Referring to public readings, Shalom Auslander, last night at the 3rd anniversary of the Franklin Park Reading Series, stated, “I don’t know why people come to these things. It’s kind of sad,” right before he launched into his book. I find it hard to pin down his antics. I can never tell if he truly feels the vitriol he expresses, or he enjoys playing a certain role. Regardless of this cynical sentiment, the night turned out to be a fitting birthday party for an important staple of a burgeoning literary scene. Started and run by the talented and tireless Penina Roth, the Franklin Park Reading Series has been host to countless important and soon-to-be-important authors from its inception.
Nestled in a dimly lit bar, with oversized lightbulbs, brick walls, a fire place with metal siding, the room comfortably holds maybe 30 people, but these series frequently push the limit to over 100. This celebratory occasion reminded me of the importance of reading events. Auslander, the headliner, is a perfect case in point. What comes off as sometimes funny in his book, comes off, when read out loud, as a raucous comedic act. I actually did a spit take when Auslander read the line, “and Anne Frank replied, blow me.” Similarly, Adam Wilson’s rendering of the orgy scene from his new book Flatscreen added a layer of humour and sadness that I missed on reading the scene. For Ben Townsend, the first reader, the public forum allowed him to include a prop, a letter from a stalker in his funny story, “My Stalker.” For John Dermot Woods, a multimedia artist and writer, the venue allowed him to both show off his cartoons, one of which showed Jesus holding a bleeding heart in front of a innocent looking child, as well as his writing chops. However, for poet Melissa Broder, perhaps because of the inherent dense nature of poetry, I found it hard to catch anything but beautiful snippets of her poems (suck my ancient oxygen, my feet slept…), though they whetted my appetite to actually read her biblically laden poetry.
This all amounts to the idea that as we moved from an oral society to a written society, we lost some of the power of storytelling. Writing turns into a qualitatively different experience when heard, or read aloud. It takes on a different power, perhaps adds more subtlety or nuance to a text, or in other words it becomes more of a full body experience. In a similar vein, when the author themselves read from their books, an added layer of intimacy is created between the writer and the reader. As you sit alone in some room with a book covering your face, you can feel a connection created between you and the author, but when you sit in a room, and hear the author talk to you with their own voice that changes in pitch and tone, that connection takes on new dimensions.
On a different note, though I don’t believe in attempting to chart the future of literature or the novel, I can’t help but notice that in many ways, new technology allows reading to be even more of a lonely experience than ever before. True, the Internet creates new communities around books, but reading devices and Internet shopping threaten even the big book stores, places that used to allow one book nerd to meet, converse, or flirt with another book nerd. Reading series like this one creates an actual community, of flesh people, all in love with books. Besides these factors, last night felt very traditional, in a literary sense. Socrates spoke his teachings, as did so many other great writers and authors, all the way down to Allen Ginsberg who first gave the world his shattering poems in another dimly lit bar, in a different room of people packing themselves inside, just to hear some words of poetry.
Happy Birthday Franklin Park Reading Series. To many more fruitful returns.