>As it appears to be a slow news day here, I did a little surfing of other lit blogs and came across this tidbit over at The Kenyon Review’s Blog. It’s an interesting write-up about a pen that allows writers to sign books via an internet connection, but I wonder a bit about the author’s speculation on celebrity as a reason to want to see writers/authors in person. I think that’s a fairly easy opinion in our celebrity-driven culture, but then I think about the writers I most want to see when they come through town. Yes, some of them are “names,” but the ones that most interest me are the ones with whom I’ve had some interaction already, regardless of their level of fame. And let’s face it: the number of people who attend readings/signings doesn’t begin to approach the level of rock concerts—a gathering of 100 in the audience for a successful band would be a massive disappointment, but a similar gathering for a successful writer would be a very solid turn-out indeed (when Oates read at Elliot Bay Books a few years ago, I’d estimate there were maybe 75 of us there, tops).
The blogger hints at the reason I think we want to see our favorite writers in person (and why they might want to meet us) in this bit: “a writer is the person who spends those long hours in the chair getting the words onto paper.” Writing, let’s face it, is a profoundly lonely occupation. To really get the work done, we simply can’t be interacting with others during the actual work. And, if you think about it in an historical sense, that’s truly bizarre—writing is story-telling, after all, which is one of the oldest social occupations known to man. Readings give us (both as writers and as audience) the change to engage in the primitive act of sitting around a fire hearing a narrative. And they allow us to connect in a way that is different than the very solitary interaction with words on a page (whether as writer or reader).
Which, of course, says nothing of Atwood’s invention. As an advocate of green policies, I have to admit to being intrigued by the idea. I work for an architectural firm that does its damnedest to incorporate green ideas into every design every day—green, in my daily life, is the shouted intital in the name Roy G!!! Biv. And that’s one of the greatest appeals in working here. But… as a writer and reader, the value that comes from signatures at readings isn’t in the ink, whether distributed on-scene or from afar, nor even in the hand that wields the pen. The signing period at these events is merely the time following the readings during which we can lock eyes and say, “Hi” and, “Thanks”—the time during which we can briefly slow down from our McDonald’s lives and connect with our story-tellers, with our audiences, with our humanity.