There is a person I follow on Twitter, whom I like, and last night they remarked that though they've given a lot of readings themselves, they have no idea what the point of them is. My understanding was that they were speaking generally, rather than regarding their own experience. I understand the point being made, but there's more to get into. Reading will bore you out of your mind, because they are usually conducted by an awkward, non-dynamic person who has, at best, a mediocre work that is like many other mediocre works. People tend to read too slowly, there is no merit in the material, and there is no way that the audience is going to be galvanized. But that doesn't mean that someone else couldn't give people an experience of their lifetime at a reading. At all of their readings. What if you were funny, and you were entertaining when you spoke before you read, and you made people laugh and think and seem to lean forward further in their chairs with every word? What if you said things that changed, right then and there, how they might see a book, or the world, or the person sitting next to them? And what if that was but the exordium, and then you read something that no one other writer could touch, and you had a great voice, and you read like you were making music? What then? Seems to me that that reading would have a great deal of point to it.
The ghost story writer M.R James, at Christmastime, would invite colleagues, and some students, into his rooms at King's College in the 1890s. There was a group called the Chit-Chat Club, and a yearly highlight for members was hearing James read aloud from one of the ghost stories he had just written. If you don't know M.R. James, he's usually cited as the finest ghost story writer we have. I've written about him quite a bit, even if I don't quite agree with the designation. I'd take E.F. Benson, personally. Now, those were readings to go to! Can't question the point to those. Ditto Dickens, when he toured behind A Christmas Carol. But realize, Dickens is working with the Carol, not some slop out of an MFA program in Iowa. And Dickens is throwing himself into this, he's working up into a froth, he's doing the voices, he's pounding the table. Dickens reading from the Carol was a bit like seeing Metallica in 1991 or Berlioz conducting his own music because no one else could do it justice. I was going to say Stravinsky, but some people think that Stravinsky made his music worse when he conducted it. I don't agree--sure, it could be somewhat Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but so long as you didn't die, who wouldn't want to ride sometimes with Toad? He was an exciting motorist.
I've done hardly any readings, because, of course, the situation. I remember one I did do, I had this anecdote about the Earl of Rochester, King Charles II, and a stolen shipment of dildos, which aggrieved the Earl greatly, that I told in setting up this story in Between Cloud and Horizon called "Dare Me to Breathe." And everyone laughed their asses off. There was a lot of point to that reading. It was an experience, a life experience, not merely "a reading." That's always the trick of it, though, isn't it? You have to give people a life experience. Even with sports, the most special games, are life experiences. They're not just games. Usually a game is just a game. The Bruins beat the Rangers 4-2. Just a game. But sometimes they're more. And by more, I don't mean because it's a championship-deciding game. I mean because of life stuff that happens within the framework of the game.
We have no audio of M.R. James reading his ghost stories, but here is Michael Horden reading "A Warning to the Curious." I wrote about this story for I think it was The Daily Beast or maybe it was Salon, I don't know, and Horden plays Marley in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, which of course I am writing a book on, that will come out in autumn of next year.