I'm pro—Nancy Pearl, and interviewing authors in front of a big group of people is harder than it looks, but what was happening in that interview Tuesday, May 15, with Jhumpa Lahiri at Town Hall? It felt like the age and grandiosity of the room had taken over and sort of suffocated all possibility of anything interesting happening. On the right, you had the freakishly well-read librarian who's also a best-selling author. On the left you had the American fiction writer whose parents were first-generation immigrants from India and who won the Pulitzer Prize for her first book, 2000's Interpreter of Maladies. And yet the audience was reduced to sleeping with their eyes open.
It was billed as "A Conversation Between Jhumpa Lahiri and Nancy Pearl," but it never achieved the cruising altitude you want a conversation to have. The questions were, like, how much of The Namesake is autobiographical and what does Lahiri think of the movie and how excited is she that "everyone" in Seattle's read her book (it was the title selected for this year's Seattle Reads, the program that used to be called If All of Seattle Read the Same Book). The only time Pearl got any personality out of Lahiri was when she asked about why Lahiri had one of the characters in The Namesake die, specifically whether this was "a conscious choice," and Lahiri replied, "Yeah," and then thought about it a second and added, "I mean, I didn't write it in my sleep."
Actually, Lahiri said something interesting about the movie (that it made her understand what it must be like to be a grandparent, since the movie wasn't something she'd given birth to but something that came out of something she'd given birth to). The other great moment (not really followed through on) was when Lahiri indicated just how obsessive she is about technical decisions: Just to make sure The Namesake needed to be in present tense, she went through and rewrote the whole thing in past tense. As she'd suspected, she didn't like that as much. So present tense it was.
There is no way to give an unbiased account of the reading and dance party with Miranda July two nights later at Neumo's, because The Stranger produced it, but here are the facts. July wore a black dress. There were so many people inside Neumo's eventually that VIPs had to be turned away, including the filmmaker Web Crowell, who had work in the show (projected onto a screen during the dance party). July read two short stories, one of which begins, "It still counts, even though it happened when he was unconscious." "Awesome" did five July-inspired songs. Sarah Rudinoff performed a song she had written for the first time. After the signing, July danced with the people of Seattle, some of whom held extra-large bottles of Red Stripe.