An Evening with Peter Ho Davies

This evening I went to see Peter Ho Davies speak. He was reading in honor of the Fall issue of Ploughshares, which he guest edited. He read his introduction to the issue as well as an excerpt from an unpublished piece he is currently working on. I’m excited to see what he eventually comes out with because what he read was really, quite good. Very enthralling. Plus he’s a great reader; his voice is soothing. Is that weird? No, I don’t think so.IMAG0112

His introduction touched on an idea I find compelling. He was talking about how he doesn’t particularly like to judge fiction (even though he does daily – whether as a guest editor or a fiction professor) not only because a judgement allows one’s taste to be called into question, but also because he doesn’t necessarily want to share what he loves. He writes, “My relationship with my wife is precious by virtue of its exclusivity. Similarly my relationship with a book or story is precious because it feels unique, as if no one else might understand that work or author in quite the same way.” So it stands that if many people like the book or story you like, it leaves less room for one’s feeling of intimacy with the story.

It takes a certain amount of risk to confess to feeling passionately one way or another for fear of being shamed or ridiculed, but also by sharing it certainly lessens the exclusivity of experience with the book. When you read it’s only you and the page; whatever thoughts and connections you can make up. As the reader you bring the book to life in your own experience. Once you start sharing that experience, the relation to the work certainly changes. I can’t count the amount of times I went into a class feeling and thinking one way about a reading assignment, only to have an hour’s long discussion change much of what I had initially thought. Perhaps that’s my own fault. Maybe it indicates an inability to stick to my guns. But I also have to say there is a thrill and satisfaction to sharing and having perfect concordance with another person. I love the excitement of knowing another being thought and felt as I did toward another work. And often I find their opinions enhance my experience rather than detract.

I like Peter’s idea that in order to share something one likes with another it needs to be divided. You divide to share  and I think that cutting allows an opening for other people’s opinions. When all of those elements mix inside, a form of truth starts to take place. It’s a pretty image and one I really enjoy. As Peter Ho Davies says, “To share something is first to shear it; it must be cut and divided before it can be parceled out. To share is thus at once to keep and to give.”

As a post script, I also bought a copy of Peter’s novel The Welsh Girl and he signed it! He was very kind despite the fact that I am a total ditherspazz when talking to strangers. Oh well. Until next time! xx

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