How to Give a Reading

Don’t look the first row in the eye; they have been forced to sit there because they got here late.

Don’t be disappointed by your host’s introduction, which has consisted entirely of reading from your book jacket.

Try not to drool on the microphone like last time.

Try not to think about that dream you had last night when you turned page after blank page of your manuscript until coming to the very last page that had the single word “minimalism.”

Pay no attention to the man in the ski mask who is walking toward you. Surely there is a simple explanation, given that the room temperature of sixty degrees could be considered cold if you are a reptile.

Do not under any circumstances engage with the girl in the first row who is an eye roller. Tell yourself things could be worse; she could be sticking a finger down her throat.

Ignore the large man in the front row who is eating a monstrous, dripping sandwich that reeks of eye-stinging onions and that he masticates into submission until there is only a tiny bite left and that—seeing you glare at him—he gestures toward you to share.

Tell yourself that you are a professional and that the furious texting by the entire second row is not a comment upon your performance and simply indicates that such individuals are accomplished multitaskers who no doubt are also exceptional at thumb wars.

When you glance up do not be disappointed and lose your place because the lovely, smiling young woman in the third row, whom you were absolutely sure was your ideal listener, has gone over and stood next to the man in the ski mask and they are both writing in identical black notebooks and whispering in Russian.

Remember not to speed up because you fear you’re losing your audience’s attention during the long section that for verisimilitude sake lists every Greek god from the first seven chapters of The Iliad. You knew this would test your listeners’ patience and you are glad that though several of them have clapped their hands over their ears, the majority have demonstrated their stunned appreciation by the slackness of their jaws and their lolling tongues.

Spit out that word hibernaculum that gave you such trouble when you were rehearsing it. Let it roooolll off the palate with the sonorous joy that you first heard it in your head. It goes well with the fire alarm that has just sounded.

Take a moment to relax and center yourself while your host explains that it is only a false alarm and that there is no need to leave the building despite the shouts of Hallelujah! and the wild stampede by half the audience out the door while the other half have had their exit blocked by your host who is threatening them with a fire hose if they try to leave. All in good fun you are sure.

Remember to read the dialogue with great declamation even though it is a long scene that has no quotation marks and you cannot remember who is speaking. Do not be concerned during this operatic showmanship that your host is literally dragging one member of the audience back to his seat by his ankles.

Pace yourself as you come to the dramatic close of your ninety-three minute reading, raising your voice with grandiloquent, rhetorical flourish to signal you are approaching the end, and then, after your final words, fix your audience with a meaningful stare before saying, “Shall I continue?”




  • Anonymous

    >These are excellent tips, Steve. I hope you'll follow up with a poet's guide, as well. I, for one, enjoy the long rambling trip down memory/wikipedia/topical bullhockey/personal unfunny anecdote lane that always begins "A few things you might need to know" and then ends, MUCH later, with the brief poem for which I actually did not "need to know" anything.