In the Moment with Sherman Alexie

Wednesday night was alive with excitement, energy, and nostalgia.

My husband stayed home with the kids, and I ventured out on my own. I met a friend for dinner — a delectable meal void of macaroni and cheese, complemented with a cloth napkin, and paid for by my sweet friend. I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir, made by a vineyard who’s name  I can’t remember, which came with an entry card for a contest the vineyard was sponsoring. I sipped my wine like I’d just come of age and filled out a form to win a new bike in December. I dotted my I’s with fervor. I felt lucky.

We skipped dessert for a more enticing event happening around the corner at the Boswell Book Company: Sherman Alexie, live and in person, speaking and reading.

The bookstore was packed, and the air electric. It was standing room only, so my friend and I weaved our way in and out of bodies to the back, where we found a niche near a bookshelf with a perfect view. I scanned the crowd: old, young, diverse. As I thought of the experience we were all about to embrace, cheers erupted and there he stood.

He spoke for an hour. He read poems from his new book, War Dances. Like in his writing, his words struck the air in an often humorous, raw, and poignant way.

He spoke with passion about the way technology is changing how we experience art. As we turn more and more towards digital and high-speed tools, the human aspect of art, whether it’s music or reading or writing, is filtered out little by little. Sherman Alexie described digitized books as sterile, robbing us of the anticipation found in a hand held object that draws us in and envelops our every sense: touch, sight, smell.

The smell of a bookstore, especially a used or antique bookstore, was a sensual image I could grasp well. I thought about the hidden stacks in the library of my alma mater, where I ventured one day in my early college years. I can’t remember the book I needed to borrow, but in my search I found a spiral staircase that took me down, down, down. The deeper I went, the older the books. It was a hidden treasure, a secret room of words, stories, and leather binding. Still today, I am drawn to antique books for the feel, the look, the character of the book itself. Years ago I bought an antique book written in French. I couldn’t read a word of it, but it didn’t matter. I bought it for the beauty of the cover and the endpaper.

On Sherman Alexie’s official website, the summary of his new book, War Dances, speaks well to the feel of the night as it settled into the recesses of my mind:

“…War Dances takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. The new beginnings, successes, mistakes, and regrets that make up our daily lives….”

I love the tactile experience of reading a good book. In that moment when I pick up the book, I am completely present. I am thinking only of the title, the author, the cover, until my hands open to the first page and my eyes begin to read. Then, I fall into the story.

Sherman Alexie made a very strong impression.

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4 responses to “In the Moment with Sherman Alexie

  1. I’m glad you had the experience hearing him read, Christi.

    And I’d like to add something about the other subject you brought up. I do understand why Kindle-like readers are popular with agents and editors who have to read so many partials and fulls, usually transporting them from office to home. And for travelers who are able to take several books with them on such a thin, light-weight object. But myself I can’t imagine ever giving up paper books.

    The younger generations will not understand this. Just as those who are growing up with iPods will never know the experience of holding an LP in their hands. They won’t miss it because they never had it. It’s sad to think there may be a future without REAL books.

    I suppose today’s bookstores with cafes will be replaced by coffee shops with download kiosks … or perhaps the coffee will be “virtual” too.

  2. So true about art and technology. Even the simple pleasure of attending a book reading is lost on me. I remember going to readings and being so drawn into the work and discussions. This is something I need to start making time for again-so powerful, words coming right from the source. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • I also had a chance recently to attend an open mic, which was almost as exciting. Hearing the words read out loud adds so much flavor to the story. I hope I can get to more readings! I know Boswell Books keeps a calendar full of events, and I bet some of the Indie bookstores in your neck of the woods do, too.

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