Literary readings are not the stuffy, uptight affairs that some people think they are. Sure, there’s usually a little formality to them — respectful, attentive audiences that are quiet and, if some nod off, they keep the snoring at a minimum.
Lately, though, the behavior at several readings has reached the anarchy of the multiplex movie crowd.
Maybe it started at the George Saunders’ reading Oct. 1 with the guy in front of me eating french fries and passing them around to his friends while the author read on earnestly.
The scene was the Frick Fine Arts auditorium for Pitt’s Contemporary Writers Series, so we give the kid a pass because he’s a college student and he don’t know no better.
It went from fries to a little black dog at the Heinz Fiction Prize ceremony Oct. 17 at the Frick. After I sat down for winner Kirk Nesset’s reading, I heard a muffled yip behind me and, sure enough, two women had brought Fifi along for the festivities.
I’m not sure if the pooch was fed from the reception table after the talk.
Now, in a long career of hearing authors, I can say I got to hear a dog, too.
I once read at a series in a Toronto bar that was frequented, post-reading, by a very young rave-type crowd. As the curator fired up the readings introduction, three obviously stunned rave kids on a couch right in front of the “stage” got these big saucer eyes and looked at each other as though just realizing they were trapped in an old house with a killer on the loose. As I took the stage and started to read, they were in the midst of what might possibly be the slowest slo-mo donning of jackets you’ve ever seen. It was like a mime routine, but with real props.
Anyway, as I was reading, they completed their dressing act and ever-so-slowly started to rise. I continued reading, but held up a finger and interjected, “Hang on.” They froze, mid-rising. They looked like at tableau of crouching WWI soldiers climbing out of a trench. But young and stupid. I left my don’t-you-dare-move finger hanging in the air for the entire poem. As soon as I finished, I said, “Now scram” or something to that effect, and they beat a hasty, grateful retreat to the door. Whippersnappers.
I guess that’s one way of handling things. If I ever encounter the cell phone problem, I’ll look here for guidance.