When I was in grad school I took a Dickens seminar, and it was awesome. Not only did I have incentive to read a bunch of long novels (which I instinctively shy away from), I enjoyed learning about the author in a way one doesn’t get to outside a Major Authors course. There were biographical tidbits throughout the semester, and I left with the feeling that Dickens was someone I would have liked, despite his foibles. The thing I loved the most about him was that he was characterized as a rock star, drawing huge crowds, and doing public readings in the way one thinks of concerts today. He had fans clambering for the next installment of his novels the ways we impatiently wait for our favorite bands’ new releases or anticipated sequels to movies.
It also made me nostalgic for a time I never knew—when an author could have that status. I’ve been to book readings and signings, and they’re always modest but wonderful moments, perhaps the more wonderful for their intimacy. But I’m never under the illusion that books are as powerful a draw as musicians or movie stars. I’m still not. But I was pretty close last Thursday night.
I took my family to see “An Evening with Neil Gaiman” at the Segerstrom Concert Hall, which seats close to 2000. It was pretty full. I had no idea what to expect. Would he read? Would he chat? Did he have a performance shtick? Incidentally, it’s hard to sell an outing to teenagers without really knowing what to expect. They’re well-behaved, but they were… reluctant. They both would have stayed home if that had been an option. But they both had a great time.
It turns out “An Evening” means some reading, some impromptu chatter, and some responding to question cards that audience members filled out before the show. In all, Gaiman read seven pieces, from a chapter out of his retelling of Norse Myths to a poem he wrote after visiting a Poetry Brothel for his stag party. There was even an encore piece. We clapped; we stood; we sat back down, and he read one more short story. It was utterly delightful.
I left heartened about a world that seems to be super digital, but wherein crowds still form to hear stories. They cheered for him when he mentioned his books and their success, and they cheered when he told a story about his toddler son. They listened, rapt, when he discussed the serious shift in culture from when his novel American Gods was written, and why and how it’s become contentious in an atmosphere of recent travel bans and immigration issues.It was a wonderfully human evening.
Gaiman has a diverse audience, from tweed jackets to tattoos and cargo shorts, and we fit in just fine: another family raising readers, happy to listen in real time to a great story.