After reading this McSweeneys piece yesterday (I know, enough with that site!) I was reminded of the time I saw John Hodgman speak, a.k.a. my all-time favorite book reading.
In general, I'm not a huge fan of readings. I don't especially care about meeting an author or finding out what they're like, and I don't harbor any pretensions that I'm going to get some clues about how their mind works. Plus, most of the time these authors aren't exactly the most socially-gifted people in the world, and seeing them in person can actually turn you off from the experience of reading them. I still haven't been able to read Marisha Pessl's "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" after her dry, uninspired reading at a bar in the East Village.
Although there are definitely exceptions, they usually seem qualified in some way. I've really enjoyed the two times I've seen Jennifer Egan speak, but I can't shake the feeling that it may have more to do with the searing crush I developed on her than any particular reading talent on her part (though, of course, she's an amazing writer regardless ) .
I liked hearing Chris Abani speak as well, but what I remember from that reading was not so much the story as it was the bizarre explanation that he wrote what may be the "great transvestite novel" weekday mornings in a Starbucks in Southern California. I also liked Sean Wilsey, but, while he was indeed funny and engaging, what was most memorable was his (very loud) use of the word "motherfucker" during a crowded reading in a Park Slope Barnes & Noble.
Back to John Hodgman.
The one thing he has that so few authors do is a true performative element to his reading. When I saw him tour for the paperback version of "The Areas of My Expertise," the reading featured guitar-playing (along with a theme-appropriate song), a tape deck, consistently funny stories that weren't just rehashed version from the book, and a free gift of "hobo chalk" for the members of the audience!
The highlight of the night came near the end, when he said that he would take some questions from the audience. Due to the "extreme discomfort" caused by this "level of intimacy," Hodgman distributed walkie-talkies to the audience so that they could ask their questions through it and provide a buffer. Of course, they ended up being cheap, ineffective walkie-talkies and while audience members tried to get them to work, everyone else was screaming with laughter at the absurd premise combined with Hodgman's laconic responses: "Are you holding the button down?" "Try holding it up to your mouth." And so on.
Anyway, by taking the time to make his reading something more than it needed to be, Hodgman created an amazing environment and probably sold a lot more copies, too. A year later, I still talk about that reading all the time and definitely still recommend that book to my friends.
So, that's my favorite reading. Anyone else have an especially memorable reading that stuck with them?