10 Kinds of People You See at Book Readings
As an English major and MFA candidate, I’ve been to my fair share of book readings. Sometimes I’m forced to go, sometimes I’m excited to go, and other times I have nothing else better to do. I’ve seen Stephenie Meyer, and I’ve seen Sharon Olds. I’ve even gone to AWP, aka one huge book reading spread over three days (which is incredibly exhausting and wonderful and annoying, if you’re wondering). Every book reading is different, but most share similar qualities: the people. Those who watch someone slowly and deliberately read his or her book out loud can be very invested and supportive. After all, we’re here for a reason, and it’s to experience the art of storytelling. But sometimes, we’re either too invested, or not invested enough. And it can be pretty funny.
Here are 10 kinds of people you may run into at your next book reading.
1. The person who is whisper-reading along with the writer
This super-fan is really into it; she's memorized most words and stanzas and page breaks like a book wizard. She feels a deep connection to the writer, and it’s almost like this book was written for her. I mean, it was written for all of us in some way shape or form, wasn’t it? Literature is transcendental like that.
2. The one who is drunk and swaying even though there is no music
Sometimes, book readings are held in bars, and most of us are thankful for this. Readings are great, sure, but they can be also be dry, winding, and too long. Alcohol is a must. There is, of course, the one person who has outdone herself. She will hoot and holler, scream “YEAH GIRL,” or chat up her solemn neighbors, who either scoff or wish they were drunk, too. No one really says anything, because why would they? Encouragement is encouragement, even if it stems from some liquid courage.
3. The emotional one
Readings can be very heart-wrenching. I once went to a poetry reading where a woman read a poem about her cancer, and pretty much everyone wanted to bawl their eyes out and hug whomever was next to them. Literature, man. However, one or two people will be really connecting with the story — and they'll want to make sure you know it. *sniff sniff*
4. The student who is there for extra credit
Usually this occurs at university readings, but when it does, it’s kind of hilarious. You can spot a student who is only there for the sake of her GPA, because she'll will either be on her phone the entire time, or she'll be on the lookout for her professor from whom she needs a signature.
5. An overly enthusiastic MA/MFA student
She's taking notes in her Moleskine. In between poems and stories, she's shooting venomous glances at every single person who isn't taking this reading as seriously as she is. When the reading is over, she's first in line to get her book signed just to show everyone else how dedicated she is. When discussing writing, she solely refers to it as "her craft" and that no, she will not be publishing her work any time soon, because the text needs "to breathe." When her sonnet about birds (which is REALLY about the human condition and her ex) was rejected from The New Yorker, she sobbed for a week straight. Damn you, Paul Muldoon.
6. The author’s groupies
These mega-fans follow the writer wherever they go, city to city. They have all her books, which she's signed three times each. They wait in line, hoping to be hugged or at least smiled at. They will sigh at the end of the reading, and say, “Nobody gets her like I do. Nobody.”
7. The one who just came for the free crackers and cheese
Yup, some readings have some cheap white zin, crackers, cheddar cheese, and sometimes grapes if the writer really feels like getting fancy. This person has to be reminded that the writer has started, and to take a seat. The crackers aren’t going anywhere.
8. The person who hijacks the Q&A session with her relentless inquisitions
She'll also manage to make the question about herself. She'll ask questions like, "What is your writing process, and do you recommend getting your degree in Journalism but then moving to Arizona because the dry air is conducive to creativity?" or "When you were writing this poem, did you think about what family members would say, and would you suggest using pseudonyms when writing about your sister's psycho ex-girlfriend?" Or maybe this person ditches the question camouflage altogether and shares a story about that one time when she went on a trip to India and it totally put things in perspective, and how she's going to take that positive energy and put it into her writing.
9. People who think they are very important
These people will be wearing expensive tweed coats. They will sometimes have a sprig of wheat in their pockets and sit in the “reserved” seating. These individuals have most likely donated to the press, and pronounce “vase” as “v-ahh-z.” The audience is fearful of them, worried they'll judge our pedestrian clothing, and we're jealous when the author thanks them for being there with a grateful handshake. When they leave, or go to the bathroom, we plebeian lovers of books quickly finish our drinks and roll our eyes; what are these rigid, humorless humans doing here anyway? It's a book reading, not a first class dinner on the Titanic.
10. The one taking Instagram pictures of everything
Because filtered pics or the book reading didn’t really happen! This person probably has a killer literary tattoo and an immense following on Twitter. She might even be the face behind the author's social media accounts. You're probably at this reading because of her relentless PR dark magic.
So, see you at the next reading, right? RIGHT?