book in 2003.  The books were out, the room was ready, and I was approaching total flummoxation when the hotel manager approached me and said there was a package for me.  It turned out to be a bottle of champagne from Sarah R.  Never have I been quite so surprised by a gift, and never have I appreciated one more.

These and other memories are going to be whirling around for some time as I try to come to terms with the final days of the Forum.  Oh, there will still be a Readerville online; The Readerville Journal will continue, and I'll even be contributing to it (look for an interview with Tony Horwitz about his new book, A Voyage Long and Strange.)  There will be places to comment on the articles, and many familiar faces will no doubt be logging onto the server to post their ideas in the new format.

But the Forum as it exists will close its doors soon, and once it does, I'll be at Readerville less often.  The new format means less likelihood of stirring up a free-form discussion.  That will be good in some ways--certainly less expensive for Karen, and less likely to distract me from such important tasks as writing, teaching, raising my kids and spending time with my wife--but for all the possibilities lying in the future, this is the end of a much-beloved part of my past.

So: cue Sam Malone standing in the empty bar, as he prepares to turn out the lights:  "I'm the luckiest son of a bitch in the world."  And I have been for nearly eight years now.

Thanks, Karen.  Love, PC

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on April 15, 2008 12:12 PM.

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