Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Loneliness of the Literary Reading

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I have had three stops on the book tour so far — one in Edmonton, one in Banff, one in Calgary. I have used the same material. In Edmonton, we were in a bar and I didn't begin speaking until about 8:30. The drinkers in the crowd had already taken two drinks, and they were rowdy. In Banff, where The Book of Stanley takes place, I was in a public library, where raising one's voice feels like an ugly provocation. In Calgary, I was in a bookstore restaurant. While I spoke, staff crushed ice for smoothies and called out to one another: "Can I get a double espresso, short?" and "Oh my God, shut up?"

The best setting, by far, was the bar. People hollered, said, "Woo!" and laughed and called out to me as I spoke, as though I were in their kitchen. This is the great freedom of the literary event: unlike theatre or cinema or opera or dance, an audience can drink as they enjoy the performance. Of course, alcoholism is a nasty disease and I'm not advocating for excessive consumption. But a couple of glasses of wine before an author reads a goofy essay, or a jolly section of his or her novel? Atmospheric perfection.

Literary readings have a bad reputation. They can be stiff, boring, uncomfortable. Authors are introverts, generally, and many of them suffer from mild obsessive compulsive disorder. A reading can be a festival of neurosis, a nighmare of together-loneliness, like being stuck in the elevator with that man from accounting who doesn't talk. It can also, at its best, be a bit wild. Nervous energy, unleashed, is a powerful thing.

I'm not going to be satisfied, as an author, until someone takes off all his or her clothes in the middle of a literary reading — and it doesn't have to be my literary reading. Of course, they may be my clothes.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Todd Babiak

Todd Babiak is the author of the bestselling novel The Garneau Block (McClelland & Stewart, 2006) and the award-winning novel Choke Hold (Turnstone, 2000). His latest novel is The Book of Stanley (McClelland & Stewart, 2007).

Go to Todd Babiak’s Author Page