On Hearing an Author Speak

Like most of you, I love books.  Part of my rich reading life is participating in a lovely book club- not too serious, not too trivial- just right.  Our most recent book read was Helen MacDonald’s “H is for Hawk.”  And just after we read it, the author was scheduled to speak at our favorite nearby bookstore.

But I didn’t assume I would go.  It is hard to go out on a school night, including the hour early we decided we should show up to snag a seat. (If you are not aware, this book has been all over the press, and already garnered much recognition and many awards.)  But the real hesitation was that I left the book unsettled and uncertain.  I knew it was good, I knew it was provocative to me and would linger in my mind, but I wasn’t sure if I loved it.  And meeting the author- while I have always adored hearing children’s authors speak (and draw), as well as non-fiction authors, this was a memoirist.  Shouldn’t the work speak for itself?  Is it fair to ask questions, to ask for more information than is in the book?

But I went with my friends- an hour early, even.  I realized I was curious how this woman would be. In her author photo on the fly-leaf she sits with the hawk Mabel on her wrist, with stringy hair obscuring her face. She realized while she was writing about grief, and wildness, and the heartbreaking struggle of another author, that she had fallen into depression during this period.   So, how is she now?

Of course it was a wonderful evening.  She is well, she is groomed, she is articulate and modest and brilliant.  It wasn’t cheating.  In fact, I don’t understand the book better because I think it is more than the discussion could bear.  And the real reason why you SHOULD always go to an author talk if you can: to hear their own reading of their work.  Their voice and pacing brings it to life.

And the second real reason you should go, writing friends?  It makes it seem possible to be a writer, if you just keep doing the hard work of writing.  Because they are people, just people, who felt miserable and brilliant and struggled and gave up and started again and cut whole chapters and swathes and kept going to some end.  As we practice in miniature, but we ARE practicing.

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8 thoughts on “On Hearing an Author Speak

  1. This is interesting in so many ways. Love your description of your book club- I need to find one like that. Maybe you can tell us how you did. I love the debate about deciding to go on a school night- that’s always a tug-of-war. Your thoughts about the book made me wonder what I would think if I read it. And your two reasons to go to an author talk ring so true. Thanks for a very good slice.

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  2. I adore my book club! I, too, avoid doing anything on a school night, but I will NOT miss my book club. We haven’t had the pleasure yet of meeting one of the authors we’ve read, but I love the possibilities. I think we do forget that authors are just people like all of us. Thanks for the reminder.

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  3. I will want to read this again–lots of wisdom in there! I have that book in my “to read” pile, so I was immediately interested in your story. And the encouragement at the end was great!

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  4. I know what you mean about listening to an author speak. Every year my son’s school has an Author’s Day and I always volunteer. I leave feeling inspired and motivated to write, as do a lot of the students.

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  5. I somehow didn’t know how exciting and inspiring it is to hear authors speak until last fall. I’ve gotten so excited by it that I now look for author events to take my students to–in the evening on a school night! It’s a heck of a lot more affordable than bringing them to our school; we just pay for the bus rental.

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