I’ve always been a voracious reader. Whenever my family went anywhere when I was a child, I always had a book with me – and we aren’t just talking family road trips here, but ten-minute drives to the grocery store or a trip to the mall. In fact, when our car was stolen from a mall parking lot when I was in junior high, I was more concerned with the fact that my unfinished copy of Catch-22 was in the backseat than I was with the loss of the car itself. (I suppose I must have also been somewhat concerned about how we were going to get home from the mall, but I don’t remember.) I admit with some sorrow that I used to read much more than I do now, but it’s not for lack of desire or because my bookshelves aren’t full of things I’ve yet to read. It’s that old nemesis, free time, that gets me. Add to that the fact that I have approximately a million issues of The New Yorker sitting on my coffee table, waiting to be caught up on, and you have an idea of my situation. Basically, I don’t know what to read first.
Once I do choose something, I love getting so caught up in a book that I stay up most of the night to finish it. This doesn’t happen often as sleep is a rare commodity in my house, so the book has to be really good, and conversely, if you can’t hook me within the first couple of pages, your book is done. I no longer have the time to wait and see if the second or third chapter is the one that will get me. Maybe there are some books I’ve missed out on this way, but then there are the countless hours I’ve saved for something better (The Da Vinci Code, I’m looking at you here). Yes, I’m a literary snob, and I don’t apologize for it.
Anyway, Boston is an awesome city in which to be a voracious reader. We have a number of fantastic authors who call the greater Boston area home, among them Claire Messud and Tom Perrotta (who’ve written two of my favorite books, guess which ones if you’re so inclined), and the authors who give readings here are the best. This brings me to my own personal top five list of readings, which comprises my top two favorite readings ever as a reader and then my top two as a writer (with a nostalgic extra, just for fun).
- Elizabeth Hand at the Harvard Book Store: Not to be confused with the Coop (am I the only one who used to do this?), the Harvard Book Store is independent and sponsors lots of great readings. Elizabeth Hand is one of my favorites because I went to the reading on a whim and discovered what is one of my favorite creepy suspense novels ever. It is literally the only time in recent memory when I bought a hardcover book immediately after the reading because I loved the first chapter so much I had to know what happened next. Generation Loss has a punk photographer, weird art, a twisted murderer, an eerie setting in Maine – in short, everything it needs to be a great book, and I highly recommend it.
- David Foster Wallace, sponsored by HBS, held at the First Parish Church just steps away: This was a packed event, and honestly, I can’t remember what he was reading. I hadn’t read much of his work at this point, but I believe I went to hear him read from one of his books of essays. Of course, he was a wonderful reader, but what I remember most is that some fangirl asked what remains my favorite question ever in the Q&A section of a reading: “Do you work out?” It is important to note, he was wearing a tee-shirt and did have very nice arms, the kind you do not ever get from too much typing. He made some charming, self-deprecating answer and soon after pointed out his fiancee sitting in the front row.
- Jane Smiley at Brookline Booksmith: Jane Smiley is one of my favorite writers; in the middle of A Thousand Acres (a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), I remember having a reaction so visceral that I had to close the book for several hours. Her reading was for 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, a nonfiction exploration of the form, and I felt so enthralled and so lucky to get to listen to her discuss the craft of writing and then buy one book that contained all that good info for me to revisit whenever I wanted.
- Bret Anthony Johnston at Porter Square Books: I’ll always have a soft spot for Porter Square Books because I remember when it opened in my old neighborhood (okay, I can’t remember the exact date, but I do remember it happening). I’ve been glad to see it succeed and have gone back there to buy books even after moving away. And I went to this reading out of curiosity about Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, and I found what has been the most important and useful book of writing exercises and prompts, and revision exercises and advice, that I’ve ever come across. Score one more for Boston writers (Johnston is a local, too)!
- Everybody who read at the Four Stories reading series at The Enormous Room: This series has been on hiatus as of late, and now that The Enormous Room is gone, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to it, but I used to go to these events a lot. It felt so cool and literary to listen to writers read while drinking gin and tonics and eating kebabs with friends, all while lounging around on low couches and complaining about our EA salaries. Sure, some of the readers were awful, and the Q&A section was often annoying and full of insider jokes. But it was fun and felt so underground at the time. Plus, this is where I saw the only dine-and-dash I’ve actually witnessed in which a former co-worker skipped out on her check and claimed to have left money behind when one of us called her on it. Classy.
Part of my quest to return to the writer’s life definitely involves going to readings again, so I’m trying to remember to keep an eye out for what’s coming up. In the meantime, I’m also trying to dive back into reading what’s on this particular bookshelf (any votes as to which I should read first?). I’m optimistic that at least a couple of these books are going to be the up-all-night kind.