Reading Out Loud

The Non-Glamorous Life of Writers Secret #124: Readings are awkward.

In movies, readings are packed and everyone in the audience buys a book for the author to sign afterward. The author speaks brilliantly and you only hear the last couple sentences of the excerpt. No one checks their cell phone or eyes other books on the shelves. No one accidentally wanders into the reading, looking for the Biography section, and immediately darts away. In the Q&A, no one asks stupid questions.

If only.

I think fiction writers have it hardest when it comes to readings. At least poetry has motion and, most likely, they get to read several different poems. Fiction is generally intended to be read, not heard. Plus, fiction writers usually have to choose an excerpt and explain the rest to the audience. When I’m in the audience, my mind tends to wander, even when listening to awesome authors. Suddenly I’ll realize my mind was wondering and think Wait, which character is this? Was he in the car the whole time? I’ll never catch up! It’s a lot of pressure if you’re the writer, and a lot of risk if you’re in the audience.

Apparently I’m not alone in this. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, readings are being updated, reduced, energized. Authors aren’t required to take up a whole hour or even read from their work.

“”We started making the readings briefer to set us apart from other stores,” said Amanda Lyndon, who runs the discussions at the Tenement Museum Shop. “Everyone seemed to prefer it.””

I think it’s a smart move to cut actual reading time or play with the format. One of the best “readings” I’ve been to was by Shannon Hale. I’m pretty sure she read an excerpt from one of her books, but for the most part she talked about being an author. She balanced well between talking to the kids in the audience (who were enthralled) and the adults (also enthralled, and probably hopeful writers). One of my favorite moments was when she talked about her experiences with literary rejection. It was both shocking and heartening to learn that someone as awesome and talented as Shannon dealt with her fair share of disappointment in the writing world.

Mostly, I think the reading should be about connecting an author with his/her fans. The actual reading is secondary. I’m excited to see how publishers/authors/booksellers will shake things up.

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