For the last several months I’ve been enjoying house concerts in Stanstead. I get to go into someone’s living room and listen to performers as they stand in front of me playing intricate arrangements on instruments that I could never begin to master.
I, on the other hand, read out loud to people.
This is a strange custom that goes along with releasing a book. You go to a public place and do a thing that most people are quite capable of doing themselves. It’s not even as though the author uses funny voices, though he may. I don’t – except, of course, my natural funny voice.
Yet people love to hear authors read their work. Perhaps it’s the possibility of seeing the author squirm when his material tanks, like watching NASCAR for the fiery wrecks. Serious authors, of course, have the luxury of interpreting the awkward silence as deep concentration. For a humorist like me, though, silence is death.
So I was a little nervous when I appeared at Brome Lake Books last Thursday to promote my novel A Hole in the Ground as part of the Knowlton Literary Festival. Let me say that again: as part of the Knowlton Literary Festival. The person who recently wrote about designing a nude calendar of himself appeared at a literary festival.
I shared the event with Danish-born North Hatley writer Anne Fortier, the bestselling international author of Juliet and The Lost Sisterhood. Anne is lovely, poised, elegant, well dressed and well Danished. She spoke eloquently without notes about the creative process, her travels, womanhood and the struggles of film adaptations.
I, on the other hand, was rumpled and stammering and pointed out that the cover of my book looks like pea soup vomit.
But as contrasts go, it worked. I had also fortunately chosen a passage from my book set at a council meeting, forgetting that the Town of Brome Lake is ground zero for municipal dissent. It struck a chord.
Were there literary car crashes? No. A couple of fender benders, maybe, a drunk NASCAR fan on the track, perhaps, but nothing serious. And this is normal. I’ve held quite a few readings over the years and have now participated in (say it with me one more time) a literary festival. I have not been heckled once. One time someone did get up and leave, but I chalk that up to gastric distress.
Even if the author is dull, stammers or makes generalizing and unflattering remarks about every French teacher he ever had (for which I apologize), the people will listen politely. Some of them will even buy your book.
People who come to book events are the nicest people in the world. And here’s why:
Books strive to make sense of what it is to be human. As we’re taught in school, every story needs a conflict. Life is nothing but conflict. It’s struggle. It’s confusion. It’s council meetings. Books strive to help us understand that struggle.
People who love books open themselves up to all that striving. They go even further and open themselves up to the makers of those attempts at understanding, the authors. Listening to authors speak, then, is an appreciation of this gift. All in all, it makes book lovers the nicest, most open people in the world.
In my notebook, I once wrote, “Why does reading get a free ride? It’s passive, it’s slothful, it’s unproductive.” My notebook is full of nonsense like this. The answer to my ridiculous question, though, can be found in the people who read. Any inwardness a book induces is eventually directed outward in generosity of spirit, in the knowledge of how humans do or should behave, in an appreciation for the power of creativity.
So I got to play my little instrument last week in Knowlton. I also played it out loud at the Lennoxville Library, and I’ll be reading at Black Cat Books on November 6 as well. Readers could play this tune for themselves, of course. But when I play it in front of them, I hope that this small little thing we do together – writing and reading, creating and thinking – makes the world a more liveable place.
You can order A Hole in the Ground through Amazon.com, Amazon.ca or Blurb.ca or contact the author. That’s me!
I can’t believe that I’ve been away for so long! I am ordering your book as soon as I sign off. Just yesterday, my husband remarked that he wished he had a dollar for every word I’ve ever read. I’m sure he’d buy himself a NASCAR track and I’d simply buy more books 🙂
What about a dollar for every word you ever wrote! That would probably be plenty.
Make sure you don’t order the book by the same name by Josephine Bell (1900 or something). Amazon is confused.
Amazon was a bit tricky! I ordered the correct book, but not before being led to Josephine…the book hoarder in me almost ordered that one, too. But I practiced rare restraint 😉
I have alerted Amazon. As you can probably suspect, I added my book as a seller. Amazon just brazenly added poor ol’ Josephine and her 3-star review. But, hey, I’ll take 3 out of 5.
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I wasn’t sure why you had approved this obvious spam, but I realized that they are selling land for development (probably in Russia), which I guess means, very appropriately, ground with a hole in it.
Oh. Well, thanks for clearing that up. I thought it was Hair Club For Men.
It could be – their only goal is to make you click on the link.
The scene with the council meeting reminded me of being a young reporter in the early 90s, you could tell it was written by someone who’d done that. His nubby hand kind of got its grip on me from the start. I’m loving the hole of it. Nice story here, too. Striving, that’s good: separating book lovers from the rest, they deserve that. This whole thing is RIGGED.
The well read shall inherit the espresso machines.
Nice post, Ross. I really do like that picture of you too. Author photo for your next book?
I think I’m going to keep that photo for ever and ever.
Book people are the best. It is one of the reasons books need to survive because without books the world will be too sad to live in. (Wow, that got dark in a hurry.) Who brought grapes to your reading? I’m not sure grapes are a good idea.
As potential projectiles? Agreed. But there was baklava, so it all balanced out.
Once you put grapes (or olives) on a paper plate, you’re just asking for trouble. Baklava makes everything better.
Except turning pages. FYI.
Your observation about how “Any inwardness a book induces is eventually directed outward in generosity of spirit, in the knowledge of how humans do or should behave, in an appreciation for the power of creativity” is really terrific, Ross… Wait, can I can I call you “Ross” now that you’ve participated in a literary festival?
I got a swag bag. It had fudge and syrup. So you tell me?
Fudge AND syrup?
Mr. Murray it is then…
People who read books are my favorite people in the world. These are the people who set aside a little time each day to try and make sense of what it means to be human. So much of content today is driven by a lust for information. We demand facts. If it can’t be quantified it doesn’t have value. But the written word–in particular literary fiction–gives us the opportunity to exercise empathy as we get inside the head of the protagonist. Empathy is hard to quantify or monetize. But it has value.
That’s a great observation. And timely.
We occasionally have readings of passages, stories, or poetry at my church. We also have occasional music performances. Musicians always have performances, though, writers have fewer opportunities.
Most writers shouldn’t be let outside, is why.
Outside? You mean there is life outside? That’s a scary thought. One of these days I must check that out.
But of course people like book readings: it’s like getting an audio book, for free, in 3D, live.
And by the way, if you ever do a reading across the border – and I don’t mean standing next to the border reading through a megaphone – let us know.
you are so right about book people. ’tis true. keep on keepin’ on, ross. from one striver to another.
Rumpled and stammering is the very essence of literary worth. Would you rather a tux? See my point?
I’m happy to hear this is going so well for you. It certainly couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke. It takes guts to put yourself out there. I can’t do it! Again, wish I could attend one of these appearance. My heckling would be of the good-natured variety.
Did you click on Anne’s link? Talk about contrast.
My opinion…. people crave the visceral. And seeing– hearing!!– an author live in person is quintessentially the visceral experience.
You shouldn’t be so down on yourself, though. We are all our own worst critics.
Visceral makes me think of chewing meat, which I may try next time.
I like to hear authors read their works – reading becomes storytelling again. For the author, it must be like reading to one’s children again. Only everyone is an adult. And a stranger. Ok, nothing like reading to your child, haha!
And they don’t say, “Read it again!”
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