Fifty people are there for every session, about ten of them writers, the rest visual artists. The visiting artist shows slides of work, the visiting writer reads.I pointed out to my correspondent that the LA Times and NY Times reviews of THE SNORING BIRD were favorable. The latter described the book as “a cross between a Darwinian parable and a Nabokov novel: an absorbing scientific saga rife with uncanny twists and fraught with quandaries over the primordial tussle between nature and nurture.”
The first visiting writer of the September session, one Bernd Heinrich, a nature writer, had a packed house. He spent almost all of the allotted twenty minutes reading fan letters about his memoir, THE SNORING BIRD: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology, and weeping at them.
Swear to God. And the book was unreadable.
The birdie replied:
Heinrich has written good nature/science books, apparently, therefore I would expect the LA & NY reviews to be respectful.
This was not a nature book but a memoir about his father, of whose third marriage he was one of two children. The father and mother put him and his sister into AN ORPHANAGE for several years while they were out chasing ichneumon wasps or something. The father sounds like a real monster, the son so injured emotionally he doesn't know how to feel, thus the tears. The fan letters evoked the grief (and masked rage) the father should have evoked. It was a real study in psychology.
The next day Heinrich was quite harsh to the lone nonfiction writer who signed up for a conference. (He refused to confer with fiction writers; that was OK by me, he was a stick.)