One of the hazards of being a writer is that you end up going to a lot of readings. Now, you'll note that there is a little box to the left of this post which helfpully lists my events, many of which you'll note involve me reading. Here's the thing: I really would rather just talk about mundane stuff that I find interesting than read, since I am aware that readings make people want to kill themselves. Or, well, after about 15 minutes they want to kill themselves. That's not to say I haven't done readings where I read for 30 minutes, because I absolutely have. Or 40 minutes, because I absolutely have. The reason being: if given 40 minutes to read, well, most writers are going to do just that, because no matter how much we hate going to readings, we love reading our own work out loud because, well, we're fucking geniuses.
I've been to a few readings that have merited a 40 minute (or longer) reading, primarily because the author actually knew how to read, which is to say they modulated their voice periodically, sped up and slowed down, paused, and generally didn't sound like a fucking robot. Richard Ford once read for about 45 minutes and that was great. He has a great reading voice and understood the emotional pacing of his own work very well, whereas I once heard Mary Gaitskill read for about an hour and was actively plotting her death within 10 minutes, plotting my own death within 20 minutes, cataloguing suspicious neck moles on the person sitting in front of me by 30 minutes, pinching my bottom lip and pulling nose hairs at 40 minutes just to stay awake, pondering what unknown diseases I might have at 50 minutes that would possibly be making me feel the way I was feeling -- which was horrible, just dreadful -- since certainly Mary Gaitskill alone could not be making me feel this fucking bad, and at 59 minutes and 30 seconds, Stockholm Syndrom set in and I began to empathize with Mary, and thought, you know, if given an hour, wouldn't I take it, too? Yes, yes of course. And I would hope to bore the fuck out of you so that you could suffer as I have, which is the wont of my people, the Jews.
There are few things worse on this earth, however, than going to a reading held by truly mediocre writers, since it's not merely the presentation that sucks, it's the work, too (in Gaitskill's case, she read a story that I loved when I read it on the page, but which sounded like an animal being fucked by the jaws of life when read aloud) but, as luck would have it, I had a chance to do just that very thing last week when I was in Washington DC for the annual AWP conference. It inspired me to create a video, but really the video does not tell the whole horrific tale of the dread-inspiring reading I attended. Only reproducing a series of texts between 5 different people trapped at the same event could actually replicate the sorrow and degradation of the experience, but names would need to be changed, identifying characteristics would need to be altered and though the insults would remain pure, I fear recrimination from, you know, people who look like they're roadies for Weezer.
So, just as a general rule, I offer this piece of advice my dear friend Rob Roberge once gave me: No one has ever complained about a reading be too short.