A friend of mine rarely goes to authors’ readings. “It’s like that old saying about sausage,” she says. “You enjoy it, but you don’t want to see how it’s made.” Living in Nashville, I can sympathize. After all, more than one good love song has been ruined forever after I heard that the song was written for wife number one when the songwriter was now on wife number four, and that relationship wasn’t going so well.
The good thing about novels, though, is that they tend to be more complex than even the most complicated song, so you know that you’re going to face the good, bad, and ugly aspects of most characters. And while, like in a song, there might be a proclamation of everlasting love in a novel, you’re pretty sure that the character is going to be running into some real trouble with that proclamation in the next chapter.
So I don’t go to readings to see “the man behind the emerald curtain.” For me, if the author has done his/her job, the characters are so real to me that they exist in a totally separate world from the author, and the two almost have no relationship.
So why do I go?
One reason is quite practical. There are many books in the world, but I only have a finite amount of time. By attending a reading and hearing a snippet of a chapter, I have a sense of whether I want to invest my time in reading the entire book.
Also, writing and reading are solitary activities, and sometimes it’s nice to share space with other people who care about books as much as I do.
And then I go for THE MOMENT. It doesn’t always happen, but it usually does. It’s the moment when the writer’s story, whether it’s about a specific book or his/her life in general, reaches out and grabs my heart.
Last night, it was this story from Steve Yarbrough, whose latest novel is The Realm of Last Chances. Yarbrough talked of coming home as a child to find his father, after a day of tenant farming, lying on the bed and reading from a library book, Paradise Lost. It was just a perfect picture of what books can mean to any and all of us. And it reminded me of my grandfather who, in his older years, mowed yards for a living. He would sometimes come home and have to lie on the porch for a good half hour before he was dry and cool enough to go inside. His book of choice: The Bible.
And the last reason I go to readings: Because in the age of shouting down everyone who disagrees with us, with oversharing of every moment of celebrities’ lives, and the worst of human behavior being placed on show as entertainment, it’s nice to be reminded of the transcendence that good stories can still have.