10. 25. 2013. 12:52

Authorial acrobatics: Is it the job of writers to popularize reading?

Nowadays things have got to a point where authors who cannot perform something special are not even invited to events anymore. Should writers be performing artists as well, or is it enough if they write good books, poet-novelist Orsolya Karafiáth asks.

For the first time this year, the "Night of Reading" was organized in Budapest. It was a highly successful event, much enjoyed by the authors who participated in it. Yet it made me wonder how much should writers be involved in the promotion of their books.

For years now, both publishers and authors have been complaining that the book market is getting weaker and weaker, that people are not reading as much as they used to, or that the ones who would wish to read cannot afford it. And truly, one of the saddest experiences I had at book fairs and literary events in recent years was to see librarians and teachers show up with photocopies of books for signing, since they cannot afford to buy them out of their tiny salaries. This has, of course, negative consequences for us, writers, too, since we are (that is, would be) paid royalties after each book sold.

This explains why we are witnessing the development of something like a mass movement for the popularization of reading, with such events and happenings popping up everywhere, from beaches to music festivals. Ingeniously, the organizers and hosts realized that it is much more successful to combine traditional readings with various performances. It is a fairly recent development, however, at such events to ask the writers themselves to "show a different side of their personality" to the public and give an entertaining performance. Of course, there are authors, like myself, for whom this request causes no problems since I enjoy to freely jump from one art form to the other, to be a model or a muse, a songwriter or a dancer. I love to dress up for a project, to create a new personality for a certain role, and to add something eye-catching to my texts. Yet, all the while I am engaged in these activities, I am aware that it is only fun and games; this is only complementary and occasional entertainment: that is, I do not take this side of myself too seriously.

That said, I do not think it is a good idea for this new approach to become a sort of standard requirement for writers in general, and for it to slowly replace the act of reading as such. It is misleading to see writers as interesting and popular just because every time they approach a stage they immediately start playing the guitar, singing a tune, or god knows what else. (All of that should perhaps add a colorful touch or give a slight nuance to the image of the writer, but nowadays things got to a point where authors who cannot perform something special are not even invited to events anymore...) Not to mention that some writers are reluctant or simply bored to even give interviews or speak publicly. At one of the discussions organized for the "Night of Reading" I was talking to Márton Gerlóczy who commented that it was not by accident that he did not become a performing artist, a magician or a snake-charmer: he became a writer and that is enough for him. He does not want to be brilliant in anything else; if he had wanted a life on the stage he would not have chosen writing as a profession.

The "Night of Reading" is not to be blamed for that, of course: the whole idea of the event was to show authors in a different and unusual light. But this tendency is becoming mainstream, and more and more writers are starting to feel uncomfortable with it. For this implicit expectation somehow suggests that those who cannot paint, take photographs, swallow swords or sing four octaves are lacking in some important qualities and are not interesting at all.

Even publishing houses have started to pressure their authors – as if reminding them of their "job description" – to attend all sorts of publicity events (which I also loath), and to expect them to hunt down all possible ways of getting the attention of the public. Yet these time-wasting efforts are mostly hopeless and futile: if a text doesn't succeed in awakening the reader's interest, no amount of authorial acrobatics will conjure up more readers or higher sales figures. I have been involved in such activities for years now, and my experience is that such publicity stunts can only succeed in putting the writer, rather than the book, in the limelight. All of this coming from me, a person who loves playing – but we all know that playing is pleasant only as long as it is not compulsory.

Orsolya Karafiáth

Translated by: Szabolcs László

Tags: Orsolya Karafiáth