As I wandered around the library recently, browsing the ‘just returned’ and the ‘new titles’ shelves, I spotted a couple if books that had been on my mental ‘to read’ list ever since going to the authors’ readings. One of my favourite cultural activities is attending author readings and discussion sessions, sometimes as part of a literary festival, sometimes as standalone events. My actually having read any work from a particular author before an event is not a pre-requisite. Indeed, going along to hear a reading or an interview is often a fantastic way to get into a new writer. I have often added a new author to my repertoire on the strength of an interesting evening of extracts and bookish discussion. I can highly recommend putting the literary cart before the horse, so to speak. Although, I have to say that I’ve rarely been disappointed when I’ve done it the other way round and gone along to listen to one of my favourite authors.
The regular Dún Laoghaire Rathdown ‘Library Voices’ series of readings and talks has often proved to be a very fruitful source of inspiration in the never ending search for new authors. From these events, I have acquired (so to speak) Peter Carey and Alex Miller, though I have also taken the chance to listen to old favourites such as Joanna Trollope and Audrey Niffenegger. The Peter Carey event featured a reading from his latest book The Chemistry of Tears and when I later went on to read the book I could hear Carey’s voice in my head telling the story. I probably would have enjoyed the book anyway, but I think that having heard Carey discuss his work piqued my interest. As it turned out, I read 30 days in Sydney: A Wildly Distorted Account before coming to The Chemistry of Tears, which convinced me that Carey was a writer to treasure. Before reading 30 Days, I didn’t have the slightest interest in Sydney, but Carey brought its history and culture alive, peopling it with a fascinating cast of characters. All ‘wildly distorted’ no doubt.
Another fruitful series of events has been the Dublin City Council run, European literature event ‘Words on the Street’ that I attended for the second time this year. Mind you, one of the attractions of this event has been listening to Bryan Murray who is such an enthusiastic reader. Last year he read an extract from The Dinner by Herman Koch and this year (in St Anne’s Church, one of my favourite venues), he read from Caesarion by Tommy Wieringa. It did however take me around a year to catch up with The Dinner, so I expect it to take a similar amount of time to read this year’s batch of European literature. I was not greatly enthused by The Dinner when I finally got around to it, although it was well written, but it wasn’t really Bryan Murray’s fault.
Similarly, I have not yet caught up with the IMPAC 2014 prize-winning novel, despite attending the announcement of the winner and a reading with the author and translator. I thought Juan Gabriel Vásquez made a brilliant acceptance speak and after hearing him read from and discuss the Sound of Things Falling, I was determined to read it as soon as possible (well as soon as the TBR Pile allowed anyway). I think I need another dose of serendipity; if I see it there in front of me on the shelf; it must be waiting for me. Of course, if I had been quick enough to snaffle a free copy at the Pearse Library IMPAC event, it would be on my actual TBR Pile and not my virtual one. However, such is life. A new entrant to my virtual TBR Pile is Richard Ford who gave a reading at Trinity College Dublin (where he is an adjunct professor) this autumn from his latest novel Let Me Be Frank.
Now, I can see that unless I stop attending literary events my TBR Pile stands even less chance of shrinking than it did before. Alas, it is a cure that I don’t want to contemplate…