Friday, August 29, 2008

A Chump At Oxford

This is part 3 of my book reading disaster stories. To see parts 1 & part 2 click or scroll down. This one I was going to call, The Night Old Dixie Drove Me Down, but that's misleading, really this one was no one's fault and certainly not the fault of the store, one of the greatest bookshops I've ever had the pleasure to enter: the awesome Square Books, of bucolic Oxford, Mississippi (right)... Anyway, I'm in Oxford, Miss to promote Dead I Well May Be. I visit Faulkner's lovely house and chat with Bill at his final resting place. I had brought a bottle of Old Overholt thinking it would be cute to leave it graveside but about 50 other people had had the same idea and the place was bloody littered with booze bottles so I kept the Old Overholt and took someone's 16 yr Laphroaig which was far too good to be wasted on a dead guy.
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A glass of rye and a glass of whisky and its book reading time. I discover that I'm part of a whole show, with music, other readings, more music etc. Its very exciting and this being Miss they take their literature seriously so the place is packed. I'm looking forward to my bit. I go up on the stage and they're about to cue me when someone tells me to remember that we're being broadcast live on the radio so they can't have any swearing, sex or violence.
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Have you read Dead I Well May Be? Can you find a page without any swearing, sex or violence? What about a paragraph? I walked into the spotlight, 200 smiling faces, dead air. I quickly abandoned the idea of reading the kneecapping sequence from chapter 1. But what could I read? "You're on!" the cue guy whispered. I grabbed the book like a lifebelt and began reading. Time slowed down. Everywhere I turned I saw profanity, sex, murder. It was like the LBJ Whitehouse tapes. The F word as verb, noun, adjective, adverb, subject, object, particple. How could I have written this stuff? I began picking my way through a sentence like a blind man with a dodgy knee in a minefield. I hesitated, I stopped, I searched for alternatives. "'For flip sake Scotchy, you are a fine fellow indeed,' Michael suggested," was one horrific sentence. My invention began to fail me. I began to panic. I started just mumbling through the f bombs and the sex and the violence. The cue guy to the left held up two fingers. Only two minutes to go. Thank God. I mumbled, skipped pages, mumbled some more. Sweat was pouring off me. The audience was silent, perplexed. Surely it must be over. I looked over at the cue guy. Now he was holding up three fingers. Three fingers? I keep reading, now he was holding up four. Oh my God!...It wasn't four minutes to go, I had only be reading for four minutes. I had twenty one minutes to go! Did you ever see Goya's Disasters of War? The guy in the white shirt. That was me, that was.
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I have been told that there is a full audio version of this reading on the internet, but I have never played it and I'm certainly not going to link to it. If your heart is cold you can probably google it and listen...After the reading the people at Square couldnt have been nicer. There was an afterparty, but I took myself to a diner and this time I was the guy in Hopper's Nighthawks. The guy who doesnt get the girl and not as well dressed.