In an unusual move that runs against the grain of independent bookselling trends, Open Books: A Poem Emporium, Seattle, Wash., last month began a new policy of no longer hosting poetry readings. Owners John Marshall and Christine Deavel said in a store post that the reasons were "various and cumulative." Since 1987, the store has hosted "hundreds of readings" by a range of authors, including Sherman Alexie, "a young man with a new first book, The Business of Fancydancing. He paced as he read, his voice crackling with the grace, wit, and fire that immediately made obvious the creative power he possessed, and which has only increased over the years."
While the events have been memorable, they said, "Imagine (or remember) the exhaustion that comes from having taken a very long hike. The scenery may be grand, but the steps take a toll. Hosting readings means responding to requests for readings, coordinating various calendars, preparing and sending out information about events, ordering readers' books, writing introductions, setting up chairs and sound system, nervously awaiting audience and/or poet, staffing the till, and after the last attendee leaves, putting the store back together and heading home for a late dinner, some evenings very late. If this sounds like whining perhaps it is; ending the whining is a goal and reason enough."
They continued: "The reading model is pretty much a one-way street--poet at the podium speaking constructions of words to assembled listeners who, once the reader has finished, socialize awhile, perhaps, then go on their way."
Instead, Marshall and Deavel want to emphasize "events in which the participation is more communal." These kinds of events include the Poetry in Conversation series; recitation gatherings, evenings at which people who've memorized a poem or two recite them; and a Poetry Trivia: Not a Redundancy event. Open Books is also continuing its relationship with the Seattle Arts & Lectures Poetry Series and expanding cooperative ventures with literary organizations such as APRIL and the Hugo House.
|Deavel and Marshall|
Marshall said that reactions have "run the gamut. We've heard actual disappointment from people who say they dream of reading here. Others have told us they enjoyed this or that particular reading and say that they'll miss having the opportunity to hear more. We've heard from those who understand our exhaustion, thanking us for the readings that did happen. We've had a few people say they think we are making a smart decision. A fellow who has read here twice called it a move toward 'sanity.' A couple of people have assumed we're closing the store."
But Marshall is delighted with the decision, saying, "I'm so happy not having to weigh requests for store readings! The second request to read here, after we'd made our decision public in conversations with customers, came from a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who'd read for us before. That tested the resolve. But the resolve held easily, and we worked out a co-hosting arrangement for her reading with a local literary nonprofit.
"This decision has simplified our lives. And knowing the events we do host will take place at times we choose feels truly luxurious." He added, "Now our calendar feels truly like it is our own" and that the store can now focus on selling books. "Sometimes I think readings even distracted potential book buyers from seeing that bookselling is the core purpose of the store."