Another lovely sunny day in London.
I had only one thing booked today: a reading at the Daunt Books Festival by three short story writers, A. L. Kennedy, Helen Simpson, and David Constantine, from their new books, and then a very short panel discussion on the short story with K. J. Orr.
I left the hotel in plenty of time.
But let’s have some coffee first. God, I’d been drinking tea all morning and it did nothing for me.
Today: coffee at Costa. I spilled it on my sweater. Goddamit!
But the coffee did energize me enough that I went to Skoob Books, the most wonderful used bookstore I’ve been to in England. A fascinating collection, old Penguins, old crime Penguins, Oxford classics editions, Loeb editions, and some newish Viragos I’ve never seen by contemporary writers.
Then I went out and thought briefly of buying a hairbrush, because I have been in London without a hairbrush.
Then I realized I was only going to a literary event, so it hardly mattered whether my hair was brushed or not.
I do have a way of getting lost, and the English have all been very good about getting me oriented. I wanted to get in a good walk today, so I walked to a station that was a little farther away from my hotel. I got turned around, and when I finally got off the tube, though I was headed in the right direction, I was on the wrong side of Marleybone to see Marleybone High Street. So I went too far, and when I saw Regent’s Park, a beautiful green space, I realized what had happened and crossly crossed the street.
I showed up at Daunt Books a little late.
I was there for the last 10 or 15 minutes of the event.
A. L. Kennedy was finishing her reading, and she was either too far from the microphone (did they have one?), or has a low voice, because I couldn’t hear.
She was reading a description of a penis: “Penis something something penis something.”
Everyone laughed, and I’m sure it was very funny, but I couldn’t hear. I idly remembered something: I just missed a book group discussion at home of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (The penis in Chatterley is called John Thomas.)
After Kennedy finished the reading, K. J. Orr conducted a short panel discussion about the short story. Very short.
I liked Helen Simpson the most, because I could hear her. She said she started the day reading a short story, and that it got her out of bed.
Kennedy, whom again I couldn’t hear, said something about not liking anecdotes in short stories. A man goes into the bar with a dog means nothing to her. And then I heard no more.
I didn’t hear a word David Constantine said.
Next time I’ll get there early and sit in the front.
I do wish the discussion had been longer. No questions from the audience were allowed. Now that’s ridiculous for 5 pounds, and the writers could have spent more time if they wanted me to buy books. I have never been to an event before with four writers in 45 minutes, and since the next event wasn’t till five, surely they could have accepted a couple of questions. Note: In the U.S. book festivals are free, readings always last at least an hour, and the writers give and give of their time, with the exception of Nobel winners. Toni Morrison, who has obviously had too much of a good thing, was charming in the ’80s and actually met with students after an event. But the last time I heard her, after she won the Nobel Prize, she finished on the dot and did not have a signing or meet with us patrons after the event.
And am I going to the Oxford Literary Festival? No, I’d love to hear Margaret Drabble, but she’s talking about Jules Verne, not her own books.
The writers’ event at Daunt Books (which admittedly I hardly even made it to) was the only disappointment in my trip, but my critique cannot be a real critique, except for that of the discussion and the Q&A.
I’ve been very touristy–this has been my first tourist vacation in my life–because in American cities, it has always been more about entertainment for me. But I am unlikely to have a chance to see this city again, so am trying to make the most of tourism!