On Thursday the 25th, my university hosted Paul Murray as part of their Visiting Authors series. I went, because there has only been one Visiting Author I didn’t see (I think because I was busy seeing John Darnielle give his own reading, but that could be wrong—all I know is that the two events took place during the same month), and I have some things to say about the benefit of going to literature readings.
Generally speaking, I enjoy listening to people read their writing. There’s a cathartic element to it, especially with poetry but also with prose, because writing is meant to be read in most cases, and when you’re in an audience with a group of other people who want to listen, the vibe of the room feels good and right and solid. Admittedly, the reading I went to back in October of 2015 (so, the Visiting Author before Paul Murray) was one I went to a little tipsy, since I went to the bar beforehand as a group-bonding exercise with the editors of the fine arts journal I work on, but I still remember it well and I had a good time. You get to hear characters in, mostly, the voices that the authors want them to be read in; you get to hear the lines of prose like they’re supposed to be paced, which is something that can be difficult when you’re reading alone; you get to hear the author’s views on writing and their story itself, and if you’re ever planning to write or read their work on your own (since a lot of the time I use these readings as a way to gauge my potential interest in a work, like a movie preview or a video game “Let’s Play”) this information can be valuable.
There are other types of public readings, of course, like when people gather in Cambridge to listen to people marathon Shakespeare’s sonnets on his birthday, and those are nice too because, again, the feel of the event is welcoming and good.
I guess if I were a scientist, things might be different, but I’m not sure because I don’t know if scientists have these events besides at, I don’t know, technology expos or something, but I’m not a scientist, so I don’t really have to worry about that kind of thing.
If I were to talk specifically to my experience of Paul Murray, which was kind of the point, I can say that I had a good time. Murray was charming and I always love an Irish brogue, so there’s that. Unfortunately, though given the opportunity, I didn’t talk to him because I’m always dreadfully shy when it comes to talking to anyone who’s written a book or performed music or anything. My cheeks flare up quickly and it’s ugly. So I didn’t talk to him, but from what I can tell, he was a really nice guy. He read from Skippy Dies, which I hadn’t heard of before but now think I’ll probably spend the money on when I have the money to do so. It’s a school story, and those appeal to me because I’m both someone who loves school and also because I’m a teacher who works with adolescents and it’s fun to see how adults who don’t work with teenagers write them. I did have trouble believing the characters were around 14 years old rather than 17 since they acted exactly like I would expect my juniors and seniors to act, but I think that a lot of writers have this thing were they write teenagers as a little older than they’re said to be. Teenagers also think they’re older than they actually are, so maybe that’s a completely accurate interpretation of them.
In any case, I laughed a lot, which is something I need more in my life, so I’m glad I went, and if Paul Murray ever reads this: You’re probably going to get the ~16 USD that the paperback costs without Amazon Prime. If you’re not Paul Murray and you’re reading this: You should probably spend the money it costs to get this book. Maybe it was the benefit of having the author read sections from it aloud, but the characters felt real and honest, which is the most we can ever hope from a book about teenagers, who sometimes are neither. I liked it, is what I’m saying.
Going to the Visiting Authors Series at my university is also like a mini get-together with my friends who have graduated, or who are in the grad program and, because are in the library while I’m in a different town for the majority of the day, are not people I see very often. Even if I had no desire to see the authors, I’d still go to see my friends, and that’s another way you can make readings work for you. It’s the same thing with Shakespeare in Cambridge: Even if I hated Shakespeare, I still would have gone because I love Boston and I like spending time with the friend I went with. Readings provide a space and time for you to see people you wouldn’t normally see, whether those people be published writers or just long-missed friends.
Look for events you can go to and go to them. They’re fun, they’re a good way to waste a night, and you almost always get something out of them.