In May, a friend and I went to see Chuck Palahniuk read from his new book Make Something Up. I arrived with a pen and notebook, ready to take notes from one of the masters of modern fiction.
Then, I was given a bag. In it was a beach ball and some glow sticks. I was told to write down my name on the ball, blow it up, and put the glow sticks inside. Adult note: have you had to blow up anything bigger than a balloon since you were a kid? What the heck, man.
I continued to expect a standard book event. I just figured this would be some sort of intellectual experiment. No problem. Moving on.
Then, Chuck showed up wearing a red silk bathrobe. When he started his talk, he said that he figured out he was the only one who got the memo about bedroom attire. Insert secret envy of how much more comfortable he was than me.
He continued on to say that if anyone in the audience wasn’t paying attention or was looking at that their phones while he was reading, he was “going to throw candy at their fucking heads.” He then proceeded to take out several Halloween-size bags of fun-size candies and hurled them through the auditorium. And I’m just going to tell you now that there are few things as terrifying as having the mind behind Fight Club chucking Reese’s cups at your cranium.
One of those other few terrifying things, however, was said literary mastermind explaining that the beach balls were going to be used to create a sort of real-life, human-scale lottery machine in which all the balls would be thrown into the center (where I was sitting) and a random one would be picked for prizes. He would play music (mostly 80s and some Abba as I recall) and we just had to…keep them going. In the dark.
This occurred at least 4 times during the night.
I never found that pen again.
So the five things I learned about readings?
1. Create an atmosphere of excitement and fun. People will be engaged not only with you but with each other.
2. Bring prizes. Guests will kill for them. It will be awesome.
3. Have something to break up reading pieces. You can be the best writer in the world, but after a while, words become words become words. Sound loses meaning. Have an event to wake people up and get their minds moving again.
4. Wear what you want. The more memorable, the better.
5. Defy expectation. With candy.