Last Friday, I attended a reading for the 50th issue of the literary magazine, sparkle + blink, at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Inside the huge museum workshop, the audience perched on printing rollers, peered into exhibitions of handmade books, and leaned against stacks of old-fashioned rubber stamps in a dizzying array of fonts and illustrations. Twenty different types of ampersands and an elephant arranged into a puzzle. My inner child was eager to toy with this old-fashioned form of print. The room buzzed with dozens of people tinkering, talking, drinking. Kegs of Lagunitas beer kept the crowd happily laid-back, and our “Captain” took us on a flight of imagination in between short eclectic readings by talented writers.
Gone are the days of stepping into a quiet bookstore to read to a crowd of seven, six of which already know the author. Not to say I don’t love bookstores and libraries–because really they are a second home to me–but with so many forms of entertainment competing for attention, writers need find a way to break through the buzz. Try something new, surprising, child-like.
Yes, I mean child-like. Remember when “going to a reading” meant sitting on your parents lap in a nest of stuffed animals or a colorful library play area or a grassy patch in Golden Gate Park. Whatever happened to creating an imaginative space for adults? I’m not saying ditch the bookstore; I’m saying liven up the typical “reading” atmosphere.
A couple weeks ago, I attended another reading for author Lemony Snicket and illustrator Lisa Brown at the Booksmith, a Haight Street iconic bookstore. They presented their new children’s picture book, 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy. During the event, dozens of kids and adults alike stood in line for a cup of “Melancholy Sour Phosphate,” while children hopped around on a furry green blanket. During the reading, audience members took a ridiculous quiz for their “pharmacy” needs and received a “prescription” from Lemony in his white lab coat (i.e. to cure all maladies, buy my book). I know it’s all marketing hoop-ha, but really how else can small readings reach beyond established fans and friends to broaden their audience? How can readings reach beyond the literary scene? How can readings reach that inner child, eager for the land of imagination?
Get creative. You’re a writer after all.