Sunday, May 22, 2011
Author Jim Shepard's Author Reading
May 17, 2011
ELLIOT BAY BOOK STORE
Short version: University Professor fails.
He was once nominated for the National Book Award in 2007. AuthorJim Shepard made an appearance tonight to promote his new collection of short stories “You Think That’s Bad”
After the introduction the author took the stage leaving only one question: Was this guy serious? Really? This is how an esteemed English Professor acts?
Worse of all, the good professor’s reading was the kind of performance that makes it tough to get excited about promoting these events. That is not to say that the reading was a complete loss but the good things too few and far between.
Maybe he was trying to channel Northwest Short story master Raymond Carver. Most authors are inclined to dress at least a little like a professional for an author reading. It can only be imagined that Mr. Shepard figured that the best way to blend into Seattle was to dig out the ancient grunge rocker,flannel shirt his wife has tried several times to throw away.
Professor Shepard started the reading with the standard formula “I’m going to read a little, answer a few questions and then sign some books okay?” Which is fine but then most authors will set the stage by providing some kind of background for the audience to hear. Instead he jumps right into a section from the story, “Boys Town.” Now often times, jumping into a story with no introduction is a great technique for setting the evenings tone.
It did not, however, work tonight.
Even in this modern era, it is still bad manners for an author, at least an author reading in a public business, to not give his audience the common courtesy of announcing that tonight’s reading selection will contain as many F-Bombs as a Martin Scorsese movie. He could have even offered a radio edit, or have chosen a less colorful selection. Instead Mr. Shepard selection was a potty mouthed display of immaturity that came across like a school boy sneaking cigarettes from his stepdad.
The reading selection is written from the point of view of a thirty nine year old man, still living at home, mentally still craving Gerber food and treating his mother as if she were his trailer park bride resulting from a shot gun wedding.
The story’s narrator is a disturbing dysfunctional character with little hope and little depth but before the audience can get into the story or begin to get a feeling for the story’s purpose Wham! Mr. Shepard shuts the book and starts taking questions.
This made the Q & A and the rest of the evening difficult. With such a short reading and the author’s failure to introduce the story, the audience has so little information it was impossible to gain traction on what topics might make for an interesting questions.
There were few audience members familiar with his work and this created an awkward evening full of general questions to an unfamiliar author. In this instance, some authors will frame an evening into a theme that guides the audience questions. This would have saved Mr. Shepard from answering such questions as “What do you see college kids reading on campus these days: Twilight?” Thank God we were in the basement or I might have jumped a window. It does however bring up another point.
Williams College, one the highest ranking liberal art colleges in America, and to have such and esteemed faculty member in town was special. It was inspiring to hear Mr. Shepard express his love of books and for teaching. He was honest about his position in the lexicon of literature and how freeing it is to work on the short story form compared to the novel. He spoke of how the much time and research was still required to produce one short story. He also made the valid point that all stories/novels should be read aloud by the writer before publication. These were the enjoyable parts of the evening,