Last night I went to a reading hosted by one of my favorite authors, Alice Hoffman. I did not go because I enjoy literary readings, because I don't particularly. The ones I've attended have been somewhat dry affairs lending neither spark nor wit to words that danced on the page. I have no memory of being read to as a child, because as soon as I learned for myself it was me and the book - no middleman. And I learned early. There were no bedtime stories read aloud to me. So for me the written word, the book, has always held an especially important place in my heart. The writers of those words vary in intimacy. There are acquaintances, there are lovers, there are friends; varying degrees. I went because I wanted to see Alice Hoffman in person. More importantly I wanted to hear her speak.
I have heard her speak before, though not out loud - not her actual spoken voice. I have heard her voice far more intimately than that, for close to twenty years... maybe longer, I'm not sure exactly when I first heard her 'voice'. But I do remember what I heard, and I remember feeling like I'd met someone important, someone whose voice moved me and I wanted to 'listen' to it over and over. And I have. Luckily she's written a lot of novels!
Lest I sound like some whacked-author-stalker, let me explain.
There is an intimacy between the writer and the reader that is not often discussed. I don't know that I've ever read anything about it - but it's universal whether we are aware of it, or whether we discuss it or not. It happens to greater or lesser degrees depending on the reader... and the writer. Just as with relationships, some intimacies are greater, some are lesser. And no matter how great the connection, neither party ever really knows what the other knows.. not one-hundred percent. But you know a little. You know enough. Sometimes that's all you need.
The same holds true for the other arts, of course. Whenever an artist creates something, be it a painting, a sculpture, a dance there is an intimacy between the artist and the viewer. It may seem one-sided, the artist doesn't know who looks at their work, can't possibly know the effects it has on everyone who sees it: but it is there nonetheless.
Of course with music there is an understood intimacy, because poetry always gets in deeper than prose can... and is harder to explain. Just like intimacy. Just like understanding a person with a look. And of course there's that primitive reaction to a particular note of music, a certain beat, a particular pitch that goes far beyond simply 'hearing a song'. But here we get into a gray area of performance vs. the writer.
But with the written word, I think there is another type of instinctive reaction. Although the action of reading is a solitary one, it is never completely singular. Someone tells the story - someone else reads it. It's the story around the campfire that can transcend centuries. The words may be fiction, or they may be partially factual, they may have been written yesterday or by an author long turned to dust, but the soul goes into the words, onto the paper and when read, there is a connection made. The storyteller, the story told, the reader.
Hearing stories read aloud tonight, by three very good actors Mia Dillon, Jill Eikenberry and Joanna Gleason was entertaining, fun, but not intimate. Hearing Alice Hoffman introduce each of the three stories read, that was. (Not in a weird psycho way - stop thinking that way, right now!! Geez, people I'm working on the deep stuff here - stay with me, will ya!!!)
I was, in truth, slightly worried. Worried that I'd hear this woman speak ... and shudder. (Valentino destroyed by 'talkies'!) How awful if her voice grated, or shrilled. Would that forever ruin my enjoyment of her books? Would I never again be able to read her without hearing the disenchanting 'real' voice? Would the magic of the written word be forever revealed as mere trickery? As usual, I worried for nothing. She spoke and I was eased. Her real voice matched her written voice and I was only disappointed that someone other than she read her story aloud.
But really, it's okay, because I know I can open one of her books and hear that 'voice' I know intimately any time. And knowing that is enough.