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Feature Wed Nov 29 2006

RUI: Reading Under the Influence

Alcohol is a substance that has paired well with writing through the ages. Some of the most revered novels of our time may never have come to fruition without this liquid inspiration, but what happens when you take the mix one step further and merge reading and drinking? This is exactly what the creators of RUI: Reading Under the Influence have done in their monthly reading series and the match works predictably well.

Meeting on the first Wednesday of every month at Sheffield's in Lakeview, RUI follows the same simple formula each month. Regular RUI participants and a guest reader offer up selections from either published or original works. What makes the readings "under the influence"? Before reading published works, the reader takes one shot, reads the selection, then finishes with another shot, with the audience encouraged to follow along with drinks of their own. Following the reading are a series of trivia questions for the audience to answer. The audience member who answers the most questions at the end of each selection gets to choose a prize, usually another book. The trivia questions range from the serious, such as identifying the selected work or recounting details about the piece and its author, to the silly, such as likening the subject matter to celebrity mishaps. It's a simple formula, but for the reader who loves to collect useless facts not just about books, but about everything they encounter, it's the perfect place to let these skills shine.

Each session of RUI focuses on a theme. Everything from banned books to local authors to the holidays has influenced the series from its inception in March of 2005. This past month's reading took a cue from Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations for a night of macabre and morose tales. While Mandy Snyder chose a passage from Toni Morrison's Beloved and stumped the room by asking which number was "spiteful" (Answer: 124), new RUI regular Jesse Jordan received a bevy of answers when he read from the final parts of The Inferno, relating his questions to the movie Clerks and asking in which ring of hell Tim Allen would be placed (Answer: Seventh – violence against God and art). With audience members yelling answers from left and right, one thing quickly becomes clear: these are seasoned readers and a newcomer can only hope to have his or her mouth open by the time someone else has shouted out the correct answer. Far from frustrating though, the audience's competitive spirit and eagerness to participate only make the readings that much more exuberant and convivial. With RUI members' original works thrown in with excerpts of classic literature, the mix of the old and new writings and the obvious love of both set this reading series apart from any other in the city.

Julia Borcherts, Mandy Snyder, Rob Duffer, Carly Huegelmann and Jesse Jordan make up the cast of RUI regulars, but each session has also featured the efforts of a special guest reader. This November Brian Torney, founder of the local science-fiction literary magazine "Tales from the Dim Unknown," read a Ray Bradbury selection and took the opportunity to promote his independent lit mag. Past readings have offered the same chance to other emerging local writers such as Brian Costello, Patty Templeton, Todd Dills, Beth Dugan, Megan Stielstra and more. It's a great opportunity for these writers to advertise their work, but it's also a welcome chance for readers to get to know those names and faces that are breaking out from the local scene and making an impact in the literary world at large.

Reading Under the Influence started as a fundraiser, but has since developed into a literary event worthy of its own mention. It's rare to be a part of an audience that is so engaged in the readings, to find that you're sitting on the edge of your seat hoping you'll be the first one to shout out a title or author and to be surprised to find you're not the only one who possesses knowledge of certain useless literary facts. RUI is not for the stuffy purveyors of literature or for those who put reading on an untouchable pedestal. This is for readers who consume their books with fervor, who not so much read as live the stories between the covers. This is a reader's reading and we can all drink to that.


RUI: Reading Under the Influence meets on the first Wednesday of every month at Sheffield's, 3258 N. Sheffield. Admission is currently $3 at the door. For information, suggestions or submissions email TheHotReadings[at]hotmail[dot]com.

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