This past Monday I had the chance to see Jennifer Egan and Jeffrey Eugenides do a reading at the 92nd St. Y. in Manhattan (a truly awesome place for readings). First it was dinner with two bookish friends at a Turkish restaurant around the corner from the Y., and then we headed into the crowd to find our seats at the sold-out event. Egan read a passage from A Visit From the Goon Squad first — a fairly lengthy passage that took her a half hour or so — and then Eugenides read from The Marriage Plot, and then they answered a few questions from the audience (thankfully these were questions screened by the event organizers — no worry that someone was going to ask something stupid). Both readings were funny and made the audience regularly laugh out loud. This is interesting to me because I don’t remember ever laughing at Goon Squad when I read it, not even silently laughing to myself, although I do remember the tone being light, and I’ve since read the relevant sections from The Marriage Plot and didn’t find myself laughing there either. But when someone reads out loud, somehow it’s different. The humor stands out more. It helps that Egan and Eugenides were skilled readers, but even if they had a flatter reading style, we probably would still have laughed. Generally when I see authors, I prefer to hear them speak about their writing rather than read from it, but this is an argument for listening to a book read aloud now and then.
The only mildly disappointing part of the evening was that I didn’t get my books signed because the line was too long and would have required that I take a late train home on a Monday night, which didn’t seem like a good idea. But perhaps I’ll see them another time.
On another note entirely, I’ve been glued to my twitter feed all day looking for updates on the Occupy Wall Street protests going on today. Who knows what will happen with the movement in the long run, but for now, I think it’s wonderful that so many people are out there exercising their right to protest. A couple weekends ago when I was in Manhattan to see the NY Public Library exhibit, I also wandered down to Zucotti Park to see what the place looked like. That day, it was thoroughly peaceful and happy. There was a police presence, but the police seemed to be chatting with the tourists, mostly. The protesters were playing music and holding meetings and handing out buttons and flyers. It was great. What’s not so great is the raid that kicked everybody out and the destruction of the OWS library, or The People’s Library:
There’s something very wrong about police destroying thousands of books, isn’t there?
And now I’ll close with the meme that has been doing the blog rounds lately (seen most recently at Ms. Musings):
1. The book I’m currently reading: The Marriage Plot, which I started on the train ride home from the reading. I just finished up the first section, which takes place at Brown University, and from what I’ve heard of the book, I think we’re off to India next. I’m enjoying it very much. I’m also in the middle of Mariana, which got interrupted by The Marriage Plot. I usually don’t read two novels at once (unless one of them is an audio book), but I didn’t want to wait to start the Eugenides. I’m afraid I’m not giving Mariana its due.
2. The last book I finished: How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard. I totally loved this book. I’ll write a post on it if I can manage it, but for now I’ll say it was a thoroughly enjoyable meditation on what reading and non-reading really mean and how the two aren’t nearly as different from each other as we generally imagine. I didn’t buy everything Bayard had to say, but that didn’t matter; I still loved it. There was something exhilarating about the freedom with which he explored the topic.
3. The next book I want to read: Next up will be Wild Life by Molly Gloss for the Slaves of Golconda. But I also need to choose a nonfiction book soon, and I have no idea what that will be. I’ve heard a couple interviews with Joan Didion lately, so maybe I will pick up a collection of her essays. Or perhaps one of my theoretical works on the essay genre, or perhaps a Janet Malcolm or Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, which, if you have read The Marriage Plot, you will understand.
4. The last book I bought: The Marriage Plot, but also the third Julia Spencer-Fleming, Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior, Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing, and Ryan Van Meter’s If You Knew Then What I Know Now. Plus a whole raft of other books because I’ve gone a little crazy with the book buying this year.
5. The last book someone gave me: Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book, about C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia. Fabulous book.
