October 20th, 2011

Readings: a user’s guide

I’ve been blogging too long–I think I might have already written this post, but I can’t find it. If you’ve already read this, please ignore.

It’s book season, and I’m at a lot of readings these days and doing some myself (including a lovely one last night at Trent University in Peterborough). At most readings and pretty much every launch, there’s a few people who aren’t particularly book buffs; they’re just friend, family, or coworkers of the reader. They’re there to be supportive, and to try something new–but they sometimes look a bit baffled, scared, or bored. Next time, direct reading newbies to this post, where all elementary reading questions shall be answered!

Will there be cover? Sometimes yes, mainly no. The best way to figure this out is to ask, or check the listing, poster, or Facebook invitation. A rule of thumb is that regular reading series are usually pay-what-you-can or free, launches are usually free (but not always), and library programs are often free too. You’ll usually pay at festivals, and anything held in a theatre. But for big name authors, there’s cover pretty much everywhere. Prices are unlikely to exceed $20.

I haven’t read any of the books being read from. Can I still go? Sure! Think of readings as both a stand-alone performance and a kind of sampler or taste test from the books–it’s enough to enjoy on it’s own, but if you really like it, you might want to buy the whole thing.

But I don’t want to buy the book! Help! Calm down, it’s fine–many people come to readings just to enjoy the readings. Simply stear clear of the sales table if you don’t want to buy a book. If you aren’t sure, you can go look at the books for sale and then *still* not buy one–really! Anyone who would give you a hard time is being so rude you don’t have to be polite in turn. But in general, yes, be polite. Once a woman came up after a reading and asked me where she might buy my book. I told her some stores, but also mentioned that I had some copied for sale with me, and motioned to take one out of my bag, and she backed away with her hands raised. Seriously? Yeah, seriously.

Will the author sign my book? The author would be delighted. Within reason, you can ask for what you want inscribed–to yourself or someone else, and a (brief) message. In a long lineup for a very popular author, you might not get the opportunity to make such requests, but at the very least, the author should ask how to spell your name.

One funny thing I’ve seen a couple times is someone declining to purchase a book and instead asking an author to sign the reading program, or a blank piece of paper. That strikes me as so odd as to be sort of interesting–if that’s something you want to do, shine on you crazy diamond.

Also, if you want the author *not* to sign you book, that’s your perogative. Sometimes at very big events, books are pre-signed, and you may have to flip through the stack or ask for one from the back, but it’s your money–the seller will oblige.

I showed up on time and nothing’s happening–just all these people milling around in a bar. Sigh. Sorry about this. Nothing literary starts on time. In Toronto it’s really bad–sometimes more than a 45-minute delay (usually it’s about half an hour after “doors open”); I’ve heard in other cities it’s less. Definitely plan on the event starting later than the invitation says; the upside is that the social time beforehand is pretty fun.

Who am I going to socialize with–I don’t know anyone here? Reading types are often friendly and, ironically, also often solitary types who go to events alone and welcome idle conversation at the bar. And since you’re all there for the same reason, you have a natural opening to chat–asking about the writers on the slate tonight. Or if you prefer, read a book or stare moodily into space–it all fits.

Everyone says literary readings are boring. I don’t want to be bored! Try going to readings where there’s more than one person on the bill–that way, if you don’t enjoy one piece the evening’s not a write-off. Try reading a little bit of someone’s work  to see if you will like it, and then only go to readings where you think you at least might like the work. And keep in mind–some people just don’t like being read to. For them, page-narrative needs to stay on the page, and that’s that. If you think that’s you, stay home and read, unless you need to go to support a friend. But do try to keep an open mind once you’re in the room–there’s nothing worse than really looking forward to an event, then sitting next to someone who has nothing but complaints before it even starts.

I tried, but I’m bored and I want to leave / I only wanted to hear my friend and not these other schmoes / I need to get home before the babysitter purchases heroin with my Paypal account. Of course, you gotta do what you gotta do. But if you think this might happen, plan on it–sit at the back, buy your books at the beginning, and maybe leave at a break if you can. If you must walk out during the middle of someone’s poem, at least be quiet, and forgo saying goodbye to people. I can’t help it: if I’m reading and I see you walk out, it feels hurtful; if you make a big loud fuss about it, it feels spiteful.

I don’t like the reading, but I made this nice friend earlier–let’s whisper-chat!! Oh god. No, don’t do this. That said, everybody does this, and the more readings you go to, the more likely you are to know lots of people in the room and be dying to talk to them. Please please please, limit to, “It’s nice to see you” and “Your sleeve is in the candle flame,” and save the rest for intermission.

I loved that reading! Should I tell the author? / I have many questions about the book / I have many questions about my own personal writing. Yes, tell the author you liked the reading–that always goes well. You can be a little critical–“why did you choose that passage?” or some such–but if you disliked the whole affair you might want to leave that opinion unvoiced and just swear you’ll never go back. Feel free to ask a question about the book, maybe two, and of course you can ask a quick question about the world of writing in general, too. Please keep in mind that if the event is crowded, or even if it isn’t, this might not be the place to get an in-depth analysis of your future prospects as a vampire/true-crime writer. Try asking if the writer has a card, or a contact form on his/her website, so you can get in touch in the future. Be sure to remind him/her of where you met when you do.

Oh, no, the reading is over–now what? My personal suggestion is ice-cream.

5 Responses to “Readings: a user’s guide”

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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