Poor Russell Smith. In an article on "Virtual Culture" entitled “Admit it. Reading doesn’t work as a spectator sport” - Globe & Mail Feb. 24 '05- he says "Writers of my acquaintance are being increasingly frank about public literary readings....one finds them long and boring...one simply can't pay attention." Russell adds "This doesn't mean we don't like literature. We like reading ourselves...grew fond of books in childhood and associate the pleasure with solitude."
I think poor Russell never had parents who read to him as a child. I like reading alone also. It would be awful to not be able to read unless the author read to you-intellectual property run rampant- but who says it has to be one or the other. Can't we enjoy both? A poetry reading last year put on by my women's group was a moving experience. The author's voice- in both senses of the word- really came through in her reading.
May I speak to you directly Russell? You ask what pleasures audiences get from readings. A "reading" is a different experience from that silent activity we also call reading. Rather I think like the difference between listening to U2 or Bare Naked Ladies or Natalie McMaster on CD and going to a live performance.
I enjoy readings when the writing is good and the author delivers his work in an expressive way. I think you have been to far too many bad readings. You say that "authors pick poetic rather than gripping passages to read and often don't read with much expression or drama." Of all the readings I have been to - probably not as many as you have Russell but quite a number- there have only been a few times I have been disappointed by the author's delivery. When I heard Robertson Davies read some of his work it was memorable. I agree if the author is not expressive it does change the quality of the event but why not just say that? Why pan the whole experience?
"The older I get" you say "the less patience I have for passive listening- I am distracted by everyone around me, by what they are wearing, and where they are sitting , wondering if we are going to be late for dinner..." etc, etc.etc. How do you manage a concert, a symphony playing Mozart, or an Opera, a ballet, or a show like Mama Mia or Rent? Most of us learn in grade school to extend our attention span so we can get past, nay ENJOY, these hurdles of "passive listening" as we get older. I'm sure you have no problem with those things really.
I think what you are saying-not very well if you are a writer, Russell- is that you don't like the marketing hype surrounding these events but ironically your lack of attention leads me to believe you are there for the wrong reason yourself. If you don't want to hear the "reading" why are you there? I suspect you are there for the very thing you decry- the celebrity factor. And when it isn't there you and the other "writers of your acquaintance" get bored.
I think you have to get out, Russell, away from your high powered writer friends perhaps, out to the boonies where perhaps people go to readings because they really want to hear the author read their works and aren't there just to hob- nob with celebs, flirt and chat and drink beer.