Hello again! This is turning out to be a busy week. With the release of my debut novel, In Between Days, last week, I'm now embarking on my first set of readings. Last night I read at BookPeople Bookstore in Austin, tomorrow I'll be reading at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, and Thursday I'll be reading at Trinity University in San Antonio.
I've always enjoyed doing readings, and even though it's a little nerve racking to read from a new work for the first time, it's also very exciting. In some ways, I think thatthe reading tour is like the reward at the end of the journey, the gift for all the hard work you've done.
Of course, I know that a lot of writers don't feel this way, that many consider the reading tour an onerous duty that they have to endure. But for me it's never felt this way. There's an inherent thrill in reading your work out loud, in sharing the words you've written in a public setting, in talking with people afterward about your intentions, your struggles, your goals. In most cases, the people you encounter at readings are strangers — people who may be only vaguely familiar with your work — and oftentimes the things they want to talk about are surprising and unexpected. They may see something in your work that you've never considered before, or they may want to talk to you about some aspect of your work — say, a small detail or a minor character — that you hadn't given a lot of thought to previously. In some ways, I think that these public (or sometimes private) conversations are the vehicle that allows you, the writer, to understand what it is you've made.
With my first book, The Theory of Light and Matter, for example, I gave close to 60 readings over the course of about three years, and by the time I got to the end of that final reading, I felt like I could talk about almost any aspect of that book at great length. By that point, I had met with college students, middle-school students, book groups; I had sat on panels, given lectures, read at bookstores and universities. In short, I had been forced to talk again and again about each and every story in the book and also about the book as a whole. I had been forced to explain my artistic decisions, to elaborate on certain thematic elements, to reflect on my own method of writing, to contemplate my own literary tastes and inclinations. To use an academic metaphor, it was kind of like going through a three-year thesis defense, only the questions being asked weren't contentious. They came from people who were genuinely interested in me and in learning more about my work. More importantly, through the process of answering them I was able to finally understand what this book meant to me and, ultimately, who I was as a writer.
Sadly, I won't be doing nearly as many readings this time around. I have an 11-month-old daughter now, and traveling with my wife to various parts of the country to give readings is suddenly a lot more daunting. On top of that, reading tours in general are kind of on the decline. With the rise of social media, fewer and fewer writers are hitting the road to promote their books. It's a lot easier and cheaper these days to use vehicles like Twitter and Facebook, as well as literary websites and blogs, to spread the word about your work. It's a simple issue of cost and reward, I suppose, and one that I've come to accept. Still, I'm very much looking forward to the readings I will be giving and to the conversations I'll be having afterward. It's through these conversations that I hope to finally understand, as I did with my first book, what it is I've made.
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Andrew Porter is the author of the story collection The Theory of Light and Matter, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award, and the novel In Between Days. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he has received a Pushcart Prize and a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.
Books mentioned in this post
Andrew Porter is the author of In Between Days