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The Pleasures of Hearing Authors Read Their Own Work


The Voice Across the River by Melanie Rae Thon, my favorite professor ever

Nerd nerd nerd, but I was thrilled to see the tables of books, to know that authors were in the building, that most of the people milling about the walkway were here because of books.

It was the 14th annual Utah Humanities Council Book Festival. Better yet, it was being hosted at our library this past weekend.

Better yet, I was there for an author reading. Better than that still, I was there to hear an author that I have absolutely adored for over 10 years.

I took a writing class from Melanie Rae Thon in 2001. It’s been a decade and I’ve never been able to forget her. I’ve only seen her a couple of times since, but I kept running into her writing. I would of course buy her books when they came out, but then I’d also open up one of the Greatest American Short Stories anthologies and there she’d be. She just kept popping up.

If you have never been able to see and hear an author read their own work, I hope do it when you have a chance. Or that you’ll create that chance.

Melanie is a slight woman with a soft voice until she starts reading from her own work. How to say it? She would probably not call this a particularly literary, accurate example, but I would say that she gets bigger. Her voice grows. Her entire demeanor changes. And suddenly you are hearing her prose, incomparably lovely to begin with, being read exactly as she intended for it to be heard.

It is easy to get distracted while reading a book, particularly one that deserves as much appreciation and careful reading as In This Light or The Voice or The Voice From the River.

When she reads, distraction is not possible. As I listened, I looked around the auditorium. Many people had their eyes closed. Most of them smiled or nodded as they listened. Other had their hands clasped under their chins as if they were praying. I saw tears in at least one person’s eyes. I came close a couple of times at the sheer elegance and beauty of the writing.

How wonderful to hear a writer of this quality attempting to give the perfect rendering.

After the reading a local reporter interviewed her. The highlight for me was this question, boiled down a bit for brevity:

Q: How do you know when a piece of writing is done?

A. It’s never done. As (here she quoted someone but I didn’t catch who it was) said, he quits “When the project’s mysteries no longer sustain me.”

I love that.

I’ve seen Margaret Atwood read. That was a perfect day.

Sandra Cisneros was as good.

Christophe Paolini didn’t move me in the slightest, but his Young Adult stories about dragons are not meant to bring adult readers to tears through their aesthetics. He did whip that audience of kids and teenagers into an absolute frenzy and that was a lot of fun to see.

How about you? Have you been to a reading that was much better or worse than you had anticipated?

Who would you like to hear at a reading?

I want to find a way to hear Geoffrey Eugenides, Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, David Sedaris, Kelly Link, and Steve Martin.


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