Honestly, I love books more than money, sex, or bourbon. But book readings are often a pretty lame way to spend an evening. They’re pompous, silly, poorly planned, and excruciatingly dull. They accomplish nothing. And the majority of people who come to book readings have already read the book so it’s not even like they’re good marketing ploys.
Reader-friends, it doesn’t have to be this way! Books are awesome, most authors are engaging, intelligent people, and bookstores are certainly the fun places we all love. Therefore, let’s bring our noggins together and think up a bunch of ways to turn these indomitably boring events into lively festivals of literary hoopla and excitement. Let me start us off with 8 suggestions:
#1. No introductions – This will cut down the pomp by a solid 50%. No blathering adulations or list of prizes. Just say the author’s name, a book title or two, and get the show on the road.
#2. Don’t let the author sit down – Get kinetic, Orhan Pamuk! Let’s move it, Lydia Davis! Shake that money-maker a tad Marilynn Robinson! Give us some energy and zest. Do a little hula and shimmy shimmy. No chair, no podium, no hammock or beanbag contraption to rest your writerly body on. Instead move around and hell, if the energy sags, do what the jazz musicians do and improvise a sentence or two.
#3. Shout “BAM” before turning each page – “The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she—BAM!!!—had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me.” That’s right, read it, Fitzgerald!
#5. Gesticulate rabidly, do 10 minutes of reading max, and if the reading gets boring accept the occasional heckle – “Hey Cheever, you suck tattersal cock!”
#6. End by telling us a local anecdote, good bookstore memory, or about your literary arch-nemesis – This will help personalize the event. A little showmanship goes a long way in creating a compelling public experience.
#7. Don’t let that person in the audience ask questions – This is BY FAR the most important suggestion because you know EXACTLY who I mean. We can’t let this person hijack the show. Have courage, bookstore employees! Even if the question-asker is a regular who always buys hardcover, tell them the gag order’s in effect for the common good of everyone else. We thank you greatly.
#8. Serve booze or juice and light snacks afterward – It’s why people love art events, the free wine and Triscuits. Somebody could take a dump on the floor of his sublet and so long as there was two-buck chuck, Cheese Nips, and a trendy promotional flyer loads of people would come to view it. Food equals turn out. Turn out equals energy and press. Also, free Ritz crackers and tiny paper cups of wine will get people to stick around and probably buy the author’s journeyman collection of short stories.
Now these suggestions are just Part 1. Part 2 involves more excitement and maybe violence. We need to take dramatic steps to invigorate today’s literary players so they’ll create engaging personae, which will outlive them. We need a new flock of writers to replace the likes of Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman, Gore Vidal, and Hunter S. Thompson.
At AWP this year, the coordinators should host off-site events to keep everybody on their toes. Perhaps a charity boxing match between Colson Whitehead and Richard Ford. Or a street rumble between people who like prose poems and the rest of the world. Somebody can take a folding chair to Gary Shteyngart’s face WWF style. I’d pay money to see that. Violence and fiendishness are, weirdly enough, sometimes useful shortcuts to developing literary personae. Let’s make this thing memorable. BAM!!
Alex Kalamaroff is a 26-year-old writer living in Boston. He works on the administrative team of a Boston Public Schools high school. You can read his other writings here or follow him on twitter @alexkalamaroff.