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Rushdie's Reading and Q&A ~ Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A lot of things surprised me at the reading, in some cases for the better and in other cases... not so much.

1) The theatre (Danforth Music Hall) was full or very close to it. I remember seeing the film "Capote." There was a scene in which he read an excerpt from his much-anticipated but as yet incomplete novel _in Cold Blood_, and the theatre in which he read it was packed. And I thought "wow, if this was accurate, then times have changed. In our multi-media culture, with so many things clamouring for our attention, I cannot imagine such a good turnout." Well, now I've seen it.

Urban Culture + Really Famous Writer = full theatre, apparently. Nice to see, that. And the Capote scene was in NYC, so be proud TO, that we could fill a theatre with enthusiastic literati types, so eager to hear what a respected author has to say and read that we pay for the privilege (I could see it if it were a discussion of some general but intriguing topic--but it's nice to see this for just a reading and a Q&A as well).

2) He is not a very good reader. I'm not sure if this is just the start of the tour, but alas, he was not particularly riveting. He read too quickly and with little inflection. He had an extraordinarily long and complicated explanation/lead in to the passage he read (why not just choose an excerpt that requires fewer introductions, or test it on someone and see whether it stands on its own?). This is especially odd, given that people have not only given up their evening to go and listen to him speed through a dizzying reading, but they have paid $20 + any books they bought at the front desk. So surely, knowing that all these people have paid in time and money, you'd want to be somewhat rehearsed and interesting in your reading from the book they've just dropped another $32 + tax to purchase (I didn't buy the book--I was waiting to hear whether the content would sufficiently pique my interest. More below).

It was funny, too, because during the Q&A the question came up about his interest in acting--and he revealed that yes, he was most interested, and he has been doing some acting recently. So why not act a little as you read? Why not use a slightly different pitch, tone or intonation for the dialogue? etc. It felt rather like he hadn't read much before at all (which I can't imagine would be the case, given his reputation), and that he hadn't bothered to go over the passage he had selected to read before going up on stage last night.

3) He seems like a nice guy. Not surprising in itself, but one always feels somewhat curious about the personality underlying the talent. His seems rather professorial. Pleasant, knowledgable, and with a slight tendency to wax over-enthusiastic about topics that interest him, and lose sight of whether his audience is actually engaged or completely following what he's talking about (this, I would say, is common to many people. I'm that way for sure--I can still wax enthusiastic about the Cuban methods of farming, if you can believe it. I found what I read of it to be fascinating and, mystifyingly, few people I have spoken to share my enthusiasm. ;-D What's better still is that I'm not a gardener).

At any rate, I'm not totally convinced that this latest book will be much of an improvement on what I read of the previous one, Shalimar the Clown. I may go back to that one, as perhaps I just didn't get far enough (~100 pages or so) to really have it start to gel together. It still felt like it was in the setup and I was waiting for the linking of the narratives--or at least, for an inkling of where we were going (also known as a sense of momentum. It's the point at which you're getting the links and connections at an unconscious level and become eager to turn the pages because things are coming together in an interesting way. 100 pages, and that hadn't yet happened for me). The prose, too, was largely undistinguished, and certainly didn't have the burgeoning, playful, almost carnivalesque energy of his earlier works--it felt fairly blah and banal and functional, with the occasional interesting forays.

And yes, his choice of excerpt from The Enchantress of Florence also seemed so-so. Kind of neat, but more of a "get it from the library" than a "I've got to own it now!" reaction from me. I am, however, very intrigued by his portrayal of Fatepur Sikri, since that ghost city has fascinated me ever since we visited it, so many years ago, now.

So, that was my impression of the Rushdie talk. I don't know that I would recommend going, if he comes to a town near you. I don't generally have high expectations for such things--a good writer does not necessarily a good (viva voce) reader make. But I was curious about how he would be on stage and how he would present himself and all.

I also prefer it when a capable interviewer does the asking/mediating. Q&A's can be bothersome because often the questions that seem to come up are odd or fatuous--with the occasional, rare exception. This seems to be particularly the case at events like this, where there's an element of adulation/Cult of Personality or Talent involved--people are overwhelmed at the thought of speaking with the man. While I think they should be proud of what they did in going up there and asking their questions, as paying audience, I just don't find the content all that interesting. I'd rather be out, sipping coffee and chatting about the talk with Tom than sitting through tedious questions and tactful, somewhat belaboured answers. Last night, there were few exceptions to the fatuous rule, alas.

Still, interesting to see the grace and tact with which Rushdie responded to them. He handled it well. Lots of practice, I imagine. Now, if only he devoted a little time to polishing his reading skills....

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::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 8:49 AM::::


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