Thursday, March 10, 2011

Connie Willis Book Tour Review


University Book Store

The short version: The good, the bad and the ugly was all seen tonight.

Author Connie Willis graced University Books with her presence this evening to promote her newest book "All Clear." When someone enshrined in the Science Fiction Writing Hall of Fame comes to town it is best to arrive early. The audience packed in one hour before Ms. Willis is to take the stage. Strangers start conversations asking what books they have read or if they have seen Ms. Willis speak before. This seems promising.

Ms. Willis arrives on time and chats with some audience members. The large crowd arriving is causing a delay and University Books, Sci-Fi book buyer, Duane, is doing his best imitation of Sampson by moving whole bookshelves and setting up more chairs for the growing crowd.

Normally an author on book tour would speak about the book; say a little something about what is was about and even read a selection or two.


The Good

Ms. Willis is an interesting lady and it is easy to see why the audience is expecting great things. She comes across as an experienced speaker deep, irreverent, funny, satirical and for the most part thoughtful. I like the fact that she is still involved with the writing community by virtue of her willingness to teach writing courses and seminars. (Check Richard Hugo House in June)

Tonight she talks about tabloid politics, watching cable news, Astronomy, quotes Chekov on books, the academic work of Donald Norman, the trouble with the Kindle and all e-book readers and her love of the television show Prime Evil. The best parts might have been about the e-book readers.
She espoused a love for the physical book in a beautiful romantic manner. She spoke of how paper bound books create an attachment in a way that electronic books cannot.

She draws comparisons of e-book readers to Netflix. She states that although the Kindle holds several works. . Much the same way people forget why they ordered a movie on Netflix, E-readers, can forget the book and by the time a person gets around to reading a particular book they might forget why they downloaded it in the first place and dump the novel off into cyberspace rendering the book meaningless unlike a cherished copy of a book once owned by a family member or given as a gift.

She addresses the complaints by her fans, who have told her they can’t finish books on Kindle because saying the lose interest in the novel. With a physical novel, the reader’s progress and finale is visually clear. In the opinion of Ms. Willis, the Kindle falls short in this regard, and detaches the reader further from the novel. She gives the examples based on the work of Donald Norman. It’s an interesting anecdote. She is not preaching, rather just addressing the differences/challenges with the new media.

The Bad.

This was supposed to be a reading. Not one moment did she promote her book, read her book or talk about her book. The audience was full of fans happy to be in the same room with her on a Friday evening. They laughed, smiled and went along with everything that Ms. Wills discussed. For them it was pure entertainment; the opportunity to be in the same room with a hero and lacking of expectations.

This bothers me in general and not specifically to just Ms. Willis. Sometimes the author can become so large and has been on reading tour so much that they change subjects just to keep from getting bored. Maybe writers assume their audience has heard it all before. Perhaps they have become complacent in their thoughts and work. It’s hard to say that is what Ms. Willis was thinking, but it felt like she wanted to speak of anything but her newest work.

If tonight’s reading would have been advertised, Author Connie Willis Talks about Whatever is on Her Mind and Not Her Newest Book. It would have been more honest.

The Ugly.

This is difficult. I took time and thought about this. Let’s be clear, Ms. Willis believed she was talking to her deep devoted fans. I realize she thought she was joking or at least making an attempt at humor to a room full of her base but it wasn’t funny. This night Ms. Willis said something so outrageous that it would have shocked and even angered the average person.

I won’t repeat the comment. It only adds fuel to a conflagration of American politics.

Even more appalling Ms. Willis followed her “joke” by threatening the audience “and if this comment shows up on your websites I’m going to be really mad.”

Well then don’t say it and if you do then don’t threaten to your fans. In light of the public anger being carried over to congresswomen getting a mature woman like Ms. Willis should know words have power; they also have consequences. The “joke” or wry comment said in the living room among friends does not work at a public reading where mixed company could be offended and can kill a book sale, hurt the store and most of all, incite violence.

Drunk, stoned or sober (she was very sober) public figures and authors especially, should know that you own your words when spoken in public. An intelligent deep thinking woman like Ms. Willis, who teaches the craft of writing, should know the power of words and know how to edit herself.

Tonight there was at least one fan recording the whole reading and it could end up on You Tube. Trust me I know it was meant to be a wry comment but it was very poor taste. Repeating it here, might even endanger Ms. Willis by some deranged idiot unable to separate truth from purely insensitive comment. It was one comment, stated early in her talk but it ruined a decent evening. I came to hear an author talk about her book. I left with ten minutes left before the Q & A started, because I had enough.