Yesterday, I gave a book talk. Well, book is a little misleading but books talk is grammatically and verbally awkward. So.
|I regret that I have but one book cart to give to my audience.|
Yesterday, I got up in front of an audience and talked about books for a half an hour. I shared some of my favorite books from a browsing collection I helped create at my library. Then, I checked some of the books out to people. It was wonderful, and warmed my librarian’s heart, to see people queuing to check out books that I had talked them into. To prepare, I grabbed a cart and started pulling books off the shelves in a bunch of different genres: nonfiction, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and literary (for lack of a better term). When I speak in public, I speak extemporaneously. If I prepare notes, I rarely ever look at them. I knew I wouldn’t need them for the book talk because I knew that they would just trip me up. Friends and colleagues know that when I get started talking about books, it’s hard to get me to shut up. It was such an exciting presentation that it took several hours for me to wind down even though I was physically tired from the performance.
I think the trick to giving a book talk is, somehow, boiling down your experience of the book into its core questions. For example, my reading of Ben Winter’s The Last Policeman is that the book is about justice and what’s worth fighting for—not the end of the world. Another: Héctor Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries is a sadly neglected Great American Novel. It’s harder than it sounds, until you realize that it’s your reading that matters. I was honest with my audience that I wasn’t giving them the critics version; I was telling them about books that I had loved and was speaking to them as a reader.
Maybe that’s the trick: letting your love of books show.
If you’re curious, here’s a list of the 30 books I talked about:
- Brooks, Geraldine. Caleb’s Crossing
- Browne, S.G. Fated
- Budd, Ken. The Voluntourist
- Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair
- Finch, David. The Journal of Best Practices
- Fountain, Ben. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
- Kingsolver, Barbara. The Lacuna
- Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere
- Le Guin, Ursula. The Lathe of Heaven
- Jacobs, A.J. Drop Dead Healthy
- Jacobs, A.J. The Know-It-All
- Johnson, Adam. The Orphan Master’s Son
- Jonasson, Jonas. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared
- Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
- Mièville, China. The City and the City
- Mullen, Thomas. The Revisionists
- Napoli, Lisa. Radio Shangri-La
- Patchett, Anne. State of Wonder
- Reiss, Jana. Flunking Sainthood
- Rogan, Charlotte. The Lifeboat
- Ruff, Matt. The Mirage
- Sloan, Robin. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
- Steinberg, Avi. Running the Books
- Stephenson, Neal. Cryptonomicon
- Tobar, Héctor. The Barbarian Nurseries
- Udall, Brady. The Lonely Polygamist
- Waldman, Amy. The Submission
- Willis, Connie. All Clear
- Willis, Connie. Blackout
- Winters, Ben H. The Last Policeman
I chatted with some of my colleagues before I headed over to where the book talk was scheduled and I had to fight them off before they checked out some of my books.