I have not attended a reading lately, nor have you. That is, unless it is virtual. The pandemic has stolen the real-life pleasure of the reading.
But is it a pleasure?
I would say, “Yes,” unless you have to organize the event. Poor PR people! There are late planes to be met, no water pitcher, charming writers who want company while your spouse or escort just wants to go home, a plate of spaghetti dropped by the waitress on the writer, a writer who insists on having her hair done at a salon in town before doing the reading, and a moody poet who claims dramatically in print that she was sexually harassed by the gay bookstore owner who drove her to the airport. Oh, dear, there had to be a misunderstanding. We all had the giggles about that.
Sternly: “Did you admire her dress and touch the fabric?”
Bookstore owner: “Yes, but it was vintage Chanel!”
All right, but what if you are NOT organizing the event? Ah, then you can relax and enjoy yourself. Over the years, we have attended readings by Joy Williams, Tobias Wolff, Rosellen Brown, Amy Stewart (author of a fascinating book on earthworms and a mystery series), Amy Hempel, and Sherman Alexie.
Now is there etiquette at readings? Well, sort of. If you are a man, anything goes. Swill beer, don’t comb your hair. It’s fine. If you are a woman, you will seem more “reading-ly” if your hair is long. And “reading-ly” women often favor black or gray turtleneck sweaters with jeans and boots (except in summer). Of course there are plenty of “reading-ly” white-haired women, but perhaps a discreet dye job… I’m just saying.
No, I’m joking!
The biggest problem is: your reading buddy (friend or husband) may have a Ph.D. in English but has never been so bored in his life as he is at these readings. He has read none of the author’s books, refuses to buy one, and can hardly bear to wait while you stand in line to get an autograph. ‘We’re missing ‘Westworld.’ Let’s go!”
Well, he has a point!
And touring must he horrible for the writer. One writer was so grateful I’d read her work that she invited me to coffee. She confided that hardly anybody bought her books. But I really did have to go home. I’m sure somebody else entertained her.
Don’t bother to get autographs from the male writers if you’re of a Certain Age, because they will think, however unlikely, that you are hitting on them. What they don’t realize is your mind is on getting back to Assisted Living in time for Movie Night! (Okay, I know about that from mother.)
So how can virtual readings be as much fun as this?
It’s hard to imagine!