Van Booy To Read ‘Beautiful Things’ at Canio’s

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Simon Van Booy will be reading from “The Sadness of Beautiful Things,” a collection of short stories, on December 15 at Canio's Books. Wang Yin photo

At 2 a.m. on a cold winter night, Simon Van Booy sat up with a log-burning fire and news that the world would end in four hours.

He considered waking his daughter, Madeleine, and her cousins, fast asleep upstairs during their one-week holiday in Amagansett. He wondered if he shouldn’t worry them — forgo one last farewell and, instead, let them dream.

The writer snapped himself out of his fantasy. “The world was not ending,” he reassured himself, listening to the crackle of the fire. Not yet.

And then, he began to write.

His thoughts naturally unfolded into “Not Dying,” a chapter in Van Booy’s most recent collection of short stories, “The Sadness of Beautiful Things,” which he will bring to Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor on Saturday, December 15 — revisiting a previous life and the very start of his writing career.

Born in London and raised in rural Wales, an 18-year-old Van Booy first landed at the Campbellsville University in Kentucky on a football scholarship, his initial meeting with the United States. For a spiritual soul, the Southern Baptist-affiliated school was not best fit, and so he jetted back to Britain after a year, only to return to the MFA program at Southampton College.

The Sag Harbor Express would publish his first story — annual coverage of the blessing of the pets at the Christ Episcopal Church, “and very important,” he said — and longtime North Haven resident Barbara Wersba would publish 200 copies of his first book, out of her private Bookman Press.

“It is now lost and considered rare. I don’t even have any copies,” Van Booy said. “It really gave me the confidence that I should just keep going. But, financially, I had to leave the East End. I thought, ‘That’s it. My publishing career is over once I leave Barbara.’ I really, really felt embraced by the East End, and it felt like a real home.”

The burgeoning writer moved to Brooklyn, where he still lives and occasionally works. “I’m probably the oldest person in my neighborhood,” he said. “I’m like Dumbledore.”

He didn’t grow up in a house of books, but is now the author of 14. In 2009, he won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for “Love Begins in Winter,” the world’s richest short story prize at the time, and six years later, he dedicated “Tales of Accidental Genius” to Wersba, who died in February.

She understood what it took for Van Booy to break into the world of larger publishing houses. A non-drinker, non-smoker and generally a quiet person, he has always found it difficult to go out until midnight and actually enjoy it, he said, which is why he thrives on the East End during the off-season.

To write, he needs absolute solitude and zero background noise, which is rarely possible. There is always someone with a leaf blower, he said.

“The wonderful thing is, the Hamptons are deathly quiet in winter, which is just perfect,” he said, “which freaks my wife out, which is one of the reasons she’s a bit reluctant to move there. What she thinks is, is she gonna see my head at the window with an axe one day?

“But when people go away and they say, ‘Would you like to stay at my house?’ I always say yes,” he said.

And such are the circumstances that led him to the East End in winter — parked outside Louse Point, scribbling a story into a notebook while hoping he wouldn’t get a ticket, and staring into a fire at 2 a.m., considering the end of the world in Amagansett.

“That was a really hard story to write because it had to feel very close, but then I also didn’t want it to feel too precious,” he said. “I thought, if the world does end, the world has so much suffering in it. And at the end of our lives we die and we’re pretty much forgotten. We die and then the second death we have is the last person who knew us.

“But in the end, I thought, ‘Well, actually, that’s great because it’s better than not existing at all.’ I’d rather exist and then have it all end than never not exist. I’d rather exist and take my chances.”

Simon Van Booy will read from his novel, “The Sadness of Beautiful Things,” on Saturday, December 15, at 5 p.m. at Canio’s Books, located at 290 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-4926 or visit caniosbooks.com.

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