booktalking mechanique – script and response

Little George ran off to join the circus. You might too, when war’s been destroying the world for as long as anyone can remember. Into this bombed-out oblivion, the circus brings magic and beauty and mystery.

Once they had a man with wings.

You see, the Circus Tresaulti aren’t just talented performers, they’re also enhanced, rebuilt by their ringmaster from the wreckage of the world and who they once were. Ayar the strongman has a mechanical spine. His lover Jonah? Clockwork lungs. Panadrome was once a famous maestro but now he’s more pipe-organ than human. The tumblers and acrobats have no bones, just copper tubes to make them lighter, more flexible, harder (but not impossible) to break in a fall.

Little George wants to be a tumbler but the Boss won’t perform the operation. Two acrobats are locked in desperate competition for the wings left behind by the flying man who fell (and died). And the government man, well let me tell you about the government man:

When a particular young boy goes to the circus, and forgets to clap at the tumblers or the strongman because he is wondering if they could be of any use to him, he is a government man.

While he watches them he thinks of an agile militia; a way to prepare convicts before he puts them to labour; a body for himself. Government men are never too young to worry about dying before their work is finished.

Later, his mother will ask him why he didn’t enjoy himself. He will lie that he did. She will believe him; he is an excellent liar.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine is a kaleidoscopic story about rebuilding beauty from fragments of people. It’s not a straightforward tale; but if you love language that tumbles through misdirection, soars to revelation and never gives up on being a fantastical, emotional, six-million-dollar spectacle, this book is for you.

******

So that was the script for my booktalk. And a booktalk is supposed to be different than a review; it’s more about enticing and teasing than evaluating. This is how I thought my performance went.

My booktalk was the first one on the docket and I felt very prepared. I went up to the front of the room and launched into my script. I was experimenting with full-on memorization and sadly, it didn’t work as well as I wanted.

During the performance I had my normal responses when doing anything from memory, which is that I had unnatural pauses when I was looking for the correct next word. I always hate that feeling, especially when I’d gone through the talk without a hitch multiple times on my bike ride to class. But that’s how it goes.

Apart from the word-scrambling, I felt engaged with the class. I was making eye contact with people who seemed interested and there were smiles. During the show I didn’t feel like people were bored, and that’s my main concern in a performance situation. I hoped that my pauses came across as getting lost in enthusiasm, my mind and mouth not being synced to the same speed, rather than a lack of preparation.

Immediately afterwards, I wanted to talk to people about it and explain my choices and hear what they thought, so the silent sitting while some people scribbled and others were doing their prep for their booktalks was a little unnerving.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with my performance, because of those pauses to search for the right word which I’d misplaced somewhere in my head. In my closing I re-used forms of “spectacle” twice in a sentence, because I’d lost “emotional.” It had been one of my key sentences to the entire piece and I bungled it.

That said, I felt my script was really good. It hit the right tone for the book, and someone who was intrigued by my performance and the hints of story I was giving them would enjoy the book. If they were looking for something very different they’d realize it and not waste their time with a book they might not like.

Since the audience couldn’t see the script in its ideal form, they may have found the whole thing confusing. The words did do a lot of (intentional) tumbling, and pacing my speech never seems to happen in the moment. Hopefully my enthusiasm for the book came through and won the audience over even if they didn’t have time to parse every word.

This was a different kind of booktalk than I’ve done before and I’m not entirely sure it would be effective with actual teens. It felt too much like a performance and not enough like a conversation, which is how I’ve done them in the past. But if I was doing something this performative in the future and written a deliberate script, I really need to use it. I’m better and more fluent in delivering words I’ve prepared if I have them in front of me. Especially when I’m trying to do something more complex and writerly than a plot summary.

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