I've posted about them before, but I've got literary readings on the brain again. I gave one last week, then went to another last night, and there was one at Rhian's bookstore this afternoon. Last week's reading was a university affair (me and two colleagues) and took place in a lecture hall. Last night's was delivered by four graduate students in a record store. Today's was similar to that one.
I have to confess, I'd gotten sick as hell of the things. Around this time two years ago, I would have been happy never to have to attend one ever again. But I dunno--since then, I've really enjoyed some amazing readings, from both published writers and students. I don't think I've changed all that much--I think it's the readings that have changed. The mood of the people who attend them, and the way people talk to each other afterward.
There are specific reasons for this here in Ithaca. At school, our department received an anonymous grant to raise the profile of our series, and as a result, we've been able to publicize more, and draw more interesting writers. The grad students' series used to take place in Goldwin Smith, the English department building, but they moved it downtown to the record store, and now people get to wander in from the street, instead of having to drive up to campus and park. The town-gown border has been blurred a bit. And this other reading, the one today, was I believe an extension of a new local literary magazine.
So we've had a convergence of good fortune and positive energy here. But I'm wondering perhaps if the literary reading itself, in America anyway, is entering a kind of golden age. In much the way that the self-destruction of the record industry (and the parallel devaluation of recorded music) has rendered the live concert more central to the experience of contemporary music, maybe the ongoing implosion of literary publishing is driving the story to the streets.
Just maybe. If you've read this horrifying post at Literary Rejections On Display, you may, right this moment, be considering just how close to the suicidal edge commercial publishers are presently teetering, and wondering what the new literary order might be.
Perhaps it will involve people coming out of their houses and watching each other make fools, or heroes, out of themselves in front of microphones. Increasingly, I hope so. Everyone seems a little more relaxed to me these days, now that they're no longer expecting six-figure advances. They appear to be actually enjoying their cigarettes and beers as they consume them, and to be listening to others without malice. Again--that's just a snapshot of my hermetic little world. But wouldn't it be nice?