On Monday night, the event for which we have been slaving (planning, flyering, postering, bookmarking, calling, talking, ushering, greeting, etc.) finally occured, and went very well, I have to say. Joan Didion read at McAlister, a bunch of people came, there were no fires, and only one or two inane questions.
There are more details about the event in (Times-Picayune Book Editor) Susan Larson’s blog, here, although I think her guess of 700 attendees is a little low. Tulane creative writing senior Catherine Freshley’s article in the New Wave gets it closer: there were over a thousand people.
I felt like I handed out about that many programs, or maybe four times that. Jordan, who also handed out programs and greeted people as they arrived at McAlister, can attest to how unexpectedly hard a job it is. Not to mention conflicting instructions from our boss, Literary Event Overlord Paula Morris–“Make sure you’re smiling and welcoming them”/”Stop scaring everyone with your freakish smiles.” To be fair, I did notice that my voice for “Hello, welcome to Tulane, enjoy the reading” slipped uncontrollably, over the course of the hour I was handing out programs, from extremely pleasant to faintly sinister, until it sounded like I was trying to seduce everyone walking up the McAlister steps.
(Note: This is still not the worst job you can get. Chocolate Kudos to Phil/Lianna/Hunter, who held up a Didion banner in a chilly windstorm, and endured multiple “Couldn’t they have got you some rope?”-comments.)
About the reading itself, I won’t say much. The writer at joandidion.info (here) mentions seeing a Twitter from an attendee who described Didion’s “camel colored Uggs” and voice, “dry w/o emotion.” I would say of Didion’s reading voice–admittedly somewhat monotone and slowly paced–that it actually matches her material very well. That is to say, The Year of Magical Thinking is a book miraculously without sentimentality, analytical and intelligent, that somehow grinds its emotional impact into you osmotically. The reading might not have been overtly exciting, but it was more than gripping.
The Uggs, on the other hand, are indefensible, as Uggs usually are. Stylish glasses, though.