Blog/ Recommended Authors

William Gibson at Powell’s, January 18th

If William Gibson is speaking anywhere near you, I recommend you go. This is the second time I’ve seen him at Powell’s; here’s what I wrote about the other time.

This time Mr. Gibson was juxtaposed with a taxidermically-themed art exhibit, which made it appear among other things that a bear was enthusiastic and amused and a deer was pensively, almost sternly contemplating his words. This photo, which I did not take, gives you a bit of an idea of the effect:

Live Man's Voices

One thing I always find slightly disconcerting at readings, and which was definitely in evidence at this one: people who follow along in the copies of the book from which the author is reading. To make sure the author isn’t deviating from the printed text? Because you like to look at words on a page while hearing them pronounced by the person who decided to put them in that particular order? If you do this, I would love to know your reasons.

I enjoyed the reading itself — selections from his essay collection, Distrust That Particular Flavor — but his answers to audience questions were especially good. Gibson is eloquent and funny even in his casual speech — although I suppose you could argue that any public speaking is by its nature not casual. But his nonchalant delivery makes his smart and well-turned phrases feel more off-the-cuff than they perhaps are, and the effect is extremely pleasant.

So mostly what I did was scribble quotes, or near-quotes.

About influences:

“Being human, you tell people you like who you think it’ll sound cool if you say you like.”

“As writers, how we learn what is good is from everything we read — a personal microculture of literature.”

“Someone setting out to write sf who has only ever read sf is at a certain disadvantage.”

I can’t remember what question this next bit was in response to — I think someone asked if he considered himself a watcher? (Were they thinking of Juvenal? Or Alan Moore?)

“…a watcher in the sense of an anthropologist without any of the discipline…also a flâneur, walking about pointlessly in large cities…”

Someone asked if the Blue Ant books were meant to remind us that we’re living in someone else’s future:

“I write novels to find questions, not because I know the answers…the only conscious purpose of the Blue Ant books was that I realized after All Tomorrow’s Parties that the yardstick I used for measuring cognitive dissonance on the page as opposed to the world outside was an eighties yardstick. So I wrote Pattern Recognition to update the yardstick.”

“Google Streetview changed how my imagination worked — you could spend the rest of your life describing a single block — inadequately.”

I wanted to ask him what he thinks about the way search tools are increasingly being designed to bring us the Internet they think we want, but I did not get a chance. Next time, Mr. Gibson.

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  • jeff c
    February 3, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    One possibility for people who follow along is that it may keep their mind from wandering. Having something visual to focus on, helps focus the eye. To those of us with ADD it can be very helpful.

  • jeff c
    February 4, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Should read “help focus the mind” not eye. Duh.

  • Matthew F. Reyes
    February 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I liked to read along while the author reads because I enjoy the juxtaposition of the voice I had in my head when I first read it, to the voice that it’s actually being spoken in. I’m always amused at what voice my brain assigns an author, and I’m never disappointed when I hear how different it is from reality.

  • pdunwin
    February 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    I read along while Mr. Gibson read at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle. I did it for the same reason I like to watch shows with the captions open: it gives me a redundant information feed in case audio proves inadequate at any point.

    In addition, it helps me get a sense of what the words sound like. For fiction, it makes sense for me to supply my own sound to the narration, my own cadence and emphasis, though I’d love to hear Mr. Gibson read some passages with which I’m more familiar. In the case of non-fiction, I very much want to imagine hearing the lines in his voice. Reading along as I listen helps me with that.

  • ctemple27
    February 7, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Other possible causes are English as a second language and intelligibility problems in hearing. Both apply to me. There are so many immigrants in the US and in Australia(where I live) yet most people assume that everybody in the room gets all the English words.

  • Sara
    February 14, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    These are excellent comments and I am sorry to have left them so long in moderation limbo. WordPress failed to alert me of their existence and I was just now logging in to perhaps write a new post and saw them.

    I had totally not thought about being an English language learner as a reason to follow along and that makes perfect, perfect sense — as do the other reasons folks mentioned. Noticing people following along has always made me disconcerted at my own author readings, but now that I have some more idea of the reasons why, I suspect that will no longer be the case. So thanks for educating me!