Friday, August 26, 2011

Jillian Lauren, On Reading

"It's appropriate that it's late right now (too late for a woman who has to wake at dawn with a toddler), and I'm writing about reading. Because late is when I've always read, since I was a child. First with a flashlight and then when I got busted--as I often did because they were onto me--by the red light of my digital alarm clock.

Late at night is when I conduct my love affair with books.

Now I read late because I don't have any other time in the day to sit down and sink into a book. But that wasn't always the case. When I was young, I read late nights because it was a quiet time during which I could spiral out into the darkness and explore the endless possibilities that I found in books. Books were the only thing in my life that spoke to the kind of magic I suspected was shimmering in the shadows in the corners of my room. I certainly couldn't find it in the people surrounding me in my small, stiflingly conservative suburban town. Nor in the world of school and soccer and temple and birthday parties and sameness through which I shuffled in the daylight.

Or maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe I just couldn't sleep. Maybe I was desperately lonely. But wherever the longing came from, ultimately it made me fall deeply in love with reading.

I have rarely met a writer for whom books were not a salvation, an obsessive passion, the first true love of their life.

And there are times I forget how much I love to read. There are times that reading and I grow too familiar with each other. There are times that I pick up book after book and put them down after thirty pages, unable to stay engaged with them for one reason or another. But inevitably, a book finds its way to the top of my unruly pile and it grabs me by the throat. It blows the top of my head wide open. And I lie there late at night vibrating with the same passion as ever for the singular experience of connecting with a work of literature.

I read for the same reason I write--to experience a space of infinite possibility. And more importantly, to connect. To connect with with my own deepest humanity and with that of others. Which is to say, to fall in love."

{Jillian Lauren is the author of the novel, Pretty and the New York Times bestselling memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem. Visit her website here, and she can be found on Twitter, here.}

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to be a good live reading audience member

This is a guest post by
Caleb J Ross as part of his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. He will be guest-posting beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin and novella, As a Machine and Parts, in November 2011. If you have connections to a lit blog of any type, professional journal or personal site, please contact him. To be a groupie and follow this tour, subscribe to the Caleb J Ross blog RSS feed. Follow him on Twitter: Friend him on Facebook:

Etiquette is important. Whether downing clam chowder or chowing down on a clam, understanding the context of any event and knowing how best to position yourself within it is an important skill. This knowledge-set extends also into the world of live literature readings. Long assumed by literary outsiders to be trivial, boring, mind-numbing, boring, despicable, boring events, the live reading fits these descriptions only to the untrained mind. So, let me train some minds.

1. Bring friends. You don’t have to bring the friends that you want to keep, but if you know one or two annoying hangers-on, trick them into coming with you on the rouse of a few photo-ops with your permission that you can be tagged for the Facebook album. Who am I kidding? If you are going to a book reading, you don’t have many friends, let alone ones you can risk losing. So bring that frumpy girlfriend and the awkward guy and get ready to have an appropriately adequate evening.

2. Pretend you are a fan. To the author, the live reading is the equivalent of a twink going down on a Van Nuys, CA movie director in hopes of a starring role in an upcoming porn adaptation of the early 90s sitcom “Life Goes On” (that was a sitcom, right?). Basically, don’t be afraid to get on your knees and…worship the author. Go ahead and stroke his…ego. Besides, he may just make you famous.

3. Don’t be a rogue decibel. As most fancy things are, book readings are quiet. Eating caviar, sipping fine scotch, ruling poor people, all of these are done quietly (in addition to fancy-ily). Literary readings, for the most part, are true to this rule of fanciness. It’s not that the audience doesn’t want to stir up a mosh pit and scream, but when that happens, the reader cannot be heard. Now, if the reader has a microphone and is fronting a punk collective trashcan ensemble, then screaming might be appropriate. When it doubt, copy other people. If everyone else is moshing, mosh you should.

4. Buy a book. Most readings don’t charge admission. So, consider a book purchase the equivalent of dirty money in the hand of a dirty bouncer. Yes, it is true that you might already have all of the author’s books. So, if you are such the fan that already having the books would imply, then…

5. Open you pages to a signature. It’s okay. Just a little scribble. It doesn’t mean anything. Don’t worry about it. Nobody will find out. Just let him crease that spine and spill a few drops of ink on your pasty white pages. There you go. Doesn’t that feel good? It feels good for him, too. Like a conquest. His greasy fingerprints will live forever on your bookshelf.

