It is rare when an author can read aloud from their work in such a way that it completely captures the feelings and images they toiled so hard to bring to the reader on the page, but Richard Ford did so with aplomb when reading from his new book, Canada, at Powell’s the other night.
Canada is Ford’s first novel in nearly six years and is a departure from the outstanding Bascombe trilogy. It’s the story of fifteen-year-old Dell Parson’s coming-of-age as the world he knows shatters when his parents rob a bank. It takes place in Montana and Saskatchewan in the 1960s.
Ford said, “I think what I’ll do is read the beginning of this book, because if you can’t make the beginning of your book make sense, you’re really in trouble. Also, if I read the beginning, then I don’t have to do all the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, telling you who everybody is and what they were doing just before the passage I’m reading. Drives me crazy; I don’t know if it bothers you.”
Then he began to read with a slight southern accent and a lyrical cadence that made his words come alive. The audience fell under his spell. Hundreds of fans sat amid the crying baby, the coughs, the blasting alarm, and squeaking chairs, and gave themselves over to the master storyteller. (Link to audio is at the end of this post.)
After reading, he asked for questions and while the audience was thinking, he started talking:
“Sometimes people will read along with me as I read, which is fine, but I’m dyslexic and so sometimes I just will read a word wrong and almost inevitably when I read the word wrong, somebody who’s reading along with me will look up at me when I miss a word, or transpose a word, or I drop something off or something like that and I know what they’re thinking: he’s just revising this as he’s going along, or, this guy’s just about to lose his mind.”
When asked how his life is different when he’s writing a book, Ford said that was a good question and replied,
“I try to make my life as normal when I’m writing a book as it would be if I were not, which is to say I’m not a hothouse flower and so I take the garbage out. I get up early, but I don’t go to work until about 8:30 so I can see if the Red Sox won or talk to my wife and have breakfast with her. I don’t drink any less – never while I’m working. I try to make it be as normal as it can be, because my basic premise is ‘life first, writing second.’ I don’t live to write. I’m probably not even a very natural writer. I probably have made myself be whatever kind of writer I am because of my affection for literature, and wanting to do what I so much admire and see other people do. But, my life is always kind of the same, and if Christine were here with me now, she would more or less agree with that. Obviously, I’m absent for hours during the day, but that doesn’t seem unusual because she knows where I am. If she wanted to come down there and knock on the door and talk to me, she could. I’m just down there doing it. I stop for lunch. Take a nap. Go back to work at three. Work until 4:30. Go play squash. Come back home and watch TV just like Americans do. That’s the only way I could do it. Anything more precious than that…I don’t know, I don’t have those kinds of genes.”