Reader as Endangered Species: Renata Adler at the Center for Fiction

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At the Center for Fiction, on the occasion of the rerelease of Renata Adler’s novels Speedboat and Pitch Dark (in beautiful new editions by the New York Review of Books), Adler speaks not quite anecdotally, not quite aphoristically — and a crowd of readers and writers, apparently an endangered species, crane delicate necks, laugh well-timed laughs.

1. “Do you all write? It looks like you all write.” 2. Richard Avedon’s iconic 1978 shot of Adler in Saint Martin

“Maybe we are all the last generation of readers, and writers too,” Adler says, but I hope she doesn’t believe it. I must concede that she’s certainly at least considering it — like her narrators, Adler will not say what she doesn’t mean.

Every few minutes, Adler checks in — should she keep going with this weird hybrid thing, this reading, this conversation? Emphatically the audience says yes. We nod. We laugh. She continues. The books, those weird hybrid things we keep saying yes to.

1. First you await Adler’s reading (anticipation!) 2. Then you await Adler’s signing (contemplation!)

“Pitch Dark has more of a plot,” she says, “but people don’t seem to like it better.” The bits taken from life, she says, are often ridiculous, and the made-up ones are not unlikely to have happened. For instance — a passage from Pitch Dark, about Penelope, who couldn’t have been doing all that weaving and unweaving, not really: “we’ve known ever since we learned, not what love us, but what reporting is and what public figures are … how much more than we were ever taught to expect is really lies.”

Outside what was once the largest circulating library in the United States, night settles. We line up for autographs, all carry an image of an eternal braid outside with us, determined not to be the last.

***

–Elina Mishuris is in a perpetual state of cat-sitting.

Photographs provided by the Center for Fiction

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