As a novelist who has just published a book for “young” (as opposed to old”) readers, called “The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman,” I have been asked lately about the difference between giving readings to kids and giving them to adults. I can only say that never before have I been asked at an adult reading––as I was asked recently by a girl in the audience at a grade school––”Is the photograph in the back of your book the way you used to look?”

Now, that photo isn’t all that old. But the question stung. Still, the kids were waiting, and I had to answer. “Yes,” I said with a slight quaver in my voice, “it is.” Lest you think I don’t enjoy kid audiences, that isn’t true at all. I’ve absolutely loved talking to the kids I’ve met on the road over these several weeks since I’ve been living out of a suitcase and wearing the same very few outfits that from a distance do not seem creased. (Ironing while staying in a hotel just seems wrong. Not morally wrong, but wrong nonetheless.)

The other day in Toronto, I was mobbed by a group of fifth-graders, and I felt like a cross between Michael Ondaatje and Judy Blume. (That’s a collaboration I for one would definitely read.) They wanted my autograph, and I signed every book and, more to the point, every shred of paper they handed me. With kids you can write things like, “Keep reading!” With adults––well, maybe with adults you should write the same thing these days, begging them to keep reading fiction, before the novel goes the way of, say, (old person reference alert!) Necco Wafers, or “Nanny and the Professor.”

Also, it’s not that adults don’t ask provocative or disturbing questions at readings. “Will you read my manuscript?” a woman once blurted out to me, a propos of nothing, during a Q & A. A simple “no” would have sufficed, I guess, but I was aware that my answer was being closely watched, and so I muttered something about how a writer has to carefully guard her time, and then I moved on to the next question, which was, of course, “Where do you get your ideas?”

A few distinctions:  Kids can sometimes be blunt, and adults can sometimes be demanding. Their attention spans are perhaps about the same length. Kids can be placated with bookmarks; adults cannot. Kids want to know how much you were paid to write your book; adults want to know how much they will be paid to write their book, and whether I have the name of an agent. Kids sit on the floor, and sometimes lie all over one another like kittens. Adults sit in chairs, occasionally with their eyes closed and their mouths open, trying to give the appearance of pensiveness, but actually giving the appearance of sleep.

Both kids and adults can sit and listen, rapt, if the reading is good.  I am happy giving readings to people who are besieged by solicitations from “Highlights,” as well as to those who are being hunted down by AARP.  Regardless of age, a good audience is a good audience.

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