Giving the Reading
February 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
We all do it. The Reading. We wrote the book. It’s published. It’s in boxes upstairs or sitting on the floor beside us. It’s the kid all dressed up and ready to go. Time to meet the teacher. Time to slick back the hair, put on the new shirt. Time to remember how to spell your first name. It’s the public time not consonant with all the alone time it took to write the book.
I once went to a reading in San Francisco when I was living there that stands out for me. The writer was Alistair MacLeod. He is one of Canada’s most distinguished writers. He was raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and is the author of two volumes of short stories and one novel. His work has been translated into 27 different languages yet my hunch is that he is still not widely recognized in the United States. He composes his work in longhand and the legend goes that he will not proceed to a new sentence unless totally satisfied with the preceding one.
The reading was probably held in 2001 and the attendance was slight. His book Island, a compilation of his short stories, had recently been published in its First American edition by W.W. Norton and Company. I had a copy with me and wanted to have it signed. MacLeod was introduced. He is not a tall man but stood erect and with a reserved demeanor and with what I thought then and now in recollection, a rather bemused expression looking out at the group before him. He apologized for having a bit of a cold. He held his book by his side and then began his reading by reciting from memory the first paragraph of the story he had selected to read. He writes beautifully crafted stories and has a Gaelic roll to his intonation so that you were swept away to that place by both the curl of the language and the story. He seemed completely relaxed and in his element and he took us with him. Perhaps that is what a reading should be without the glare, the thought of platforms or networking or sales but the joy of sharing a story with people gathered together who have come to hear it.