Nobody reads at readings anymore? That's what this Wall Street Journal article tells me. From the article:
"We were just losing our audiences," said Ms. Jennings, the owner of Rainy Day Books, an independent bookstore in Kansas City, Kan. Finally, several years ago she made a decision: The shop would sponsor only author events that featured a conversation or a minilecture, a PowerPoint presentation or perhaps a slide show, all followed by a question-and-answer session and—at most—the recitation of a paragraph or two from the book to illustrate a point. "I tell publicists 'it's no longer a reading,'" Ms. Jennings said. "If they want their authors to come here, they'll go along with it."
The article insists that people are really there for the Q&A, a point with which I’m sympathetic. But what do other authors think? On author Meg Waite Clayton's blog, she gives an 8 step recipe for author readings. The reading itself is confined to Step Number 6: The Smallest Dash of Actual Reading. “The truth is, most people past the age of five prefer to read themselves rather than be read to. And writers don’t often make great readers; that’s why others are paid to read our audio books.”
I recently heard bestselling author Chris Bohjalian read from his new novel Night Strangers, and it was great fun. The length of his reading was 14 minutes, which I only know because he announced it as such before he began to read. I asked him about the brevity of the reading portion, and he said that he didn’t feel that the tradition has become lost. Only shortened. "First of all, book tours are much longer now than even ten years ago and readers often get the book in the first 48 hours it is on sale. That means by week two, a lot of people at my readings have already finished the book. So, it makes no sense to read for 40 minutes. Second, readings have become, in my opinion, more entertaining and less pretentious. I think that can only benefit literature.”
The uptight parts of me are piqued to hear booksellers (booksellers!) lean away from the actual texts. But on the other hand, I too would rather an author spent his or her time on material that I can’t get between a book’s two covers. Recently bookseller Jen Northington made some suggestions right here on Blurb is a Verb about how best to make your bookstore event sing. I think I’m going to go re-read that now…