I am so lucky to live in a town (or a town neighboring to a town) which values literature and reading so much that each year for the past six years it holds an annual literary festival.
Today began for me with reading for Paul Harding’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel Tinkers. The auditorium was packed and the first thing I learned about Harding, which I did not know before, was that he was a member of Cold Water Flat. I actually remember that I did some sort of promotional thing with them when I was the promotions director of Tower New England. I’m pretty sure I had them (or at least the lead singer) in store at one point and then I also vaguely remember doing some radio station sponsored thing at a recording studio with them (maybe it wasn’t them?). Anyway, just a weird connection.
As for today, Harding was utterly charming and engaging from beginning to end. I got itchy when he said he was going to read for 20 minutes (too long, imo, for most people to read… unless you are Dorothy Allison and can really, really READ and engage and make it a performance) but Harding was terrific and I was completely focused on what he was reading from beginning to end. He was a great and low-key performer. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The Q&A was equally engaging. I was inspired by his story of bringing Tinkers to publication. And then charmed by the description of his revision process which he describes as akin to a roomba vacuum.
Next up for me was the Book Bloggers. They spoke about their beginnings as bloggers and how they established their individual brands but the most important message coming through was how much they all love books. During the Q&A at the end of their session an author (whom I recognized as she is local to the area but will not name here and, really, she has nothing to worry about given the quality of what she writes) said how fearful she is of book bloggers because her publisher has told her she must get in with all of them (paraphrasing) and she feels like a fish out of water. But the bloggers were all very gracious to her and encouraged her to talk to them after.
Finally, I went to see Andre Dubus III at the Unitarian Universalist Church (one of the most beautiful buildings in our town of beautiful buildings). The place was packed and Dubus showed up just a few minutes late (because he’d been shuttling back and forth between his sporting events for his three teenagers) and ran down the aisle at the last minute. Perfect. Townie: A Memoir is a book I very much love and even more so now after hearing Dubus read and speak after reading. When asked about any qualms he might have about writing a memoir, he recalled something his friend and fellow writer Richard Russo asked him, “Are you trying to settle a score by writing it?”
Russo’s point was that if you are trying to settle a score then either don’t write it at all or write it and don’t publish it. Either way, Dubus asked himself that question and found that he was not writing it to settle a score. He simply wanted to tell this story of his hardscrabble youth in Haverhill, MA. What he had not accounted for was how difficult it would be for him to unearth his family secrets. In the end, though, as in with the reader’s experience with the book, it has all proven redemptive.
Just a great day. Can’t wait until next year.