Dani Shapiro
April 12, 2007

Pathetic Reading Story

Last night I gave a reading at Book Passage, a lovely bookstore north of San Francisco. I’ve heard of Book Passage for years and have always wanted to read there. And I should preface this by saying that the story I’m about to tell is in no way Book Passage’s fault. They are a stellar bookstore, and I hope to read there again some day in the future, when I have Anne Lamott’s career. Now, I’ve been collecting pathetic reading stories for as long as I’ve been giving readings. All writers collect them. They are our battle scars. We share these stories with each other the way foreign correspondents do:

How about that time in Sudan?
Remember that road block? I thought we were goners.

One such reading was at a strip mall in Westchester during a blizzard — I believe it was for my third novel, Picturing the Wreck — and no one showed up. I sat alone at a table for an hour, until finally a woman walked up to me and asked: “Are you Dana?” Then there was the one in Boston–also for Picturing the Wreck, as it happens–where the event took place in the way, way back of a store above a food court, and I couldn’t find where I was supposed to read, and my audience couldn’t, either. I had a few relatives there –and I was about to cancel (the shame of reading to only family members was too much for me) but then two fans showed up, who had driven an hour. So I read.

Well, last night I read to five people. The manager of the store, a man with his eyes closed in the back row, a woman my age in the middle of a sea of empty seats, and my two cousins who I haven’t seen in a couple of decades–a delightful couple who must have been thinking: she makes a living at this?