I pack a pannier bag with three each of my books and set out. I go to brunch at the Duck like almost every other Sunday. But then I bike north to Rogers Park. It’s a sunny day. Unseasonably warm, like almost every day this winter. I listen to podcasts as I ride. The most direct route is Loomis to the Loop, then Elston to Cortland to Southport, onto Clark, then Glenwood. But I opt for Racine to Sheridan to Broadway. The Southport route goes past the Music Box, which I take all the time. It’s good to change it up now and then.
I’m going to participate in a reading at a cafe I’ve never been to. Wes invited me. I’m not invited to anything often so I tend to say yes more often than no when it happens. My feeling about book readings is ambivalent at best. especially ones that I’m a part of. I’m not a performer so it feels wrong to take up room on a stage. But like I said I don’t turn down invitations and there’s a chance I could sell some books. So I’m going.
Wes tells me I’ll have about twenty minutes so I print out a letter from the new thing I’m working on and three pieces from old books. They’re sequenced in reverse chronological order. I’ll be taking listeners backwards through time. It’s a kind of variety pack sampler of my preoccupations. Bartending, cab life, making art, and failed relationships. They’ll hopefully have a good sense if my books are anything they want to mess with.
I’ve never spent much time worrying about an audience. For decades it wasn’t even an issue since, as a painter, I didn’t have one. I had occasional buyers, but they weren’t watching any part of the process and weren’t expected to respond in real time. Listeners at literary events aren’t responding to a thing being made either unless it’s an improvised performance. What they get is a weird audio recreation of a thing meant to be read silently in their heads while alone. This is what I always get hung up on with readings. I’ve never written anything calculated to be heard aloud.
On the other hand, reading work in progress out loud has been part of my editing process since the first book. A wise editor named Erin Dewitt told me to do that and I’ve been reading paragraphs out loud in empty rooms ever since. It helps to hear how the rhythm of words works or doesn’t work. Reading to others feels weird, unnatural. Aside from bedtime stories it’s not a thing I can easily integrate in my mind. There will always be an element of it that feels wrong. Like I’m misusing the thing I made. It’s a different sort of communication than this amateur oratory.
The cafe is on a quiet strip of Loyola blocked from the bustle of the university and L stop by train tracks. I dead end into them when looking for the place. The woman who runs the cafe knows my name from the Rainbo Club. Says she read one of my books. I think she’s the ex-girlfriend of one of the former longtime bartenders. Small world. The little back room is filling up. I lay out my merch next to Wes’s. He introduces me to a woman whose name I instantly forget. I’m terrible with names. He introduces me to a few others. Rae shows up. And Kathleen and Eric. I see Jas poke his head in after Wes has started reading/playing. He has a friend accompany him on bass and piano, and plays guitar and sings when not reading.
I get through it the best I can. People seem to enjoy it okay. A few come up to talk after. I sell seven books.
Here’s a so-so recording of what it was like.
The Mute Duo record I made art for is up for presale. Happy with the way this one turned out and it’s beautiful music. Pick one up before they’ve all flown the coop. In the meantime, look at a bunch of the process images that went into it.
Mallory and I talked about The Amityville Horror and the even greater horror of sequels.
Also: Cocaine Bear.