Taking a reading

I have just returned from the 17th Annual Whistler Writers Festival where I had the great fortune to rub elbows with many other authors – some of them, as I was, finalists for the 2018 Whistler Independent Book Award (WIBA) -- but also many other established and renowned writers. It was my first time at such an event and so my head was almost spinning, trying to take in all that was to be experienced.

I must say that I learned a great deal and that, to me, was a key reward for my sojourn. I was also left with several altered perspectives of the craft.

One thing I discovered was that many of these people are quite serious about their profession! I tend to write because I enjoy it and in some instances, I feel compelled to do it – as an outlet, as a pastime, or as therapy. But I usually feel that I could stand it if no-one ever read what I wrote. (Given the usual paucity of my book sales, I think that this might be wise or maybe even just self-preservation!)

Don’t get me wrong. I love to hear that someone has read what I wrote. I am even more enthralled if they sincerely tell me that they enjoyed it. The most satisfying aspect of moving through the selection process for the WIBA, to me, was that more people were required to read my book!

Which brings me to the point of this piece – the concept of an author’s “reading.”  We finalists for the WIBA were able to introduce our work and read from it before a mostly rapt, full audience at the Whistler Public Library. This was an entirely new experience for me and so I prepared, likely way too much, for this foray into further evidencing my lack of public speaking prowess.

I managed to stumble my way through my piece without expectorating on those in the first row – something my students have learned to avoid through bitter experience. But as I was able to subsequently relax and listen to the others’ reading, something struck me. I don’t believe that prose is meant to be spoken.

Perhaps this is a minority view, but I feel that reading is an intimate relationship that I want to savour in solitude.  Just me and the words – to allow them to paint that ethereal picture in my mind.  I want to allow the character that has been introduced by the author to speak in their own voice.  I suspect it may be different at times than the one the author envisioned, because the writer’s words have allowed me to give the character life.  I actually don’t want to hear the author speak the beauty of the words they put together.

But author readings, they tell me, sell books.  And again – I am more than happy to meet the authors, discuss with them their backgrounds, thoughts, and motivations.  But I don’t really want to hear them read their work.  Much like I would not want to have Leonardo da Vinci or Maxfield Parrish explain their painting to me – I would rather allow their art to speak to me.   Yes, I would love to meet with them and maybe even quaff a few in their company, but let my soul interpret your artistry.  It ought to have its own intrinsic voice.

- Mark Cote, 17 October 2018         

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