Friday, March 12, 2010

Author Readings

Among my literary diversions are occasional attendance at author appearances at bookstores. Sometimes I meet an author with whom I am very familiar. Sometimes, I meet someone whom I have not yet read. Occasionally, a reading will introduce me to someone completely new. These opportunities to see and hear the writer talk about his or her work are very satisfying. I usually leave with a desire to read something new, or something again, and I almost always gain a renewed appreciation for the work and dedication that it takes to create literature.

Some time ago, I must have seen a reference to a blog by a writer named Sonya Chung, probably on a blog called The Millions. I enjoyed her commentary on writing and life in New York and began to follow her own blog, Sonya Chung. In recent months, Sonya's blog  began to describe the building momentum toward publication of her first novel, written over three years ago and just now becoming available to us, the reading public. When I saw that she would be doing a reading in March at McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore on Prince Street that was new to me, I decided to go hear this writer  and scope out a new bookstore at the same time.

The event was a treat. Sonya's book, Long for this World, is described on its jacket about being the story of a family divided between contemporary America and a small Korean town. From the reading last night, I now know that the novel is also about mothers, daughters, and friends. A third intriguing theme revolves around the profession of the protagonist, a young woman photojournalist who has been covering wars around the globe.

I haven't read my autographed copy yet so I cannot review it right now. I can say that it was illuminating to have a young author speak so directly, and so articulately, about her vocation and her craft as a writer. She shared her own energy and commitment to the importance of story, and the importance of language and seemed to have great respect for the readers who are partners with the writers in creating and sustaining literature.

She revealed that it was upon reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek she knew that she wanted to become and would become a writer. This is one of my favorite books and I remember sharing it with my oldest daughter many years ago as a model for observation and writing. I don't know exactly why Sonya's blog entries caught my attention, but no doubt there is something about her own understanding of writing that speaks to me and I was not surprised that we shared a favorite author in common.

Writers create and share stories through a very personal, solitary process. They are observers and thinkers and artists. Seldom are they performers. The arena of book readings, where they are required to repeatedly share their very personal work in a very public setting, and then answer a series of questions on why and how they do what they do cannot be all that easy or enjoyable. I can imagine that as the seven o'clock hour approaches,  and the folding chairs begin to fill up, they might wish that they could just wander through the store, anonymously, browsing books and watching people.

So I offer a word of appreciation to Sonya and to all the authors who participate in the ritual of the book tour, and give their time and attention to the reading public in this way. We know that it cannot be all that exciting to see us, the audience of readers, assembled, expecting to receive some special understanding, or even a special blessing from an author whom we have come to hear. You have already given us a book to read; isn't that sufficient? But we do want to meet you and see the person who created the book and learn something new about you and what you write.

I hope that these writers realize that the smiles and nods of approval, and even the clumsy questions that we offer at these gatherings are simply signs of appreciation that we individual readers feel while engaged in our own solitary activity of reading their creations.  We are  grateful for the rare opportunity to convey our enjoyment, our appreciation and our respect in person.  We are pleased to give something back to the author who has given us something good to read.

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