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A Book Reading and Obnoxious Readers

2015 03-09 Boyne and Vann at Harvard Book Store
David Vann, left, and John Boyne, at Harvard Book Store.

Monday night, I had the pleasure of attending a reading at Harvard Bookstore (Shop Local!) featuring John Boyne, of The Absolutist fame, and David Vann, whom I haven’t read yet! It was an enjoyable event and both novelists’ new works, A History of Loneliness and Aquarium respectively, sound fascinating! (I will definitely request them from my local library in the near future.) Boyne’s humility impressed me and I was glad to see him shift focus to Vann when everyone kept asking him questions.

While there, I took the chance to get my copy of The Absolutist signed (SWOON!) and that photo is at the end of this post. Did you know that it was his favorite as well? I nearly hyperventilated (and actually clapped out loud like an awkward lunatic) when he said that and immediately messaged Heather (who is getting a signed copy of a surprise book). When John, first name basis obviously, signed my book I told him how Heather and I are still getting a lot of traffic from our responses to The Absolutist and that I got a long email just last week about it. He commented that he was always fascinated about how long a story can continue to gain traction.

What I would like to talk about in addition to my fan-boy love of Boyne, is obnoxious readers at book readings and signings. Now, maybe it’s just my ridiculously strict sense of propriety and meekness concerning rule-breaking, but there are two things I cannot stand at book readings by the audience: self-congratulations and self-promotion. BOTH of these happened last night.

I understand that EVER book read affects the reader personally, how you read will be completely different from how I read it. However, there is absolutely no need, ZERO, to talk about every aspect of your personal history to then ask a question, often times incredibly obscure, that an author cannot answer. After a long drawn out explanation of their personal history, this person then asks such obscure questions, putting the authors on the spot, that it’s almost painful.

I won’t repeat the question, but the person who asked it is someone I am very familiar with having seen them at almost every book reading and signing I’ve been to in Boston. Again, this could just be me, but it reminded me of the people in high school who would rephrase everything the teacher said and ask for justification that they are right, which I’ve learned is a legitimate learning style no matter how annoying it is, but it’s still obnoxious. Perhaps this person stands out to me so much as they’ve been at the biggest authors I’ve seen read (Ondaatje, Boyne and Donoghue, but surprisingly not Atwood that I can remember), but EVERY time I see them before a signing I start gritting my teeth well before the question and answer session.

The second thing that happened last night, was a person asking writing advice from the authors.  This is completely legitimate from asking how their writing unfolds and where they get their ideas from, or even more specific like this person’s was, but what bothered me again revolved around the personal details. The person who asked, mentioned they are writing a novel going so far as to describe the subject matter and basic plot (and later even said the title). BAH! I wanted to be like cut all of that out and ask your question! Both authors answered, and I felt that Boyne was definitely an answer to the question (even if he didn’t say it), but really people!

The only other thing that gets to me at these readings and signings are the people who want to pick apart the book, in good and bad ways, with the author. It’s great that you want to do that, but not at a reading! If you want that, start a book group and then work hard to coordinate with the author’s publisher to try to get them there. I had the opportunity to do that with Gregory Maguire when I first moved to Boston and it was wonderful, but a book reading is NOT the place to delve into that much detail!

Am I wrong on this? Do you have peeves about people at book readings/signings?

2015 03-09 Personalized Signed Edition of The Absolutist

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13 thoughts on “A Book Reading and Obnoxious Readers”

  1. I’ve only been to two. (Claire Tomalin (biographies) and of course Haruki Murakami,

    (Skip my following rant about something totally irrelevant if you wish)

    Well… the Tomalin one was very posh because mostly a bunch of old people. However it amused me that the audience expected Tomalin to say that Dickens loved Portsmouth. It was the way the question was asked – I could tell they were expecting to feel proud of Portsmouth. (We were in Portsmouth library and Dickens is Portsmouth’s big local treasure). However, she pointed out that Dickens left Portsmouth at 2 months old, came back briefly only once and thus probably never spared a moments more thought on the city. I’m sure to many local’s disappointment.

    Not very surprising though. I wouldn’t be interested in a place I’d spent 2 months of my life in. I’ve never agreed with Portsmouth holding on so much with him when our literary ties are Arthur Conan Doyle, even Rudyard Kippling – people who actually spent time and lived in the city – who could remember it!!!

