June 18, 2012
Breaking out of the back room
A book blogger’s guide to author readings and literary events
After one of Ami McKay’s book readings last year, I approached her for a signing of my advanced reading copy of her latest novel, The Virgin Cure. She exclaimed, “I haven’t seen these!” and asked me where I had gotten it. I told her I’m a book blogger, and that her publisher had sent it to me. As she signed my name in the book, she asked if I was on Twitter, and it turned out that her husband had shown her my tweets about the event from earlier that day.
I felt like a giddy fangirl, but this anecdote illustrates the best part of author readings: accessibility.
If your vision of author readings and literary events is a small back room with folding chairs and a quiet crowd, you’re missing out. Book readings can offer deep, meaningful insight into an author’s craft. Festivals and literary events can be even livelier; they range from quiet readings and reflective conversation, to interactive and entertaining shows.
I have attended many readings and literary events over the past few years, and the success of any event sits with the authors and moderator. You’ll be hard pressed to find any author who wants to read longer than 10 minutes, because the audience’s attention begins to wander. So usually events set time aside for themed discussion, Q&As along with a short reading. Sometimes a moderator may conduct a full panel.
Say Wha!? Readings of Ridiculously Rotten Writing is a recurring literary night that is highly accessible, often NSFW, and features rotating performers who read from the worst books they can find. The brainchild of comedian, actor, and writer Sara Bynoe, March’s Say Wha!? night was spent railing on New York Times bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey — who’s ever heard of a college student in this day and age who doesn’t have email? The performers choose their own books, ranging from outdated parenting guides and cheesy sci-fi to bad celebrity bestsellers and awkward erotica.
Traditional reading festivals and literary events are thriving around the city, as well as many non-traditional events. Word on the Street is a free literary festival, and a great place to sample everything from fiction to zines to performance art.
There’s a lot more to the local literary scene than a stereotypical, dull book signing — there are poetry slams, open mics, comic book conventions, and even a reading series for terrible books.
Although governmental arts funding may be lacking, supporters and ambassadors of the local arts scene have been hard at work. We have a lot of publishers and literary groups producing exceptional work and putting on fun events with authors from near and far. Vancouver’s literary merit is on the rise, and I can’t wait to attend the next author event.