Monday, November 06, 2006

On Reading Aloud, and Other Matters

The Book of Lost Things is officially published in the US on November 7th, and I am writing this in my New York hotel room as I gear myself up for another three weeks of touring.

Someone asked me recently if I still enjoyed doing it, or if I even had to do it. I suppose that the answer to the first part is yes, I still like touring, even if I'm starting to find myself a little (or very) dull by now, and after almost two solid months of it I'm a bit tired. As for having to do it, well, that's harder to answer. I was talking about this with some other authors, and there comes a point when you are seeing the same faces in the crowd, and you wonder if you're merely preaching to the converted. On the other hand, there were times when there would be nobody, or virtually nobody, occupying the seats in the bookstores, so better to be preaching to a sympathetic crowd than no crowd at all. In the end, I just hope that it helps the book, and I guess that, ultimately, helping the book is the main reason why I do it, especially in the case of The Book of Lost Things. I'm grateful for the opportunity to explain the book, to justify its existence, to try to convince people to give it a chance. Even if my presence in the bookstores makes only a small difference, it's a difference nonetheless.

I've also broken with my habit of many years, and have begun reading aloud from the book. I don't read very much - barely two pages - but even in that reading, I've discovered ways of improving the novel. I tend to read the Red Riding Hood
extract, but right from the start I began altering the last line of the reading. I discovered, in reading it aloud, that there was a better, more striking, more rhythmic ending to the extract, one that I'll incorporate into the paperback. I don't imagine that anyone reading the two books will spot much of a difference, but it felt better to me.

While I was touring in South Africa last month, I conducted a workshop for writers. It was the first time I had taken one alone, and only the second time that I had ever taken one. I found it exhausting, and I'm not sure how much people got out of it, but I did try as best I could to share whatever small insights I had gained into writing over the course of nine books. One thing I did encourage them to do, though, was to read their work aloud if they were having trouble with the flow of a section of their work. Actually, sometimes you don't even spot that there's a problem until you do read it aloud, and it's a pretty safe bet that if you stumble over your own work when you're reading it aloud, then a reader will have problems with it when he or she is reading it quietly at home. Or, as was the case with me and the Red Riding Hood extract, by reading aloud you find a way to improve on something that was pretty serviceable to begin with.

So, over the next few weeks, I'm probably going to read that Red Riding Hood extract on occasion, complete with its new last line, and each time I do so I'll be grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to read it in front of an audience, however large or small that audience may be.

And I will hope, as I read, that my little book finds its way into the hands of perhaps one or two more readers who might not otherwise have picked it up. In a strange way, I feel that I owe it to the book. It is now a repository for things that are important to me, things that I believe to be true, or hope to be true. A few days sacrificed, and a few early mornings endured, are a small price to pay in order to do it some justice.

This week John read

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
The Book of The Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

and listened to

The Talking Animals by T-Bone Burnett
Grizzly Bear by Grizzly Bear
Marie Antoinette: The Soundtrack