    Er… rant over.

    The Murakami reading and signing was… interesting.

    There were the usual questions from people trying to be really pretentious. A few tried to show how much they were Japanese buffs and tried to come up with really clever questions. Murakami’s response was to say “did I write that? I can’t remember’. He didn’t really want to answer literary focused questions about his books and anyone who has read a bit about Murakami could tell he was never going to really sit down and give an in depth explanation as to why he wrote this. He always answers the question sideways if he can and never in the way you expect.

    I read later that some people were disappointed and expected him to have more literary credit. Hmph.

    And the real obnoxious thing that happened next…

    It was hosted in a tent and afterwards the signing would happen in another tent. So people were asked to please wait for him to leave. He was barely out the door when people began rushing. Some bozos ran out after him despite it being so obvious that he’d be going in a different way whilst the queue for the signing was out the other way.

    There was a stampede. I, I am relieved to say did not run at any point. I walked quickly so as not to be completely overtaken by the herd behind me. I was sensible enough to choose some seating that though did not give me a good view of Murakami, did at least provide an easy exit. Many others chose to get better views, but more awkward seating.

    I did not have to LEAP over chairs or push people out of the way. I walked quickly and had got outside quickly (due to listening to instruction). I just got into the first part of the queue before one of the event organisers had to jump out and yell at people to stop otherwise there would have been a crush. There was a huge mass of people just RUNNING towards the queue. It was quite crazy.

    This horde of imbecilic animals apparently almost knocked some poor guy out of a wheelchair, or jumped over them – something like that.

    There was a bit of confusion that caused this – maybe – because the website insinuated that not everyone would be able to have their booked sign – but what it meant that it would be limited to ticket holders only. Maybe people panicked.

    Frankly, I think I have too much respect for Murakami as well of myself to resort to stampeding, pushing or shoving.

    And then naturally I saw copies of the books up for sale on ebay for about £250. No soul and what a waste of a ticket for people out there who would have wanted a ticket and cherished the book.

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    1. I remember you writing about that Murakami reading and I was ashamed for those “readers!” I think his response to those stump-attempting questions is amazing, he’s always been up front that he’s not some literary genius, but someone who has honed an art form over time! And that’s so sad about the books being on ebay not long after that, I feel like the same thing happened with the larger authors I’ve seen (Atwood, Ondaatje), but I always try and get mine personalized if they’ll allow it.

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  2. AAAHHHHH! I’m still all giddy over you meeting John Boyne. And talking to him. And getting a book signed for me! Woooo! Thank you!

    I have only ever been to one speaking/book signing event (blame where I live which is not big enough to draw big name authors). Fortunately, there were no annoying attendees. I would also be peeved at the people you described.

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  3. I live in an area where the opportunity to attend a reading is very slim but this kind of behaviour would get my goat too. People have travelled and maybe paid to listen to the author not so e windbag in the audience who no one has ever heard of. In the few talks I’ve been at in literary festivals the other bad behaviour I’ve seen is people living the room before the talk has finished just so they can get first in line for the book signing. Unbelievable.

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    1. I’ve seen that too. I’ve never left before an author finished talking, but I have strategically placed myself int he room guessing where the signing might take place 😀

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  4. That would have driven me crazy. I wonder if it’s just a lack of self-awareness or plain rudeness, but it seems like almost every event that opens the microphone up to an audience always ends up with a couple of people like that in the queue.

    I’ve only been to a couple readings, but thankfully everyone was very respectful at them.

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  5. I hate those people who go on a long personal ramble before getting to the question… I sometimes wonder if they’ve got a question! Also, you can guarrantee they start rambling on (before getting to the point) after the author says he’s got time for 3 more questions… but by the time they’ve finished there’s no time left.

    I also hate it when people try pushing into the queue.

    One final thing… I also hate it when I go all fangirl and can’t remember what I wanted to say to the author, so just end up saying “Hello!”. Doh!

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  6. Dude, I’m jealous. I read The Absolutist last year and really enjoyed it. Oh the ending! I think it’s funny that you have a book reading nemesis. Good material for a book, I think.

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