Monday, November 2, 2009

Middle Brow Lit Lovers, Where Are You?

Jacob Mooney asks where the lit festival crowd--that elusive critter otherwise known as the non-specialist reader--is during the other fifty weeks of the year. I've noticed this same phenomenon on several occasions: how if you make people pay and create an atmosphere of sanctioned legitimacy, folks'll line up for literary events, whereas all the free ones held in cafes and bars are attended mostly by writers and their friends/family. I rather suspect it has something to do with the desire of some people to appear "cultured" by going to high profile cultural events where they will be seen by other people who also wish to appear cultured.


Sharon said...

Such a cynic. On behalf of other middle brows let me add this: I go to "literary events" because I get to see and hear a number of writers at once. Before this, I get to peruse biographical and other blurbs about said writers and what they wrote. At the events themselves not only do I get to hear what they have to say, I get to see them interact with each other and the audience. Further, before and after I get to commune with other middle brow lit lovers, talk about what we've heard and, not incidentally, what we've read, what we're reading, what we're going to read and why. A most satisfactory environment. I've noticed that people who like to read books like people who like to read books. Win-win.

Contrast that with going to a reading wherein the middle-brow lit lover (see above) may be entranced or possible stuck in a tiny invariably noisy and entirely ill-suited venue to hear someone who may or may not be worth listening to for any amount of time but, who knows? since the writer is usually out of hearing range, competing with conversations, servers rattling dishes etc.

Funny to hear writers criticizing readers. Reminds me of Brecht's famous comment on the East German workers' uprising, 1953:

Would it not be simpler
If the government
Dissolved the people
And elected a new one?

Zachariah Wells said...

Fair enough, Sharon. I just find it frustrating. A great deal of it has to do with publicity. I read last night at a quiet, well-lit bookstore and one of the non-literary types in attendance--a friend's mother--asked what kind of promotion the event had, had I been on CBC, etc., because she never would have heard of the event had her daughter-in-law, whom I'd invited, not told her about it. She was astonished to learn that there are literary events like my reading happening every week in her city.