This weekend, Meghan McCarron and I went to the Juniper Festival in Amherst, Massachusetts to see Alan DeNiro read, and to hang out with him, Gavin Grant and Kelly Link of Small Beer Press, and Holly and Theo Black. Alan read from "Home of The" from Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, and the audience was amused and enthusiastic, as was only proper.
There was even cotton candy. More readings need cotton candy.
The Juniper Festival is not something I was aware of before we visited, but it's a great event, and next year if I'm in the area, I hope to attend more of the readings and panel discussions, because Amherst is fun town and the mix of writers and readers is eclectic. (And Amherst Books is a marvelous bookstore!)
Lucy Corin particularly grabbed my attention with her reading from Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls, a novel I now hope to read very soon. (Yes, I know I say that about a lot of books. And I mean it. I'm full of hope. Especially after being in Amherst, the hometown of Emily Dickinson, who knew that hope is a thing with feathers. Which means it flies around and squawks a lot.)
Among the poets, Timothy Donnelly was, I thought, a standout. He read with a nervous energy that gave his poems a vibrancy some others lacked. (Or so it seemed to me. But I'm slowly coming to realize that I don't like most poetry readings. Or fiction readings, for that matter. I'm too attached to the page, to the shape of words as visual objects -- a strange fact, since I have almost no visual imagination. I tend to lose track of stories when I hear them read, and so fix on the author's voice or tone, their rhythm, their tics. I liked hearing "Home of The" because the story works well in Alan's speaking voice, and I liked both Lucy Corin and Timothy Donnelly because their reading styles were lively and seemed appropriate to what they read. I've often gone to readings by writers whose work I admire and have ended up deeply disappointed, even disillusioned, because how they read seemed to remove all the life and music and marvels from their words. Conversely, I've encountered writers whose work I don't really like very much on the page, but whose reading style is so engaging I would happily listen to them for hours -- I am as grateful to them as I am to great actors in plays whose scripts I don't care for, because a reading is a kind of performance, and in performance what matters most is what is present, not the architecture bringing the present into existence [that is for a different sort of consideration].)
Paul Fattaruso was at the festival, but I didn't get a chance to meet him, which was a shame, because I like his first novel, Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf, quite a bit.
Some of the most fun we had was not at the festival, though, but rather involved just sitting around, eating fine barbecued food prepared by Theo and Holly, talking about various and sundry things, searching in vain for a goth-pop song from the '80s Kelly was trying to identify, touring the magnificent Black homestead, and making a film about Alan DeNiro. Yes, a film. (Be grateful that I declined the role of the naked person running around in the background. That role has yet to be cast. For details, contact Gavin.)
And now for a quick couple of recommendations that have nothing to do with anything in particular: If you like literature in translation, don't miss the Reading the World festival. Also, if you like weird and whimsical wonders, be sure to check out Gionale Nuovo's post about Xul Solar before you end your internet peregrinations for the day.