On Author Readings

As a reader, I’ve never really understood author readings. With prose and more so with poetry the addition of the author’s voice can colour the work and change how the reader received it. Not to mention that a lot of excellent prose doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

The convention of an author reading at an appearance has always been confusing. Why waste time listening to something you probably already read or plan to shortly when that time could better be spent asking authors about the inevitable mysteries. What was the character’s motivation in this scene? Is the tree in this poem based on a specific place? The stuff that’s not in the work.

This year I had the pleasure of reading from my short story Manifest Lifespan. As this was a book launch, my first objection is moot; only people involved in the production of the anthology had an opportunity to read it beforehand.

This gave me a fresh perspective on why authors do this. Most of my career has been spent writing software, which is in many ways a highly structured form of poetry. One can write beautiful, elegant code that does almost the same job as a mess of ugly code, and only a few people who are working with you directly will ever know the difference. Software is performance art without an audience.

It struck me, as I was reading to an audience of 40 or 50 people, that authors have a similar experience. While your work is intrinsically visible, for the most part your audience is not. All there are is sales figures. Sure you are a great success when ten thousand people buy your book, but without readings, they’re just a number. The advantage over code is that one can take pleasure in knowing that most of them actually read your work, but still they remain an abstraction.

Standing there on a stage, I could see the changes in people’s facial expressions, see how they reacted to what I was saying. This was a real audience. And then they asked questions, giving me the opportunity to talk about the ideas embedded in the story.

It seems to be that authors can get just as much from a reading as the audience does.