10 responses to “Readings and protests”
Oh, this all sounds so wonderful! I am so envious of people who live in cities that have vibrant author communities so that things like readings, Q&As, and book signings can take place. I know I shouldn’t REALLY complain since Nashville does host the Southern Festival of Books, but I never seem interested in the authors who are featured (except this year, when by the time I found out about a few cool ones, it was too late!). One day I’ll live somewhere where literature can be more of a social event for me!
I bought that Laura Miller book a couple of months back on your recommendation, I think…. It looks wonderful in any case! And I really want to read the Eugenides. I’m also determined to get to Jennifer Egan, although the books of hers I possess are not the well known ones. I have The Keep and Look At Me (I think it is, I am too lazy to check!). It sounds like you had fabulous experiences with your author events – fantastic! We have a one-day wordfest in Cambridge in a couple of weekends’ time and I do hope we’ll get to one of the events.
How fun to get the chance to hear Egan and Eugenides read and what a relief the questions were vetted! I’ve heard som doozies at readings before. Glad you posted the photo of the People’s Library. It is much larger than I expected. You may want to consider starting Bill Bryson’s At Home for your nonfiction selection since I know you got a copy recently. I’m a little over halfway through and can vouch that it is all things interesting and fun!
I love the sound of the Bayard and look forward to hearing about it. I seem to collect books about books and then don’t read them. I still have a library copy of the one you recommended to me! Nonfiction always gets the short end of the stick with me sadly (and not intentionally). The reading you went to sounds great (and the Turkish restaurant, too!). I’m glad you share as I don’t get much in the way of literary cultural events here in Omaha!
Steph — I love living in the vicinity of NYC (it takes 1 1/2 hours to get there, so we aren’t super close, but close enough), and I should take advantage of it more often. I hope you get to live in a place that has all the literary events you want one day!
Litlove — a wordfest in Cambridge sounds like a lot of fun! Egan’s most recent book has been getting all the attention lately, but The Keep and Look at Me are both highly regarded and probably her second and third most popular books (not sure how many there are total, but she does have some others).
Stefanie — that’s great to hear about At Home. It might be longer than what I want to tackle right now, but I hope to get to it soon. I look at that picture of The People’s Library, and I’m so sad it’s gone. What a statement.
Danielle — I’ll try really hard to post about the Bayard book 🙂 I can see how nonfiction could be easily set aside. My favorite kind of nonfiction is the narrative kind, which isn’t so different from reading a novel. I adore nonfiction, but I still read way more novels than anything else. Novels are just so fun and comforting at times.
Sheesh: a half hour reading is a long time. She must be one engaging reader to have held an audience for that long. I agree that having heard Eugenides read from his novel will definitely influence the cadence that I hear when I do get around to it. I’ve always felt the same about readings (preferring an author to speak about the process), but I’ve had to re-think this myself. (Hearing Drew Hayden Taylor had a similar effect on me.) You’ve convinced me to add Bayard’s book to my list…did you know there is a book with the same title, published a year later, with a “Really” stuck in there? Heh. Makes me curious!
Sounds like a great evening, hearing authors read. I once went to an author reading years and years ago (David Payne), and it really did bring the book to life. That’s why I like to listen to audibooks read by the authors (hard to find much except memoirs that is, but I like it when I do). I loved Mariana when I read it years ago, and you can’t go wrong with Joan Didion. Political Fictions is my favorite of hers.
I’ve been under a rock–I completely forgot about Slaves. I’d better check out the website. I’m glad the evening was so good–I also usually prefer hearing authors speak, but some are natural readers.
“But when someone reads out loud, somehow it’s different. The humor stands out more.”
This is exactly what happened to me at the Eugenides reading I attended. I didn’t laugh all that much as I was reading The Marriage Plot, but his reading really brought the humour to life. It made me think I really should give audiobooks another chance.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have times when somone reads to you from a book you’ve already read? I know we have audiobooks and author readings, but those all take time and money to get involved with, whereas if we could convince people around us to read out loud it might be a nice (cheaper) personal experience.