Go hear an author

Here's a way to make your reading life more interesting: Go see an author speak. 

Seeing an author speak, or read from their work, gives you insight — about the story they're telling, the stories they want (or wanted) to tell, the perspective they're coming from, and how the way they work shapes their books. I am not an author, but I am a reporter, and I can tell you, details always get left out when you build a story, and those are the things that you can discover at an author event. I often like or appreciate books more for having heard from an author. Sometimes, I still don't like their book, but I'm willing to give their next one a try. 

At events, I learned Lauren Groff, who lives in Florida, writes in her un-air-conditioned garage. I've always said the Sunshine State, where I lived for a decade, is a strange, beautiful and sinister place; Groff's feelings seem to mirror my own. Because I was in the audience when she read from Fates & Furies, I knew she was working on stories about Florida long before the collection was announced publicly. I asked her, at an event, what she was reading and discovered Elena Ferrantes' Neapolitan series.

When Zadie Smith told me and another couple hundred people last fall that she tends not to leave a page of text until she deems it perfect, the feelings of reserve and restraint I always get from her books made total sense. Hearing Michael Chabon read from Moonglow gave me the timing and tone of that book. Without it, I might not have had the patience for the book, a meandering oral history of sorts, and would missed the lovely, romantic pay-off. After Tracy Chevalier shared her travels down various historic rabbit holes, I remembered how much I like historic fiction and sped through several of her novels. Nathan Hill's witty, self-deprecating talk at The Mercantile made me wish I liked The Nix more and hopeful for his next book.

A Make America Read reader asked how I find all these events. It's simple: Check your local library and independent bookstore. 

And that's another reason to see an author. You're supporting institutions that Make America Read. I discovered the wonder of hearing an author tell her story at BookMania!, a small book festival in Stuart, Fla., and then the Miami Book Festival. In Cincinnati, I've found many more venues, and 2018 is going to be a helluva literary year. The public library is bringing in Neil Gaiman (I wasn't quick enough to get tickets, alas!), and The Mercantile has a stellar line-up, including Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, and Margaret Atwood in conversation with Curtis Sittenfeld.   Joseph-Beth is bringing in dozens of authors, too, including Nikki Giovanni and Deborah Harkness.

These reading events often are free and almost always cheaper than a concert ticket. I paid $5 to see Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson — I thought for sure someone was playing a joke! — and it was one of my favorite evenings ever, full of all the hope and insight I find in her books.

I hope you get to see an author this year. If you do, and it's an event with questions, raise your hand and ask what the author is reading. In my experience, the recommendations are never bad.