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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007 2:27 pm
Book Events Have Bleacher Bums, Too
Posted by: Keir Graff

Bob Hoover, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s book editor, claims that audience behavior at several of the readings he attended recently ”reached the anarchy of the multiplex movie crowd” (“Book News: It’s a new ballgame at literary events“). I find the analogy a tiny bit strained–did anyone shout “Don’t go in there”? and is eating french fries actually anarchic?–but I won’t argue that the audiences were out of line:

Maybe it started at the George Saunders’ reading Oct. 1 with the guy in front of me eating french fries and passing them around to his friends while the author read on earnestly.

The scene was the Frick Fine Arts auditorium for Pitt’s Contemporary Writers Series, so we give the kid a pass because he’s a college student and he don’t know no better.

It went from fries to a little black dog at the Heinz Fiction Prize ceremony Oct. 17 at the Frick. After I sat down for winner Kirk Nesset’s reading, I heard a muffled yip behind me and, sure enough, two women had brought Fifi along for the festivities.

I’m not sure if the pooch was fed from the reception table after the talk.

Now, in a long career of hearing authors, I can say I got to hear a dog, too.

The next day, I was privileged to hear a cell-phone conversation as Ellen Litman read from her debut novel, “The Last Chicken in America,” at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library.

That’s right. Not only did a woman sitting in the first row forget to turn the thing off, as is customary and polite, she then answered it and chatted for a while as a clearly distracted Litman carried on.

Have an example of similarly bad behavior at an author reading? Please share.

I’ll go first: last Thursday, at the launch party for My Fellow Americans, as I was reading a particularly tense passage in which the protagonist is tortured, I was interrupted by the screams of two young children behind me. Enraged, I whirled around, ready to deliver an eloquent, authorial tongue-lashing to…my own sons.

Sometimes even the author can’t get a babysitter.


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