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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Richard Ford Reading

Pages Books and the Calgary Public Library last night hosted a reading by Richard Ford. He read from The Lay of the Land, the third book in the Frank Bascombe series. Even with bitter cold of minus a few hundred, a good crowd showed up wearing everything from seal fur knee-warmers to coal fired hats.

First off, kudos to the Library and to Pages -- the reading was the hottest event in town.

The book continues Bascombe's internal external dialogues, this one with what seems like more humorous musings on his life -- a life ratcheted up emotionally by the sudden return of his wife's ex. Well I won't dwell on the story -- Ford as a nice reading voice, much like that of Garrison Keillor in many respects, treating the text as his voice, as though he's sitting by a wood stove spinning the tale.

I give him credit for two important points during his talk. He said that while he usually doesn't tell people to take a page from other countries' histories, Canadians should take a page from American history -- that Bush is not what America wants or needs, and that Harper's middle name is also Bush. Chalk one up for Ford.

Secondly. He was asked about getting the details into the fiction, how does he do it, did he live through similar events. His answer: He shared some things with his character, for example they were both children once, he once lived in New Jersey. But beyond that not much. He said inventing such details is his job. He also dispelled the myth of the driven artist saying writing is a choice. There is nothing forcing writers to tell a story, forcing them to get out a book. Rather it's all choice and hard work and sometimes because of that one gets lucky. I absolutely agree here, and try to do the same in teaching -- hard work, asking the right questions, being critical, and choosing to stick with the craft over a long period of time is the key.

He responded to a question about regionalist writing with disgust. He said people everywhere are about the same, that he could take dialogue from the south where he grew up and place it into the mouths of people from Montana and it worked perfectly. His thesis: the whoop-dee-doo positioning that a certain type of writing comes from certain place is highly overrated and mostly wrong.

Great lessons for writers, great reading for readers.