Last night was the big Rumpus event in New York. Ticket sales were looking slow, mostly because I’ve been spending all my energy promoting my book. So I went through Twitter, asking all the people I follow and who follow me or The Rumpus to mention The Rumpus event in their feed. Monday evening we had sold 112 tickets but over 300 people showed up Tuesday night at the event. A Twitter tsunami of mentions sold half the tickets last night, or at least 100. So the key to social networking? Be nice to people and don’t ask for too much. Or something like that.
But maybe I should have asked them to Twitter The Adderall Diaries instead?
It was one hell of a lineup, and AC Newman from The New Pornographers made a surprise appearance. There was Todd Barry and Eugene Mirman. In the green room there was talk about Bolano and Sebald, and this morning Rick Moody got me thinking about connecting readers, widening the conversation. Which reminded me of the reading I did in a living room on the outskirts of Richmond to 20 people who had never been to a literary event before, and how fun that was, how full of life.
It makes me want to start a Rumpus discussion board. No, maybe a book club. A Rumpus editor could choose a book each month. But there would have to be a mandate. No conflict of interest, you can’t know the author. And the book has to be available in paperback. And ideally it shouldn’t be a book everybody’s heard of already. Something like that. There’s too much favoritism, too much insider baseball, too many friends reviewing friend’s books. It’s happened on The Rumpus at times, when no one was watching. And then the world of books becomes a clubhouse, a small dark room, and everyone’s sitting around in a towel with their mouths open and a tiny pool of sweat in their belly buttons. And the room gets quieter, our lungs like tubes being squeezed. Everything feels tighter and hotter and the world outside gets larger and further away.
Then, following the event, there was an after party but it was really just a bunch of people in a bar. It cost four dollars for a cranberry and soda. Starlee Kine and David Rees were there and I left them for a bit because I wanted to dance with anybody and when I came back Starlee had told David my life story and David said he was much more interested in me now, and I believed that I would also be interested in knowing who I was as seen through the eyes of Starlee Kine. Perhaps I should have stuck around longer, but instead I grabbed my roller bag full of books and slipped out the door.
I will say this, after giving readings in people’s living rooms, trying to convince them to buy my book, hand selling one at a time, and staying in their homes on their couch or air mattress or extra room, it was very easy to get in front of 300 people and introduce performers and tell jokes. It was absurdly easy. I was saying this is someone I respect deeply, someone whose art has moved me. It’s a comfort to shine a light on someone. And part of why I started The Rumpus is because I’m a chronic recommender of things I enjoy.
Last night I did a reading at Anna David‘s home in Manhattan. Well, not Anna’s home, but her friend’s home, who lives in the same building, and whose apartment has more of an open floor plan. There were homemade cookies. The attendees were bordering on absurdly good looking and stylish (these are only pictures of women and they make me look like a pimp, the men left earlier, but I can assure you the men were also very good looking). As usual I wore a t-shirt and blue jeans. An interesting thing about this reading was that Anna hadn’t read the book yet but wanted to host a party anyway. A risk taker!
It was the first “home reading” I’d done in someone’s home in a while. In Bethel I read in a cafe and Hudson was a bookstore and an art gallery, Rosendale was a diner, kind of. I enjoyed those readings in different ways and especially liked the people hosting the events, but there is simply no substitute for giving a reading in a person’s living room, people on couches asking interesting questions, glasses of wine. Last night’s event started at 8pm and, like many home readings, continued past midnight.
You spend years and countless hours crafting a narrative. If you’re like me, then you’re writing to connect. To sit in a living room with an interesting group of people discussing the work feels like an extension of the writing in a way that reading in a bookstore doesn’t, and when they read the book I think our conversation will enhance the experience. Imagine people lounging around the bookstore until midnight getting drunk, going outside for a smoke, making out in their car, then coming back to the bookstore to continue a discussion on identity, memory, and the elusiveness of truth.
As a group we talked about what it means to be honest in a memoir, the temptation to come to false conclusions, and the importance, at least to me, of resisting that urge to give the reader what the reader may want. For example, nobody wants to read a memoir about drugs that finishes with, “I cut down.” You can write a commercial work and sell a bunch of books, but only art endures. The false memoir will not endure. Or at least that’s what I choose to believe.
When you do a reading in a person’s home you really meet people, get to know who they are and what’s important to them. Last night I spoke for a long time with a criminal defense lawyer who used to be a prosecutor. At one point he published a novel and quit his job to write full time, but then realized that when you write full time it’s your job, so he went back to practicing law. Recently he defended a client whose alibi was bolstered by his Facebook status updates. The Facebook defense.
Here’s a couple of things: To write about oneself honestly is to present a character so complex and inconsistent that s/he couldn’t be contained in even the best novel. Further, no one holds up under a microscope.
Following the reading I walked down 7th Avenue. I found Anthony Swofford sitting in an Irish bar with a small group of barflys whittling away his Monday night. I don’t know what we talked about, but we laughed a lot. I know I told him about the woman I made out with in Ft. Lauderdale who wanted a free book and how, because we were making out, I thought she should buy it. “You’re both whores,” Tony said. “You needed a John.”
An hour later I was pulling my roller bag (I always bring too many books. Optimism?) down 14th back to where I was staying. It was quiet for Manhattan, but it wasn’t quiet for anywhere else. It was a well lit darkness. And I thought at one in the morning New York made sense.