The Franklin Park Reading Series' motto is to be "provocative, poignant and hilarious," curator Penina Roth said at last night's third-anniversary reading. She brought it up after Shalom Auslander read. Dressed in a denim-colored shirt, buttons undone and sleeves rolled up, Auslander, with his mop of curly graying hair, looks like he used to write for Rolling Stone
in the 70s, even though he was only born in 1970. "I don't know why people come to these things," he said as he took the microphone. "It seems kind of sad." (Auslander loves to bemoan
the travails of book-promotion.) The self-professed misanthrope's debut novel, Hope: A Tragedy
, tells the story of a present-day upstate New Yorker who finds Anne Frank alive and hiding in his attic. It's philosophically cutting—he read a lengthy section on the perniciousness of optimism—but also funny, as the neurotic narrator frets over the trouble he could get into (in the eyes of history or worse, his mother) if he reported the old woman. And then there're just sentences like, "'Blow me,' said Anne Frank."
These barroom readings work best when the writers draw the audience into poignancy and insight through laughter. Melissa Broder's poetry is lovely, but it seemed too somber for the room last night. John Dermot Woods' comics and illustrated stories made for a relatively ambitious multimedia presentation—but not terribly effective, until he read his silly and surreal collaboration about cats, Five Cats.
On the other hand, Crown Heights local Ben Townsend, whom Penina discovered at the Renegade Reading Series, read with deadpan self-deprecation (and at least one prop) an essay called "My Stalker," about a man (possibly) who inundated the author with letters during college, which he found more amusing and sad than frightening. And Adam Wilson
read a passage from his buzzy novel Flatscreen
. "I thought I'd read from the beginning of the book," he said, "but everybody said I should read a sex scene." So he decided to read an orgy scene—a sad one, "as most orgies tend to be." The coke- and oxy-fueled bacchanal is not particularly erotic, but it features knee-slapping conversations between a dimwitted but enthusiastic stripper, a crusty and pompous older fellow, and the straight man narrator. Wilson read them all in different voices, turning what's amusing on the page into a hoot. Aside from being provocative, poignant, and/or hilarious, that added value is exactly what you want from any reading.
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