Inspired by a convo over at Detectives Beyond Borders this is the start of a little series I'm going to post about the worst book readings I've ever done. (The relevance of the picture will become clear at the end). Over the years I've had quite a few memorable readings that have been humiliating or disastrous or both. A while ago someone published an anthology of authors recounting their worst writing experiences. When I read the book I laughed at the chutzpah of Stephen King complaining about geting an early morning phone call from Stanley Kubrick or Martin Amis whingeing that only 4 people had showed up for one of his readings. How about no one coming to your reading? FOR THREE EVENTS IN A ROW. How about no one coming to your reading in your home town? How about having no one come but a homeless person in out of the cold? How about having a book store owner's daughter impersonate a fan so that at least there was one person in the audience? How about getting big footed and metaphorically shat upon by a famous Irish novelist at a joint reading? How about getting booed in a bar because I was reading too loudly while the Yankees game was on? Four people at your reading? you'll have to do better than that my friend. Anyway, here's the first of my nightmare stories. I'm calling it:
The Boston Heckler
Ever been heckled at a book reading? Well I have. The time: oh about 7:15. The place: Boston, Massachusetts. I'm in town to read from my book The Dead Yard. Decent crowd. A dozen people. Front row, a guy in a leather jacket, ripped jeans, twitchy. I knew there could be trouble because Boston is a pro IRA town and The Dead Yard gently suggests that the tiny faction of the IRA who rejected the 1999-2004 peace agreements are probably crazy. My plan was to read only from chapter 1 which avoids politics and is about a football riot in Spain. The book opens with this line: "Dawn over the turquoise shore of Africa and here under the fractured light of a street lamp, brought to Earth like some hurricaned palm, I woke before the supine ocean, admist a sea of glass and upturned bus stands and the wreck of cars and looted stores. The streets of Playa de las Americas were flowing with beer and black sewage and blood."
"What does all that mean!" Mr Mad Jacket yelled.
I ignored him, carried on reading.
"What are you talking about?" he persisted.
"It's a book reading, I'm reading a novel," I explained.
"I don't like Africa," he countered.
It was now obvious to me that the man was not quite right in the head.
I continued reading chapter 1. He lulled me into a false sense of security for five minutes before wondering: "Who are you to stand up there and lecture us?"
"They invited me to talk," I said firmly and already my fight or flight response had kicked in. He stood up. I closed the book. It was the hard back so I knew it might make a handy weapon.
"You can't tell me what to do!" he said.
"I wouldn't dream of it," I replied.
He made a fist and shook it. This was a Barnes and Noble so they had security but security were off arresting elderly shoplifters or something. The man then began a long diatribe that seemed to have only tangential relevance to the subject of me or books or anything really. Several times he mentioned The Government, then he grabbed the back of his chair, I grabbed the book...
Actually, speaking of tangents, here's one: One Christmas when I was working at the Barnes and Noble at 82nd and Broadway an elderly homeless lady died in a chair. My friend Scott and I were on the information desk and we got the tip from a member of the public. Scott, I think, went over and touched her and realised she was dead. We told security and they told the manager and her solution was to keep the store open and ignore the dead lady. Paramedics game, ascertained she was dead and refused to take her away. B&N was making money hand over fist, so our manager threw a sheet over the lady and kept the store open while we waited for the undertakers. They finally showed up at 1o o'clock at night and by that time mortis had set in. They had to carry her out still in the chair. Everyone did that New York thing of not noticing, but how B&N kept the scandal out of the papers I'll never know. And creepy, immoral, an example of unbridled capitalism out of step with the spirit of Christmas? Aye, all that stuff.
What was I talking about? Ah yeah, the heckler. Oh he got fed up heckling and wandered off. I finished the reading and sold zero books. Stay tuned for another reading debacle coming to a blog near you.