Our Reading Lives

Relearning How to Wear Shoes at Post-Pandemic Author Readings

Gretchen Lida

Staff Writer

Gretchen Lida is an essayist and an equestrian. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Brevity, The Rumpus, The Washington Independent Review of Books, and many others. She teaches composition in Illinois, lives in Wisconsin, sometimes lives on Nantucket Island and is still a Colorado Native.

One of the few silver linings of this past year’s pandemic life has been the online author readings. As the streets shuttered and the traffic quieted, my literary life online blossomed open. At least once a month, sometimes once a week, my laptop or phone screen became a transporter into the living rooms or writing spaces of some of my favorite authors as they read their work. Time and Distance be damned.

I attended writing workshops with Emergence Magazine listening to writers worldwide read aloud from prompts and memoirist. From the comfort of my desk chair (which I  now have overpriced cushions for), I watched nature writer Robert Macfarlane, poet Ross Gay, and my former teacher John Calderazzo read from their work. Events happened across oceans and mountains, often taking place thousands of miles away from my studio apartment.

I even dragged a class full of students to a conversation between Eula Biss and Claudia Rankine at the Chicago Humanity Festival. I got the pleasure of watching those students’ worlds expand through someone else’s ideas.

Events no longer were inside physical bookstores, but Instagram on my phone.  The authors’ sounds came through my speakers in the car as I drove home from the grocery store. Authors spoke through my computer on Event Brite, Facebook Live, YouTube, and every type of Zoom configuration fathomable.

I even started hosting a show for Horse Network’s HN reads. I would tear my apartment to pieces to set it up just so and would fangirl at fantastic and generous horse-loving authors every month. I was terrified of the camera at first, but as I started to get the hang of it and relax into my own body, I let my curiosity take over. Memoirists, novelists, illustrators, and even a neuroscientist expanded the way I thought about the horses I loved.

In 2020, a year heaped in epic amounts of terrible, I am exceedingly grateful for each and every event. Even if I just caught the tail end of it, or half watched it while folding laundry, readings were one of those few moments where I felt as if we were all in this together. The sense of connection was nourishing, even if it was strange.

Like many, I too miss the serendipity of in-person events. I miss meeting strangers in the signing line or gossiping at after-parties at the bar down the street. I miss running into an old friend or people I have met only a few times. The literary world is small. After a while, you will eventually know someone sitting in the bookstore in the folding chair in front of you. Humans, even bookish ones, are social creatures, bound by our connections to each other.

However, re-entering a busy world makes me nervous, and unfortunately, readings are on the list. After a year barefoot, listening with my cat on my lap,  I do not know if I will know how to behave at readings anymore. Will I know how to have a conversation without unmuting myself or typing in the chatbox? When will the high alert sense that crowds now give me fade into the background, and when will I go back to merely worrying about rescuing my friend from the mansplainers?

I do not have answers for how to adapt to a world where we can sit in bookstores and theaters again. I do not think anyone does. Instead, I think I am going to go with the route I have taken so far, be honest, be nice, and accept that it may be a little awkward. Just like writing, I have learned that being clear and being vulnerable can take us all far. Even though I am nervous, I can’t wait to be back together celebrating books once again.