April 28 2015, I went to my first book reading. A spur-of-the-moment acton for me. I had never thought about going to a book reading, I’ll tell you the truth my shaky nerves never let me go to one. I don’t like being in crowds of people. When I read the ad about The Laughing Oyster Book Reading Night I wondered why my hands calmed up at the thought of going. One: I had no friends to go with. I’d have to go alone. Two: I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Those were horrible reasons not to go. Okay, start again. One: I don’t know the authors going.
Wait a minute. What’s wrong with that? Nothing’s wrong with that! A chance to meet new people and put myself out there. You have to go.
Fanny Bay is a small community on Vancouver Island. Close by to the town I have just recently moved to. I had driven through Fanny Bay before but I never stopped in to look around. The community hall where the book reading was being held was right off the highway, a half hour from Courtenay BC where I work.
With no excuse not to go I drove down to Fanny Bay, paid the five dollar entrance fee to experience my first book reading. Eight tables filled the large space inside the hall. The chairs around the tables were filled by white haired retirees. I found one empty chair off on the side were I could view all the guests and wonder what possessed me to come. A woman bounced a new born in her arms, finally, I thought, I’m not the youngest here. Second youngest to an infant. I was 24 with hazelnut hair sitting in the midst of a snow storm.
The lights dimmed and a woman who worked for the hall stepped on the stage to get the ball rolling. My attention drifted from my age and loneliness to the woman welcoming Pat Smekal and David Frazer. Two friends from opposite sides of Northwest Bay, part of the Georgia Straight, who found a way to dance over the water. Poems were sent through email to one another, the sender would send a poem and the recipient replied with another. Soon their book, Maybe We Could Dance, formed. Over 18 months of emails the two friends danced over the waters of the straight. Then their they were, standing in the spot light before me reading their heart filled poems. A call-and-reply. I liked their unique way of reading together. How the emotion of their words played on their faces as they touched parts of their past that brought them joy, and others that brought them sorrow.
After Pat and David ventured off the stage the announcer came back on to introduce the next reader.
Maleea Acker from Victoria. She is the author of two books of poems and one essay called Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. When she took the stage I wondered who this person was, how she became to write poetry. She mentioned she traveled throughout North America and wrote poems during her journeys. One poem she read called Tacos that made me chuckle. I had been in Mexico searching for tacos, feeling like an outcast within the crowds and then not caring about it once that taco was in my grasp. She had another few poems about the other side of Canada that made me think about my home town in Alberta. She reminded me about snow and ice, those frozen lakes where I could bring a shovel and skates. When she read her poems I drifted from the room and walked down memory lane with her voice as my guide. It was neat. I never thought that someone would help me remember things that I had long since forgotten. The guest applauded as Meleea found her way to her table.
I thought about hiding in the safety of my car. Avoid all contact, and then I remembered I brought money to buy a book. I remembered Victoria where I had just moved from and those beautiful Garry Oaks. With Maleeas essay in mind I stood and journeyed through the coffee hungry seniors to the book table. I picked up the essay, and then I noticed a peculiar book that stood out among the rest. A half naked woman wearing brains in the shape of a heart for pants. She appeared to be a faun, but instead of half goat she is half organs. I let my eyes study all the other covers; soft colours, calm layout, and natural images, and then there was this one. Blood leaking down from to form legs of the woman. I wanted to buy it right then and there but I had only a select amount of money I could spend. So I ignored the impulse to it buy.
Away from the table I snagged a woman to ask her how long the intermission was. I didn’t want to miss the next show as I slid from the sea of people to hide in the safety of my car. She didn’t know, and somehow we ended up talking about the show. Turns out she was a friend of the next reader. Her description of her friend made me want the break to end so I could dive into the next authors mind. Apparently the next reader could make the audience squirmy and uncomfortable, sounded like my type of author. The half naked woman came to mind. The authors name is Jane Eaton Hamilton. She happened to be walking towards us as her friend and I talked. Just like that I was face to face with an award winning author. I thought I’d turn to smoke and disappear. “This is Chianne,” Janes friend told her. “She’s a young author.” I felt my face burst into flames. I have alway had a hard time talking to people about my book and here I was about to talk to a professional. I had no reason to be nervous. She was down to earth and helpful, funny too. “Do you have any advice for a first time author?” I asked. “Persistence,” Jane answered. “Don’t give into the thought of giving up.” When Jane departed, her friend talked me into buying the book I decided not to get. I only meant to get one book, and now I had two. It really didn’t bother me to much, I love books.
Before the intermission ended I chased down Maleea and Jane to get their signatures. It had been my first encounter with real authors, there was no way I was going to let them be ordinary books. I wanted signed books. And just like that I had my first ever signed novels. I skipped over to my chair with my head held high.
Next on stage was Jane. She sat at a table covered in a crimson cloth, and read amazingly crafted poems. After that she read a short story about an illness that she had experienced. Her use of language drew the crowd into the pain of the main character. At times the crowd shuffled in their seats as they became uncomfortable, then they laughed at the well placed jokes, and gasped at the shocking moments. We all got sucked in to the sad tale of years of hard ships. It reminded me of times I had spent at the doctors, they’d tell me nothing is wrong, when I knew something wasn’t right with me. The main character was given medication that made her illness worse. I had been given medication that made me worse. When the main character and I both stopped the medications, the illness disappeared. Funny how that happens. It was sad to hear that I’m not the only one that this had happened too.
When the show was over I rushed out to beat the traffic. I had an hour and a half drive to get home. I’d be home at eleven o’clock, if I sped. I had a job interview in the morning that I needed to be alert for. While I drove down the long empty highway towards Campbell River, I snuck a glance at the two books beside me. There was something missing. I whipped the car around. Parked at the hall and jolted inside hoping that Maleea and Jane were still inside. The hall had emptied in the few minutes I had been gone. All the older folk needed to go home to bed, it was nine thirty after all, never mind that, I needed to go home to bed. I spotted Jane first, had our picture taken, and snagged another chance to talk to her about writing. I asked her about publishing vs. self-publishing. She didn’t think either one was a bad choice, really depends on the writer. Maleeas had a similar opinion when I chased her down next to get a picture with her.
My thoughts on book readings:
Music fans have their concerts. Book fans have their readings.