A.L. Kennedy Reading – What Becomes
A.L. Kennedy is both stand-up comedian and novelist. It’s hard to see where one stops and the other starts, especially at last night’s reading at McNally Jackson Books in Soho, where she gave a sometimes funny, sometimes slightly awkward, always entertaining reading/performance/signing.
When she first came out to give a “pre-show talk” — the event had been “promoted strangely,” so that some people came expecting a stand-up performance, while others came for a reading — I had premonitions of regret and boredom. What little I knew about Kennedy I knew from an appearance in Granta Magazine’s “Best Young British Novelist. Consider me pleasantly impressed.
Her mic presence reminded me of an absent-minded version of Eddie Izzard, minus the cross-dressing. I don’t know which fellow author her writing recalled, though I believe it mostly avoided the trap of *trying* to be funny, which is painful to read and unbearable to listen to or watch.
Kennedy read two passages from an upcoming, presently unpublished book. The two passages were starkly different, it’ll be interesting to see how she ties the two together.
She then fielded questions. I asked if she had a title for her upcoming novel. She demurred, saying that giving out the title before it’s published is like naming a child before it’s born. Sorta like celebrating a win before the game’s over; no one wants to curse their own success, and we all have our own tics and superstitions, so no harm.
She ended the reading by reading a short portion from What Becomes about a woman in a sensory deprivation chamber.
The signing went well enough. Note:
- This phenomenon happens without fail at every NYC reading I’ve ever attended: numerous “friends” of the author cut in front of the line with the excuse that they only want to say hello, but it inevitably ends up being a catch-up session complete with email or phone number-exchange, hugs, photo sessions, whatever. Repeat this times 3 or 4 people, minimum. I might be way off with this one, but whatever. Tired of it.
- Book Speculators — damn you, if you come to the fucking reading, have the decency to buy the author’s new book. Guy in front of me took out 4 books, none of which was Kennedy’s newest, or even her last three. You complete ass.
- Me — for smaller readings to which I bring more than two books to sign, especially those with mediocre turnouts because of the holiday or the smaller venue, hang back to the end of the line and wait for the regular folk to get their inscriptions. The author won’t feel as rushed, I won’t feel as awkward, and the whole thing will end up feeling better. I got the feeling that the author went from amused about my project to pressured about coming up with interesting insults to complete irritation.
Kennedy gave me some excellent insults. First and most biting was the “weasel-faced” insult. It’s one I’ve not heard except maybe in another book, extra-personal because of its uniqueness. I think that’s the one that compelled her to apologize and claim that they weren’t personal. Next, she gave me some Scottish language lessons. In one, I was a “bawbag” (nut sack); in another, I was a shilpit tube (this one’s more difficult – shilpit apparently means “tiny” or “puny” and “tube” I guess maybe refers to my manhood). Great stuff.
Now, on to Tao Lin.