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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ahh, the good old days... when writers wrote.

Here's an interesting article by Anjum Hasan written for Tehelka, an Indian magazine, in which she ponders the (relatively) recent development of authors as public figures. Specifically, she refers to the expectation that writers will make themselves available to read their work aloud--performing it, essentially. It seems many readers love this kind of thing, as it allows them to... I'm not sure what. Interact with the writer in a way that just reading the book doesn't allow? Maybe. Some writers like it too, I guess. Good for them! Others, ahem, see it as a chore. I've been told I read well (shucks), but put me firmly in the "I'd really rather just have you read the book" camp.

But too bad! Public performance is, for all intents and purposes, part of the job description these days. And here I thought writers just sat around and wrote books all day? Silly me.

To quote from the article:

"I’m not against readings — there is often no better reality check than standing before a roomful of people and trying to draw them in. And if they do listen (they don’t always, despite appearances), then the ensuing adrenaline rush is surely one of the rare highs of a writer’s life. What worries me is the assumption that writing is easily translatable into public utterance, that one writes precisely in order to go out there and give one’s spiel, that one ought to at all times be ready to reinforce, explain, paraphrase, annotate, justify, or ( just by being in the public gaze) remind the world of what one has said in print. [Emphasis mine.] Judging from the requests that pour into my inbox to address students, launch books and publishing houses, be in public conversation with other writers, conduct workshops, judge competitions, be interviewed, and, of course, read from and talk about my own work, the writer today is public property. Of course, we behave like public property. We announce our publications on our blogs, dissect our work in interviews, smile for the cameras, tweet about… well… everything, travel for launches and book signings. I don’t know of many writers who shun this kind of publicity out of shyness or on principle. I’ve heard of reclusive writers but I personally only know one. So where does that leave us? In danger of imagining writerly existence as a wholly public enterprise when most of us should, in fact, stay silent."

There's more, and it's interesting, so take a look if you're so inclined:

Meanwhile, rumor has it that I have a new book coming out sometime next year, and when it does, will I be doing readings? Of course I will. And counting myself lucky, to boot. We can dream about the good old days, I guess, but they seem to be well and truly passed...

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