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  • Sean Smith

Reading Is Fundamentally Fun


OK, so you get an idea for a book, you start working on it, you write it (with the requisite amount of blood, sweat, toil and tears), you actually find someone to publish it -- and now, you're supposed to read from it, in front of people?

Hey, sounds fine to me.

Last weekend, I gave my first official reading from Transformation Summer, at my high school alma mater's Alumni Weekend. They'd invited me a couple of months ago, so I had ample time to pick out the part I thought would work best, and to practice not only reading but also introducing the book as well as the chapter in question.

I've never been especially bothered by public speaking -- other than the usual nervousness about, oh, messing up what I want to say (hence, practice) and maybe wearing the wrong clothes or even not enough clothes. Both of my parents were very good at it, so perhaps genetics are part of the reason. I've also had lots of opportunities, like emceeing concerts, to get used to the experience of blathering in front of people.

But reading from a book -- especially my book -- called for a bit of forethought and, as I said, practice. First of all, in case anyone might wonder: No, I don't have the entire book memorized, even though I've scrutinized every word several dozen times. But even if I did, as an author I want to be reading from the book, so that people in the audience see it in my hands and connect the words they're hearing to that book, and to me. Which means you should practice holding the book at the right distance from you such that you can easily see the text and be able to glance at the audience every few seconds, so they're assured you know they're there.

Then there's the matter of exactly how you read it, which depends to a great extent on the chapter or passage you choose. The chapter I selected includes not only narration but dialogue, so I felt I should lend a conversational ebb and flow to the reading. However, rather than trying to simulate four distinct voices, I instead gave a suggestion of the individual vocal qualities. I thought this would help keep the audience engaged without being distracted about whether I was really trying to vocalize a teenage girl or imitate someone who's described as sounding like "a bad FM radio DJ."

Did it work? I don't have firm analytics or data, but people certainly seemed to enjoy the reading. No, I didn't exactly sell out my stash of books, but it was fun, and now I can say I have one book reading under my belt.

Which is good, because I have another such event coming up: On July 9 at 4 p.m., I will be at the Scandinavian Living Center Nordic Hall in Newton, Mass. I'll give a reading and also talk a little about how Transformation Summer came to be, take a few questions from the audience, and sell and sign copies (if you want, I'll even try and imitate a bad FM radio DJ).

And yes, until then, I'll definitely be practicing.

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