Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Readings

Tonight I read from my novel at The Writers' Room of Boston's annual reading. I started the day feeling prepared but as the afternoon came around, the air thicker with the heat and humidity, I felt less confident. I've never enjoyed the attention you get when standing in front of a crowd, so many pairs of eyes watching you at once. Since I started working at the Booksmith last fall and helping host events, I've gotten a bit more used to that. But when I introduce the author, it's about the author and their work and not about me. Reading a part of my unpublished, unfinished novel, which only two other people have read, is terrifying.

Having to read from my own work last night had me thinking about readings in general. I've always loved going to readings, partly for the same reason I like going to the movies. I enjoy the communal aspect, the idea that the people gathered in a room are there to see one person, and are each taking away something different from the experience. Readings are just as fun to attend alone as they are when attended with a friend, and I always end up scribbling the name of new authors I want to look into or words of wisdom about the writing process. But there's also something about hearing a writer read their work in their own voice. It makes the reading experience seem more intimate, as if the writer, by adding a voice and adding inflection to the words on the page, is letting you in on a private process.

At the Booksmith we host two different kinds of readings: traditional readings, by authors of newly published books. I love these readings, and the the mix of authors we bring in is part of the reason I wanted to work here and help with events. I spent most of last year living on Cape Cod and during that time I drove up twice to the Booksmith just to hear specific authors. I sat halfway up the stairs to listen to Nicole Krauss read from Great House. And then I came up to hear my friend Alexi Zentner read from his debut novel Touch.

The other kind of readings we host are like what I read at tonight: a mix of unpublished and published authors. There is something less formal about these readings. I remember walking into The Last Bookstore when I was in Los Angeles this past January, and stopping my browsing to lean against a pole and listen to their open-mic poetry reading. At the Booksmith, we regularly host The Breakwater Reading Series, where graduate students from MFA programs in the area read their work. In fact, the first time I read from my novel was at this series, three years ago. These readings usually consist of many writers reading for short chunks of times.  More often than not, the writers have yet to published, and because the audience is often filled with supportive friends and families there's an overall positive energy to the whole experience. For me, that's how tonight felt.

In a month we're hosting a very special reading, similar to the one I read at tonight. Our assistant manager, Kate Robinson, who just published Darling Angel Meat, her first collection of poems, will be reading her poetry. If you didn't know, our staff includes quite a few writers and poets, among visual artists and musicians, and some of us will be the warm-up act for Kate. I've always loved that our staff is full of so many talented and interesting people. I see my co-workers a lot in a professional setting and hear about their work, and I'm really excited to finally hear the work itself. So on Friday, July 27th, I hope you'll join us in the Writers & Readers Room to come hear what your neighborhood booksellers are up to. Trickle in and out, lean against a pole, enjoy some snacks. It'll be a laid back, but special night. 

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