When there is a scarcity of depictions (in writing, but any realm, I think), the few end up speaking for the many by default, and the many, well, they would rather be able to speak for themselves. The frustration of being marginalized often gets misdirected at the most visible members of one’s own community, because they are more accessible than the real agents of marginalization.
The best (book-event-related) time of my life … and the worst.
We love good events. And, even more, we love helping readers and authors produce good events. It’s fair to say that we’re obsessed with solving the mystery of what makes an event really darn great — or beyond awful.
With that in mind, we’re wondering: what’s the best event you’ve ever been to? What made it so awesome?
I have been to a WHOLE LOT of literary events. I was hoping I would be able to set my ego aside and come up with a #1 favorite event that I wasn’t involved in, in any way, but alas, no dice. Though I can think of many, many events I’ve enjoyed as an audience member and a couple I’ve enjoyed as a participant, there’s only one event that springs to mind where I’ve had an amazing time as both.
Melissa Febos and Rebecca Keith have been hosting MIXER for over 5 years, and from what I can tell they aim to be true to their name, “mixing” very renowned and experienced writers and performers with exciting new voices. The venue, Cake Shop, more typically hosts bands, and watching someone read on a dark, glamorous spotlit stage there always makes me wonder why more bookstores don’t aim for this kind of ambiance. Red spotlights make anyone look like a rockstar. Put Philip Roth in that context, he’d look like Lou Reed. And I think it makes the audience respond in a more uninhibited, “WOOO!” type way, too. Oh, and they also close out the set with a band, typically, and they pick great bands.
I spent some time after my first MIXER experience trying to suss out the ingredients in Melissa and Rebecca’s special sauce. You’d have to ask them (note to self: do that) but I suspect that part of what makes MIXER great is that Melissa and Rebecca are dedicated readers who put a lot of time and effort into curating a list of readers whose themes and styles complement each other. The genuine enthusiasm they have for what they’re doing is infectious. They also take care of their readers, making sure they know what to do when and what to expect, getting them drink tickets, hanging out and soothing their nerves. The audience knows the organizers have great taste and trusts them, and thus is a great audience. And here’s the best part: while the audience gives veterans of the page and stage due respect, they also don’t all leave the room at once to get another drink the moment a newbie takes the stage. That is rare as hen’s teeth, reading-series-wise. Being able to pull that off on a monthly basis can only be explained via magic. Perhaps the organizers are witches.
If you prefer ranting to raving, which was the worst event you’ve had the misfortune of attending? Why did it disappoint you?
Because I’ve worked in publishing and had to attend many command-performance reading events, this is like a million-way tie for me — so much so that the bad events kinda blur together. A unifying factor that many bad events have in common is when a reader — or, god, READERS — vastly overestimates the audience’s stamina/interest and reads for a long time. This is even worse when poetry is involved.
I feel like if I single out any one event I will be doing a blind item and will get in trouble, so I will limit myself to saying a more general thing about performance. If you are about to do a lot of speaking engagements/readings and have zero performance background, take just one improv class. ”But the author’s job is to write!” you say. “Just to sit behind a desk and write. The crass work of sharing my work with the world is a burden I must face, but would rather not.” I think this is a totally valid way to feel, and if that’s you, you can figure out a different way of doing author events (your favorite performer reads in your stead! A playwright friend rejiggers a scene from your book as a one-act! a panel discussion about the issues your book raises!) that work around it. But if you DON’T feel that way — if you want to personally connect with an audience and feel like that would be a great way of sharing your work — you have nothing to lose by learning some techniques that will make you great at it.
One last thing. I once went to a reading (okay, I’m doing the blind item now) and left with a bad taste in my mouth. ”Why did I hate his reading so much?” I asked a comedian friend who’d been there too. ”Oh, it’s because he violated the first rule of comedy,” she said. ”Never mock someone less powerful than you. He mistook himself for the powerless person in that story, but actually, by telling that story in front of that big crowd, he’d already become the powerful person. But his self-concept hadn’t caught up with that yet. It’s an easy mistake to make.”