Thursday, April 10, 2008

Knockemstiff, Part II

So, we went to hear Donald Pollock read from his new book tonight, and I'm really glad we went. It was a lot of fun for a couple of reasons. First, the guy was just laid back and really approachable. You could tell he was taken aback by the standing room only crowd he drew in the corner of the OSU School Bookstore he was given to read in. As he got up from the padded chair he was trapped in, being prodded by the local academics, his eyes scanned the packed folding chairs and the people standing at the back of the space. You could see his nervousness.

He thanked everyone for coming, and said he would be reading from a few different stories then began. His voice was strong, but his hands were shaking just a bit.

The thing that was cool about hearing him read aloud to the room was that it was his real voice when he read. What I mean is, his voice fit with the tone and the cadence of the words on the page and you knew from hearing it that this wasn't him trying to be anything...the book was who he is.

A couple of nights ago, Jen and I were sitting in the living room reading, and I read her a couple of stories from the book. I read in my own voice through the narration, but found myself adding a southern accent to the dialogue without consciously thinking about it. I'm bad at dialects, and so my Appalachian Ohio accent came out like Dumb-Fuck Southerner (the difference can be subtle, but is there), but it served the purpose. But where my voice was thick and affected, Don's was natural and clear and fit so perfectly with the words.

He read four passages from four stories, but had to skip around a bit. I guess Barnes and Noble management thought someone shopping for cookbooks in the Bargain section of the store might be bummed out to hear about a teen masturbating onto his sister's doll in a smokehouse. They have a point, I suppose. Still, it would have been nice to hear a complete story.

After the reading he took questions for a half-hour. There wasn't tons of stuff that came out that wasn't covered in reviews and quick blurbs I've read about him, but it was interesting to see him field questions.

I had him sign the copy of his book we brought from home, and chatted him up for just a minute or two. Again, he was really laid back and genuinely nice. I had him sign the book to the two of us and we were out.

Funniest part of the night though was a man I can only assume was a professor in the English Department for OSU. He was a caricature of what an aging professor should look like. Unkempt gray hair reaching for the fluorescent bulbs above, practically crackling with static electricity and the worn blazer over a gray turtleneck sweater was only the beginning. He monopolized conversation prior to the reading, rhapsodizing about the voice of the common man and real people struggling tirelessly but ultimately ineffectively.

When Donald began started the evening by saying he would be jumping around through a few stories, old crusty prof spoke up: "Oh, hey Don. You should read from the end of 'Tim and Katy' (I forget the real name of the story at the moment). Could you do that?" The man rocked back in his chair smiling at his idea. There was uncomfortable silence for a moment while the entire room seemed to scowl at this guy who obviously just wanted everyon to know that he and "Don" were old buddies...close enough buddies that he could make requests.

Donald seemed embarrassed and just kind of nodded. "Yeah" he said. "I might get to that."

He didn't get to that, and I was glad.

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