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?