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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 10.24.16
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Reading at a Literary Festival

For the last several months I've been enjoying house concerts in Stanstead. I get to go into someone's living room and enjoy performers as they stand in front of me playing intricate arrangements on instruments that I could never begin to master.

I, on the other hand, read out loud to people.

This is a strange custom that goes along with releasing a book. You go to a public place and do a thing that most people are quite capable of doing themselves. It's not even as though the author uses funny voices, though he may. I don't –- except, of course, my natural funny voice.

Yet people love to hear authors read their work. Perhaps we enjoy seeing the author squirm when his material tanks, like watching NASCAR for the fiery wrecks. Serious authors, of course, have the luxury of interpreting the awkward silence as deep concentration. For a humorist like me, though, silence is death.

So I was a little nervous when I appeared at Brome Lake Books last Thursday to promote my novel A Hole in the Ground as part of the Knowlton Literary Festival. Let me say that again: as part of the Knowlton Literary Festival. The person who recently wrote about designing a nude calendar of himself appeared at a literary festival.

I shared the event with Danish-born North Hatley writer Anne Fortier, international bestselling author of Juliet and The Lost Sisterhood. Anne is lovely, poised, elegant, well dressed and well Danished. She spoke eloquently without notes about the creative process, her travels, womanhood, and the struggles of film adaptations.

I, on the other hand, was rumpled and stammering and pointed out that the cover of my book looks like pea soup vomit. I am the in-my-house bestselling author.

But as contrasts go, it worked. I had also fortunately chosen a passage from my book set at a council meeting, forgetting that the Town of Brome Lake is ground zero for municipal dissent. It struck a chord.

Were there literary car crashes? No. A couple of fender benders, maybe, a drunk NASCAR fan on the track, perhaps, but nothing serious. And this is normal. I've held quite a few readings over the years and have participated in (say it one more time) a literary festival. I have not been heckled once. One time someone left but I chalk that up to gastric distress.

Even if the author is dull, stammers or makes generalizing and unflattering remarks about every French teacher he ever had (for which I apologize), the people will listen politely. Some of them will even buy your book.

People who come to book events are the nicest people in the world. And here's why: Books strive.

Books strive to make sense of what it is to be human. As we're taught in school, every story needs a conflict. Life is nothing but conflict. It's struggle. It's confusion. It's council meetings. Books strive to help us understand that struggle.

People who love books open themselves up to all that striving. They go even further and open themselves up to the makers of those attempts at understanding, the authors. It's an appreciation of this gift that makes book lovers the nicest, most open people in the world.

In my notebook, I once wrote down, "Why does reading get a free ride? It's passive, it's slothful, it's unproductive." My notebook is full of nonsense like this. The answer to my ridiculous question, though, can be found in the people who read. Any inwardness a book delivers is eventually directed outward in generosity of spirit, in the knowledge of how humans do or should behave, in an appreciation for the magic of creativity.

So I got to play my little instrument last week, in Knowlton. I also played my tune at Lennoxville Library, and I'll be reading out loud at Black Cat Books on November 6 as well. Readers could play this tune for themselves, of course. But when I play it in front of them, I understand that this small little thing we do together -- writing and reading, creating and thinking -- makes the world a more liveable place.

Stop by.

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