At some point between starting to write my first novel that has never been published and finishing my first novel that has never been published, I began to dream of my first bookstore reading.
Reading is such a personal experience — the voices in our head are shaped by the author and polished by the reader. No two readers will ingest exactly the same story but I dreamed of the day I would share mine in my own voice.
I knew exactly how it would go: With joyful confidence I would stand behind a podium wearing something that said, “Creative with a classic edge.” (In my daydream I shed 20 pounds and gained two inches in height.) I would breathe in the moment, open my book with a creak of the binding and read aloud a carefully selected passage to a room of no fewer than 40 people (sometimes, in moments of great ego, the daydream room is packed).
We all know the surreal feeling of dreaming, working and planning for something…and then it happens.
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Crossing a stage for a diploma the first time.
Walking down a wedding aisle for the first time.
Pushing your baby in a stroller for the first time.
All things imagined, achieved through effort, and rarely how we dreamed them to be.
Last week I had my first bookstore reading.
But the words I read that day were not mine.
The event was a read-a-thon for a beloved literary classic held in anticipation of the author’s second novel. In 30-minute increments people who use written words for a living would read the entire book.
I arrived at the large, brick bookstore in a charming, open air mall. I was wearing my current uniform of cotton top, skirt and nice sneakers, more Mom than Creative.
The space was between rows of non-fiction; the audience was minimal.
The reader, an author, was sitting in an upholstered chair, no podium in sight. I knew there was no way was I going to do as well, she read beautifully. She seemed surprised that 30 minutes had passed when a smiling bookstore manager stopped her.
Another author settled into the comfy chair, read for a few minutes and then…magic.
Time disappeared. Years and location disappeared. I was in the Deep South experiencing a story set in a far gone era. The author wasn’t simply reading words, she was the story.
No way was I going to do as well.
The woman from the bookstore smiled and the author sounded surprised that her time was up.
I began reading, and to my ear, not that well.
Then I had a feeling like being wrapped in a blanket on a cold day. Comfort. Familiar. Dreamy. Transformed. I was back in the story…
…and timelessly I was back in the cheery bookstore being smiled at and passing the book to the next author who whispered that she wasn’t going to do as well.
“Just read,” I told her.
And she did.
Again the magic happened before my eyes! First reading, then living the words; surprise 30 minutes of wonderful storytelling later.
When I thanked the kind bookstore manager for the experience, she told me that every single reader had said the same thing: “Time is up?”
I don’t think it was that particular book that transported us, exactly. I think it was the act of reading aloud that planted us in the story. It was our voices and the author’s. Reader, writer and listener united.
Like a lot of life, this experience wasn’t what I had expected.
It was greater than I imagined.
Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.