Francine Prose and Anita Shreve's latest Oprah-approved novel
I made a festival rule after IFOA 2007: to only attend panel discussions, parties and Q&A's where the social gaffes, heated debates, and interesting insights abound.
The bare bones readings never match up. Sometimes writers are simply wretched at reading their own work, acting as a deterrent to book-buying.
Luckily, I spent my Friday night at Harbourfront's Lakeside Terrace listening to writers prove me wrong: Joan Barfoot, Emma Donoghue, Amara Lakhous, Francine Prose and Anita Shreve.
I had to break my no-readings rule because the iCal schedule of the fulltime writer/grad student highlighted a mere three open blocks of time to attend the 08 festival, all readings. I considered quitting my weekend job because I couldn't accept having to work during Lynda Barry's events. Sob, sob! Lynda, if you read this, come have brunch at the Beaver café, I promise free lattes and adoration by the wait staff.)
Speaking of coffee, when I arrived at the Harbourfront Centre last night, I became very troubled by the lack of free java trough in the bookstore reception area. What's up Starbucks? Tired of wooing the literati with free faux-organic swill? How would I stay awake through the potential mumbling? Tall mild, I mumbled, at Ben McNally's stacks of books. Where's my tall mild?
Luckily though, the night was well-programmed and I only napped briefly when one writer read a chapter in Italian.
Joan Barfoot started off reading from her latest book, Exit Lines, a funny scene set in a retirement home told from the point of view of one of four narrators. Despite the setting, it was quite unexpectedly funny and daring.
The always prolific Emma Donoghue, clad in long red coat, kept up the pace with her excerpt from The Sealed Letter.
Amara Lakhous read in Italian and then had an actor - didn't catch his name - read a translation that had the house giggling like an uninhibited, proudly un-Toronto literary crowd.
But for me, all the aforementioned highlights were really just the opening act for Francine Prose. I'm fan of her novel Blue Angel and her recent essays in Harpers and Tin House (why can't we have a journal like Tin House in Canada?). She read from her latest novel, Golden Grove. If you're scanning the bookstores for it, look for a front cover suggestive of a self-published my-Muskoka-childhood memoir. Buy it anyway. Apparently it's the least Francine Prose-like of her fiction, according Francine Prose. But I still found it clever, and the characters believable and lovely, so I'm not quite sure what she's talking about.
Confession: I almost slipped out before Anita Shreve hit the stage. And I will admit this is possibly related to the condition of Oprah-book club phobia, loosely related to the MaryLawsonchondria, fear of banal boomer-aged-mom reading-lists. But she really nailed it. I've been thoroughly creeped out by her reading all day. Sex-scandal in boarding school? Bring it. Hats off to anyone who can write a book in so many first-person voices, including those crazypants teenagers. I stand corrected, Miss Schreve. Teach me to be like you.
Please note I'm really not this obnoxious in real life. It's my blog persona.