Thursday, June 27, 2002

Among the Literati IX
Went to a reading last night at Wordsworth to see Sandra Tsing Loh, author of A Year in Van Nuys, and Dan Zevin, author of The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-Up. I sat a row ahead of a bunch of Dan's friends, and having just read the book the night before, I was really looking forward to his reading.

Loh read first. She and Levin are commentators for NPR, and it showed -- both were extremely comfortable reading. Of the two, Loh was more animated, gesturing wildly and modulating her volume and tone radically throughout the reading. At times, she was overly dramatic, but the snippet she shared from her new novel about life in Van Nuys might push me over the edge to pick up the book. It's kind of a take on Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence and tells the tale of a writer with writer's block stuck in a place she'd rather not be. Lots of funny tangents.

Then, Zevin. Before the reading, he distributed a questionnaire about the days people in the audience had felt most cool or uncool -- and he incorporated the crowd response at the end, giving a package of coyote urine -- a gardening aid -- to the person whose entry was the best. I don't have the book with me at work, but Zevin read two pieces: the one about lawn care and the one about his semester abroad. He stuck to the text for the most part but interjected with several clever asides and contextual tangents, even clarifying some of the neighborhood landmarks he'd included in the book -- and pointing out people in the audience who were in the book as characters, or who had had some impact on the writing (like the person who introduced him to the "zen" contractor).

Of the two, I felt like Zevin was more personable and sincere -- maybe it's an East Coast/West Coast thing. And, as always, I wish I hadn't read the book before the reading. It's always best to hear readings fresh. Otherwise, you've already read it, and you're listening for variations and deviations. Zevin's selective edits of the semester abroad piece were well chosen, and for the most part, the reading augmented my experience with the book. Kudos to both!

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