Well-readhead: Don’t make me publicly humiliate you
I regularly find myself chairing panels at writers’ festivals or in bookshops and I give a standard spiel at the beginning of every event.
‘We’ll have time for questions at the end,’ I say, ‘And let me emphasise that we want questions, not statements. If you stand up and make a statement, I will cut you off and publicly humiliate you.’
It usually gets a laugh ... until they realise I’m completely serious.
There’s always at least one person per event who uses the occasion to pontificate instead of just asking a question. At any function for a book about refugees, for example, I can all but guarantee a sixtyish bloke in a flowing shirt, leather mandals and a silver bangle will leap to his feet and rail about the evils of the Howard government – even if the book is about North African asylum-seekers to Europe.
At the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year, I chaired an event for Christos Tsiolkas, the author of ‘The Slap’, one of the best-selling books of the past few years. Several people launched into detailed views about his book – or even loosely related subjects - with no questions in sight. Christos was very gracious but I was delighted that other audience members were shouting ‘That’s a statement! Sit down!’ Really, why would anyone think that 300 people who’ve gathered to hear a reading by a best-selling author are keen on a lengthy diatribe from the floor?
I’m a journalist so I’m all for freedom of speech. Just not when I’ve paid money to hear Christos Tsiolkas or anybody else and an audience member drains time.
One of the funniest examples I’ve seen of somebody being cut off was at the Sydney Institute. Several people in a row had stood up and made statements. When it came time for the next question, the Executive Director, Gerard Henderson, gave a very sharply worded instruction that the audience was invited to ask questions, not deliver lectures. He then called on a woman who took to her feet.
‘When I was a young girl ...’ she began.
‘That is NOT a promising start!’ Henderson cried.
My personal standard: is the book The Idiot’s Guide to Acting? Am I Cate Blanchett? No. So I save my pontificating for ... errr ... this blog.
Here are this week’s ten interesting things to read, watch or listen to:
1. The Denver Post has a great documentary photo series titled ‘How an American soldier is made’, following a young man from recruitment to deployment. (Thanks @nadine_lee on twitter for steering me to it.)
2. In Texas, the downsizing of newsrooms means the burden of covering executions now mostly lands on one reporter’s shoulders.
3. Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, is one the most respected foreign policy commentators around. On Afghanistan, he’s suggesting that President Obama consider something less than the 40,000 additional troops requested by the commander of US Forces. Read it here.
4. Is Melbourne a city of bookworms or bogans? Tony Martin argues the latter. My favourite bit: “Oh, sure, it’s a city of some books, but what was the biggest selling book of last year? Was it by Tim Winton? Geraldine Brooks? Peter Carey? No, it was a book about how to remove stains from fabric. How to remove the remnants of a Bacardi Breezer from your best pair of tracky pants.”
5. Comedian Chris Rock doesn’t mince words regarding Roman Polanski’s conduct.
6. Christopher Hitchens takes issue with the comic styles of Al Franken, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (thanks @mfullilove on twitter for the tip)
7. One of Australia’s most accomplished musicians, the pianist Geoffrey Tozer, died earlier this year, destitute and ruined by alcohol. Stuart Rintoul wrote two very moving and disturbing pieces for The Australian asking what happened. Here and here.
8. Julia Baird in Newsweek on the merits of silence.
9. Ever hit send on email and realised with horror it’s not going where you intended? You’re not alone.
10. Author John Birmingham offers his take on preparing to write a novel and where ideas come from.
- You can follow Leigh Sales on twitter via @leighsales or watch her on ABC1’s Lateline.
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