A Reading Is Like A Bedside Visit

Maud Newton posted an interesting entry on Monday evening which was about why some people think we should do away with literary readings. As someone who has been to quite a few events of that nature, I take issue with the line from the article Maud quotes, which reads, “A reading is like a bedside visit. The audience extends a giant moist hand and strokes the poor reader’s hair….”

Maud quoted from the Timesexcerpt of a piece from the current issue of n+1. Here’s the whole excerpt

Cancel Them: The Problem With Literary Readings
In the spring issue of N+1, a new journal of politics, literature and culture, the editors argue that authors shouldn’t read their books in public.

If you’ve made the mistake of going to literary readings, you know that the only thing that can make them endurable is to ha at each funny bit, and ah at each clever observation, and oh at any grotesque turn. Pity rescues art on these occasions. But art can’t survive it.

A reading is like a bedside visit. The audience extends a giant moist hand and strokes the poor reader’s hair. Up at the podium is someone who means to believe in his or her work, and instead he’s betrayed by his twitchy body and nervous laughter…. And so, to send out a little life preserver, you laugh at a line, which maybe wasn’t intended to be a joke. The writer looks up, a smile possesses one side of his mouth. He is funny? Tears well up in his eyes. You’ve saved him. Literature is so much easier than he thought. But one of your laughs, in pity, leads to two, soon people are laughing for no reason. And the work he’s reading - well, in this format, who can tell if it’s any good on the page? Nobody. And suddenly it’s his life we’re talking about - not only the words and lines, but the pathetic effort he’s devoted his entire life to. This figure in front of you was formerly an independent artist, with at least the solitary belief in himself that a writer needs. Now he’s desperate for a laugh….

So, if I’m reading this right, the idea is that we’re supposed to look down upon authors who believe in promoting their books, who see the value in reading aloud to potential buyers, to their potential audience? We’re supposed to look down on this because fucking stuck-up scholars and the literary elite have it in for people who can actually get creative work published instead of resigning themselves to stuffing their own work in a desk drawer and making a living criticizing others’ creative work instead?

Sure, not all readings are fun. Not every author has the voice or the presence to entertain a crowd. But, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the oral tradition, with presenting your story aloud instead of on the page. It might be the only way your story gets to a particular individual.

People like this, whose every word just reeks of snobbery, are the type of people the world needs less of.