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.