On Readings

reading

First some nice news: I made the shortlist for the ReLit award. Yay!

***

That picture above is from the first reading I ever did back in 2005. As usual, I was highly polkadotted. I did one or two readings after that, but it wasn’t until my book was launched last October that I started reading more. In the past few weeks I’ve done 3 readings: a story excerpt in a bar to a group of creative writing students, the opening 2 paragraphs of a story on the radio and another story excerpt at Drawn & Quarterly, a bookstore, followed by a casual panel discussion. I’ve come to the realization that despite the experience I’ve accumulated over the past few months, reading to a group of people still makes me… uncomfortable.

I enjoy myself, but mostly what I enjoy is everything about the event except my actual reading. Reading for the group of creative writing students was ideal: they were quiet and responsive, I had a gin and tonic before going on stage, the lights weren’t too bright and I loved listening to the others, all of whom are great examples of good readers (Jessica Westhead, Ian Orti, Dave McGimpsey). The radio show, an afternoon spot on CBC’s Homerun, was more nerve-wracking, but I had Katrina Best with me to diffuse anxiety. Neither of us knew we had to read on the radio until the last minute. In Katrina’s case, not until she was asked, on live radio by the host. She handled it like a pro and has the bonus of having an ultra smooth British accent. I sat in my chair, listened and was so grateful to a get a few extra minutes to figure out what I was supposed to read. And as far as bookstores go, Drawn & Quarterly is such a dream to read in. It’s small and cozy so you’re kind of hugged by beautiful books and there are always enough chairs for everyone. Plus I had a glass of wine before going up.

In general I don’t mind public speaking. It makes me nervous, of course, but not so much clam-up-and-faint nervous as hyper-butterflies-in-my-stomach nervous. You would think that reading would be more relaxing – there’s no real need to memorize your lines and you get to hold something solid and comforting while you’re up there. And while I do think that most writing is better experienced by reading silently to yourself, I understand the pleasure of being read to, of hearing the cadence and rhythm of words spoken out loud. What bothers me is that I’m not the best one suited to read my work out loud. My approach is to do everything I can to avoid “reading voice” – you know it when you hear it, that poetry slam lilt, the drawn out syllables at the end of each sentence – but I’m afraid that in retaliation I resort to an overly casual, conversational, vaguely Valley Girl tone instead.

I’m probably overthinking it, right? I’ll get more comfortable the more readings I do? Fingers crossed, for my sake and yours, if you happen to be listening.

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