“Ready to rock?” I overhear from behind me. “Rock!”
Adam Levin drove up from Chicago for a 7 PM reading Mon. Oct. 25th at Boswell Book Company on the East Side of Milwaukee. He wears a hoodie and jeans with crew cut hair and black glasses. Think of an in-shape Seth Rogan or a less-obese Jonah Hill or fit character actor. He appears to be not unlike an ever-friendly grad student TA.
He introduces himself: “I’m Adam. This is my book. It made someone collapse.” This is in reference to remarks made by the bookseller who introduced him who mentioned that the store’s book buyer, upon reaching the 700 page range, “collapsed” from his reading load for this week. The buyer is fine. He is later seen being introduced to Adam Levin while handing over a red copy to be autographed.
Adam Levin babbles. He says that a theater person told him to babble so the audience would get used to him. He babbles about this advice.
Adam Levin reads from the beginning of The Instructions. He starts with page one.
Adam Levin’s voice is a dude’s voice, albeit a lettered dude. He’s a chill hipster bro. He speaks with the broad A’s native to Midwestern vowels. It’s a quietly rhythmic reading, a sober beat poet reading to an unheard syncopated beat. He’s a friendly, relaxed guy, the kind you’d meet at a sports bar. In his voice there’s a hint of phlemgm, the throaty quality of recovering smokers. He later mentions during the Q&A that he quit smoking ten weeks ago.
“ab-ti-KISS-sik” he says in quick syllables. “dess-SORE-mee.”
He leans on the podium and sways side to side, a mild flailing as he reads about the waterboardings. His voice and swaying form an incantatory shokeling. His feet do a wallflower’s lingering dance of weight shifts, loitering in place.
As he moves on to a second selection, he suggests the audience prepare questions. Noting an anti-spoiler stance, he continues on with the section about Gurian and Judah’s breakfast conversation.
There are laughs from the small audience throughout the reading.
He responds amicably to post-reading questions from the audience. He “hopes that a typical non-fiction reader would like” the book. He notes that he’s “not trying to appeal to Americans” deliberately and that he “want to thrill them [the people who love fiction].” He says “No. I don’t think I’m the messiah. As a child, I thought I was at certain points.”
“It was longer when I turned it in,” he says. His editor at McSweeney’s read the complete manuscript in a reported nine days. His
editor then went on to help line edit the manuscript four times over 18 months.
Responding to a question about workshopping, he answers that the first few hundred pages were part of his Syracuse thesis under George Saunders. However, The Instructions was not workshopped. He goes on to say he’s “big on first chapters being workshopped” but not novels.
Adam Levin’s autograph: the title page of my blue copy of The Instructions now has the author’s name struck out by a black sharpie line. Immediately below the struck-out name are the handwritten capital letters L E V I N.
Robert is a recovering Bushwick hipster. He lives in Milwaukee, WI. Follow him on Twitter here.