6. Ask the author to get a beer after the reading. Especially if this author’s name is Caleb J. Ross.

Photo credit: Designated Disaster

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ben Rubin, On Reading

"I never liked reading growing up. I wanted to, but it always seemed little more than a difficulty, one which was not as enjoyable as those to be found in sport and being with one's friends, as those we discover when learning how to behave and misbehave, usually with smiles on our faces.

Being read to, on the other hand, was always looked forward to with that sense of anticipation; the kind we experience when looking toward a joy, and when felt deeply can almost verge upon anxiety, though this is the side of such anticipation we cannot see. Like a thing behind the sun whose blind fingers invent our bodies.

Yes, that was a thing about the stories that were read to us as children: not only did they have to be read aloud, not only did they have to be read to us, not only did their creatures have no be invoked by another's voice; not just another's voice, but by the voice of one we loved, for fairy tales are filled with magic and thus must be brought to life by incantation. They must be spoken as a spell, and that spell must be filled with love, which by any other name is the deepest magic we know. Not just that, but we had to wait for them. Yes, we had to wait; our anticipation of their arrival was necessary too. It was part of that essential readiness which allowed these new worlds to open within us, that opened us as well, into the world outside, the world into which, even if we entered as a freedom, we stepped intrepidly for it was still so new and strange a thing.

It is often that way. Patience is needed. A certain slowness which allows the event to make its way towards us, and to mean more than a complacency or commonplace when it does so; something special. We must only trust in it, that it will indeed find us, that it knows where live, just as the moon did when we were children, and does still today.

Being read to, yes, I loved being read to. I loved my father's words, even though they were not his own. They were those of someone else transformed by his speaking. And he too was transformed. He read these words, and suddenly he was not just my father. Suddenly he spoke with a mouth of buried moonlight. Then, to read was like an excavation, and it was his voice that would guide our going. To where?

To wherever. It didn't really matter, nor did it matter if that destination was delayed. It was the going that was important. It was the invitation to voyage that ripped us from our rootlets, and helped us begin the long, strange journey we continue today, to see that indeed no everyday is ordinary, to learn to call forth miracles from the tamed circle of the commonplace. What we know now is that it might take a long time to get there. All the better:

In art, no deep magic happens quickly, even if sometimes it seems that way, for you do not stop being an artist merely when you're not making art; something essential is happening even then for it is always happening so long as we are open to it. That is precisely why it is deep, because it takes time to develop, because it is allowed that time. That's one of art's great secrets, and thus too life as well, for everything that happens in art happens in life, happens in the world.

It is just in art that those forces are concentrated and condensed so that we may better feel them, so that we too may be touched deeply by them the way, as children, we were touched deeply by stories that were filled with our parents' breath. Wasn't it their voices that lifted those words from the page, the words then already inseparable from the breath of those we love, so that they could enter into us and become once again human? Wasn't it we who waited at night to be moved by them so that we could move the way the wind moves, so that we could know intimately what it was like when the wind of the world passes into and through a human soul, only remaining for a moment before returning itself again to the deep, illimitable space from whence it came?"

{Ben Rubin is the author and illustrator of When Comes What Darkly Thieves, which is available here. For more information, visit his website here.}

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Janet Skeslien Charles, On Reading

"Reading is like breathing. Necessary. Reading shows us different worlds, different times, different ways of thinking. I have read in stages.

Growing up in a plains town of 2000 souls, about as landlocked as possible, I was able to visit Russia through Anna Karenina and the South through The Sound and the Fury. Novels helped me escape my own world.

Reading made me want to create my own job for my own characters. This was the job I wanted -- to create new places with my own people. Reading -- analyzing the techniques of other authors, looking at the motivations of their characters -- helped me write my own stories.

As I get older, instead of escape, I seek understanding. Why do we do what we do? How do we survive terrible things? I learn the answers from novelists and historians in reading their words."

{Janet Skeslien Charles is the author of Moonlight in Odessa. It has been translated into over a dozen languages and was named a top ten debut by Publishers Weekly in 2009. She works as the Programs Manager at the American Library in Paris and enjoys interviewing other authors on her blog.}