I don’t have a history of enjoying literary readings. Maybe it’s the perfectly excusable deficiency of many writers as performers. Maybe it’s my slavery to the modern way of treating reading as a solitary, private activity (preferably conducted under a nice warm comforter, as far as I’m concerned) and a positive respite from other people, rather than a nineteenth-century, communal, gather-round-the-fireplace sort of affair.
Whatever it is, I just don’t have fun at these events. A semi-recent exception was a mesmerizing reading by Kathleen Finneran from her exquisite memoir The Tender Land two years ago–great not because she’s a master thespian but because her book is so astonishingly powerful and personal, and she was as much under its spell as any of us in the audience.
After that I didn’t want to press my luck–until this Wednesday, when I decided to attend a neighborhood reading by a certain torrid young writer whose first book was pretty great and who just published her first novel. Here I relearned my lesson.
Things started 20 minutes late. The mike did not work. We were in the back row and could hear just enough, before we reluctantly bolted, to divine that: 1) the professor who was introducing the author had bought her novel a few days earlier and read half of it; 2) he thought it was o.k. to admit this in front of the author and a few hundred people; and 3) he wasn’t going to cede the stage anytime soon. The last straw came when he started reading from the novel, which could tend to, you know, be redundant with the reading itself. It was the sort of thing that could put you off readings for life…