Thursday, November 12, 2009

This Week in Awesome

So, as with my brothers, I haven't had a whole lot of cause to blog recently, but that streak was broken tremendously last night when I went to see Richard Powers read at the Miami Book Fair International. As I've mentioned on the blog before, I've read all of Powers's books, and many of them rank among my favorite books. He has a new book just out, which he was reading from, which I've yet to read, so it's exciting to have (a book to not buy now, but rather to ask for for the Cold Solstice Gift Exchanging Celebration). But I don't think there's a writer whose books currently mean more to me than Powers's (I mean, Pynchon's up there too, I suppose; the only other (prose)writer that I can think of at the moment whose new books I would leap at, at the moment, is George Saunders, but his books are less meaningful), so my expectations were wildly high.

And met resoundingly. Powers is just as intelligent and open as he seems via his novels. My tiny literary magazine had contacted his publisher hoping to get an interview with him while he was down here for the book fair, but learned that he only does a small handful of appearances per year, and we weren't going to be one of them. But, seeing him in person giving his reading and discussion, it's clear why he wouldn't want to do to many, because he was just really into it, fully involved with discussing his new book, giving a reading from it, and answering a few questions from the audience (he actually seemed willing to talk way longer, in fact).

I haven't really been to that many readings ever; I mean, more than a few, but not a ton, and this may well be the best I've been to (I can think of a couple poets that I really enjoyed seeing, but for overall impact I think this was the best). Powers was a very good speaker and a great reader of his own work. The passage he read from his new book was great (it centered around a massive TV personality and the machinations of the way her internationally televised show was produced).

As a credit to the audience (I think Powers being who he is weeds out a lot of the folks that normally ask really oddball questions at most of the Book Fair readings; his was also, apparently, the smallest yet of the marquee readings), the questions asked during the Q&A were the best I've heard at any event, and Powers met them with sincerity and enthusiasm, geeking out over science-based questions, but also provided answers that involved him personally, and also answered a couple more literature-based questions deftly. I had several questions I'd have loved to ask, but didn't go up to the mic.

As another added bonus, the icing on the cake to the evening, which would already have affirmed near-hero-status of Powers for me (though chronologically, this happened at the opening of the Q&A portion): Powers doesn't sign his books. And rather than just saying that he doesn't sign books, he actually explained why. His reasons happened to line up rather precisely with reasons I've maintained for years for not getting books signed by authors, so that as he finished his explanation (dealing with the themes of his first book as well as how we construct meaning and use-value, and how that pertains to what kind of aura-of-specialness an author's signature gives to a book), saying " we find meaning in the age of mechanical reproduction," and trailing off a bit. I was compelled to applaud, which really doesn't happen to me very often. My two friends joined in a bit, and a couple other folks in the hall, but mostly people just looked over, wondering who the hell was clapping. But Powers looked too, so that was great.

As a concession to the signature-desiring folks, Powers did agree to sign postcards made with the design of his book. There's a picture of me over at the Book Fair flickr page sharing a rather intense-looking moment with Powers: here. I am saying here, (rather hurriedly, as the two older women behind me rather inexplicably were accusing me, more or less, of line-jumping), more or less, "I don't need a signature, but wanted to meet you, I've read all your books, and thanks for your reading and it was great and loved what you said as well." And he's making eye contact and thanking me incredibly sincerely for reading his books.


Blogger Jack said...

That's pretty great -- cool picture, too.

All I've read is "Gold Bug Variations," which I liked quite a bit. I remember reading someone's offhand description of it as "brilliantly overwritten," which was my feeling about it too.

A couple summers ago I tried out "The Echo Maker," but gave up because it was out of season. I was having a hard time feeling Nebraska-in-winter while I was in Connecticut-in-summer. And, sadly, I have to admit that I don't make a lot of time for uninterrupted reading any more, which makes it hard to read Powers. I don't think you can enjoy one of his novels in short bursts.

11/14/2009 7:04 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Yeah, I can imagine that the "short bursts" wouldn't be the best way to tackle one of his works. I think chapter-by-chapter wouldn't be horrible, since so many of his books are weaving separate story lines, but even then maybe not.

His books line up incredibly well with my (self-described) "brute force" style of reading, wherein I dedicate inordinate amounts of my time awake to reading (the prime example of which would be that time I read Wallace's Infinite Jest in something like 5.5 days on Cape Cod). I suppose I'll have to alter my reading strategy once I stop being a Graduate student and start being a professional, but I think with Powers's books I'll always end up making time.

11/16/2009 2:19 PM  

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