While on his deathbed, the artist and writer Joe Brainard had this to say: “One good thing about dying, you don't have to go to any more poetry readings.” The reading has always been problematic – a fundamentally dull, yet somehow necessary part of the literary world, to which most of us have felt at least a minor obligation. Literary readings have been plagued by constant attempts to make them something more, to make them a real event that people will want to attend. These attempts are most often marked by some boozy gimmick.
The people behind San Francisco's 'Litquake,' a miniature festival of concurrent readings between which patrons are encouraged to stumble freely, are bringing their literary pub crawl to New York this year, with a Brooklyn installment in the Spring and a Manhattan one in the fall. This past weekend, in downtown Brooklyn, thirteen literary events were held over the course of two hours. Most of the events were held in a cluster of bars up and down Smith Street, in two shifts with fifteen minutes in between them. The idea is that people make it to at least two readings in as many hours, and get drunk while doing so.
The Brooklyn Lit Crawl wants to promote an atmosphere akin to a multi-stage music festival, and the event certainly suffers from a few of the same drawbacks: overlaps, arguing with your friends about which acts to see next, arriving too late to a performance and having to stand on your tippy-toes to see over the crowd. The format of a reading makes it very difficult to leave before it's over, meaning that you really can't see more than one reading per section. So you end up, at the end of the festival, having only seen two readings, which is a thing you can already do pretty much any night of the year in New York City.
I saw some good stuff at the Brooklyn Lit Crawl, including novelist James Hannaham reading some absurd recontextualizations of art world jargon. I also saw some bullshit, including ill-conceived trivia sponsored by Tin House, and Justin Taylor attempting to yell something about minimizing internet browser windows to a chatty crowd at the narrow Boat Bar.
Lit Crawl NYC seemed like a relative success, replete with friendly volunteers, alcohol sponsors, and good readings. As with any such event, however, the quality of the readings took a back seat to the conceit of the event as a whole; you don't go to Lit Crawl to see readings, you go to Lit Crawl to go to Lit Crawl. And to write a stupid column about it.