June 8th, 2013 / 2:26 pm
Behind the Scenes & Snippets

Say you’re giving a reading, what’s the perfect question? What question do you loathe?

Say you’re in the audience, what question do you wish someone else would ask? What question makes you feel embarrassed that someone actually asked it?


  1. jeremy

      My vote for all time worst question is this:

      “Was your book in any way influenced by the Catcher in the Rye?”

      Some sad person decided to ask this at a reading and Q&A with Jonathan Franzen in Kansas City a few years back when his new novel “Freedom” had just come out. It was the first question asked, and you could feel people sort of looking down at their feet in embarrassment for the guy. Even Franzen seemed sort of stunned, confused and mildly pissed as to why anyone would make that association. I mean, read any single page of prose he’s ever written and you really would be hard pressed to automatically think of the Catcher in the Rye, or really anything Salinger ever wrote. Among other reasons, Franzen actually loathes using the first person in fiction (he’s written essays about why he doesn’t like it). It was just such a blatantly thoughtless question from someone who, I would wager, had not only never read Franzen, but had probably not read any fiction since his senior highschool english class. He looked like he had been dragged to the reading by his wife. It was such a shitty, specifically thoughtless thing to ask that it actually threw the rest of the Q&A out of balance. So yeah, don’t ask questions comparing a recently published book to one you read in highschool 30 years ago. Contemporary authors are part of a tradition, but that doesn’t mean they are just a cheap extension of your high school reading curriculum.

  2. Matt Rowan

      Do readings usually have Q&A? I thought that was exclusive to the big publishing houses and authors like George Saunders. Not taking anything away from the practice. But of the many I’ve been to, I’ve only been to maybe one reading ever that had Q&A? Am I being trollish? Is it common in most places, though, in all honesty?

  3. mimi

      omg i love that question!

      cumm on y’alls gotta roll wit it

  4. markbaumer

      That was me. I only ask this question at readings.

  5. bartleby_taco

      i asked dennis cooper a question about robbe-grillet at a reading last year. i felt embarrassed as i was asking it and felt badly afterward. i don’t know what other people thought. probably negative things. i just wanted an excuse to say something to him. i think emily gould, who was at the reading, asked an interesting question, but i wasn’t paying attention. people shouldn’t ask authors questions, i don’t think, unless they’re question like “what kind of fruit do you like?” or like, “what’s better led zeppelin III or led zeppelin IV” etc

  6. M. Kitchell

      actually–not a reading, but–at a q&a with david lynch at the chicago premiere of inland empire someone asked him “what’s your favorite animal?” and it was far more embarrassing for everyone involved than i’d imagine yr robbe-grillet question to be

  7. EKSwitaj

      The worst question is the question that isn’t really a question. No one wants to hear random audience dude pontificate.

  8. deadgod

      Wow… your reading. My life is new. I don’t have a question; I just wanted to tell you that.

      Who are you trying to impress?

      If you could have better tits/a bigger dick or one more year of life, which would you choose?

      [A question that was asked earlier. Bonus: the question that was just asked.]

  9. William VanDenBerg

      A well-dressed drunk man at a lecture about feminism and horses used the q&a to tell people that he “punched his fucking horses all the time.” He then talked about fox hunting with a distant relative of the Rockafeller family, I think — he was really very drunk, so I could have misunderstood him.

  10. mimi

      he sounds like a very very bad bad man

  11. William VanDenBerg

      The very worst. It was like watching a cartoon about the failure of capitalism.

  12. Trey

      it sounds like you might have seen an evil ghost version of william faulkner

  13. bartleby_taco

      yeah i can see that! that’s funny though. what did lynch say?

  14. Kristen Eliason

      Worst Question: Tell us about your writing process. If only because the answer is usually mind-numbing.

  15. Brooks Sterritt

      was just at a reading where someone asked “so what’s it like to write a novel?” i turned to look at the person and it was this lady who was about 90 years old and everyone was like “i guess we’ll let this one slllllliiiiiiiidddddddde”