Wordstock 2011: ring ring

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Sunday, October 16, 2011
This year I attended Wordstock on Saturday only - usually I go all day, both days but 2011 provided a combo of a stinking cold plus a visit from my California uncle. (Ha ha! That sounds like some kind of euphemism. “Oh, I’d love to go but I’ve got a visit from my California Uncle if you know what I mean.” I don’t know what it would mean, but in this instance it was truly my mother’s brother who lives in Fresno, visiting.) Anyway - it was a great day, but I spent most of it trying not to cough. Between cough drops and my water bottle, I think I did pretty well.

Everything was great. Every single thing! Oh, wait - there were some un-great things, but those were mostly noise related. It’s tough when you’ve got three stages going in the same hall, and one of those stages is singing, you know? Everything I attended was top quality, content-wise. On the shopping side, it seemed like there were fewer exhibitors, but that could be just how they had the thing laid out - I didn’t have as much time to peruse since I only had one free hour the whole day. The website and the booklet were FINALLY written so it was easy to cross-reference authors, so that’s another plus. 


11:00 - Peter Mountford and Steve Almond, Wordstock Community Stage: awesome. We were a little bit late since I was sure that they were reading at one of the big stages in the main area. They were across the way in one of the lecture rooms, but these are actually better because it’s not so crazy noisy. Peter Mountford had pneumonia, which certainly put my own cold into perspective. If he could sit there and read long passages from his novel without passing out, surely I could sit and pay attention for the whole time with minimal cough drop wrapper rustling. I like to think I succeeded. Mountford read first, from his recently published novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism - it’s his first, but the writing sounded very assured to my ears. I was intrigued by the premise (high finance and La Paz, Bolivia) and quite liked the section he read - will definitely read this book. You should read it too, then we can talk about it.

Steve Almond read from his new story collection (God Bless America: Stories) next - I’ve seen him read several times now and he was engaging as always. This time he was especially good - the new collection isn’t memoir-based essays(as his last one was), but short stores - the example I heard was strong all on its own, not bolstered by how likable Steve Almond is, if that makes any sense. The piece he read from was about poker, psychiatry, psychology, and the decor of suburban casinos. (Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched.) While he was reading, someone’s cell phone rang. Not just a little beep or blip, but a full on rumba. This understandably threw Almond off. As seems to always be the case with disruptive rings, it kept ringing - like the phone owner had accidentally put it behind a bunch of zippers or locks that had to be dealt with before it could be turned off. All eyes scanned the room, Almond said in the classes he teaches, he tells the person with the ringing phone that he will give them an F if they don’t take the call and pretend that nothing weird is going on. Ha ha! Awesome. He resumes reading. The phone rings again in a few minutes - obviously the same one due to the distinctive ring. The crowd is so totally against this phone person now - it sweeps through the room like unspoken mob intelligence. But Almond is classy and shows compassion, saying ‘hey, we don’t know. Maybe somebody is pregnant or sick.” (My sister and I discussed this afterward and agreed that this is what phones in your pocket set on vibrate are for.) He resumes reading. The phone owner slips out. 

I don’t have a lot of notes from the Q & A, which started with them asking each other questions. I did note that each seemed to genuinely enjoy the others’ work, which charmed me - a nicely supportive yet funny and self-depricating environment. Almond predicted that there would be an awkward silence before the Q&A started, but I think people only generated the awkward silence because we didn’t want to disappoint him. The questions from the crowd were mostly about writing process, as they always are at every reading I’ve ever attended. When asked about his process Almond said it’s a lot of humiliating badness, then figuring out his diurnal schedule (do you write better in the morning or the night? Write then.) and getting to work when he finally tires of the bullshit. Mountford talked about having a broad pool of trusted early readers - he said he does it this way because you can tap out a resource (“they don’t return my emails”) and it’s good to get a spectrum of opinion (but not too early). They said a lot of smart things that I didn’t write down.  (sorry! I was sick.)

Almond & Mountford, Mountford & Almond - the names together sound like a 70s songwriting team or maybe a specialized detective agency. As far as I know they don’t do these things, but they DO write very well. If you get the chance to see them read together or apart, you should take it.

More Wordstock to follow! 
1 comment on "Wordstock 2011: ring ring"
  1. That thing about the phone--so irritating.

    I look forward to more words about all those words.


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