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Home > About NLS > Other Writings > Reflections of a Lifetime Reader
Issued April 2006
Blind and physically handicapped individuals are entitled to a high-quality free public library service with access to all information, books, and materials perceived as useful. This is the charge under which the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and its network of cooperating agencies function.
To review and focus our mission, we occasionally invite a distinguished author and speaker to meet with librarians and others assembled in conference to present views from a lifetime of reading. Eric Kraft is such a person. Kraft addressed the biennial National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in May 2004.
Frank Kurt Cylke
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
For many years now I have been writing The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, the memoirs of a fictional character. Throughout those years, I have been quite deliberately writing a work that I expected to be read in two ways: in silence-by a reader whom I picture in bed, reading at her leisure, with the time to pause and think and savor-and aloud-read by me to the work's first audience, an audience of one, the one for whom it was written, its muse.
What I have to say this morning is about the way my anticipation of those two readings affects the work . . . but first, let me introduce you to that fictional character, Peter Leroy. In fact, let's let him introduce himself.
Here he is, writing at the age of 58, describing himself in the preface to Passionate Spectator, the ninth of his books-my books-our books, which will be published in July:
I am a crowd. If you see me on the street, strolling, I may seem to be alone, but I'm not. If you were watching me from the building across the street with your binoculars while I was sitting at home in the little room where I do my work, practicing the business of reminiscence, you might think that I was alone, but I wouldn't be. I am never really alone. All the people who have played parts in my past are with me, wherever I am, wherever I go. So are all the people I've invented to fill the gaps in my past. Their constant presence has made me one of the people you see on a New York street who seem to hear inner voices, and among those I'm one of the ones who's listening to them. I walk to the unpredictable rhythms of a shifting internal confabulation, like the chatter at a cocktail party of the mind. Everyone at that party is vying for my attention, each in a singular way, but regardless of what he says or how she says it or how any one of them finds a way to be heard for a while above the others, each of them is asking, pleading, or demanding that I tell his story next, or, at the very least, that I find a way to tell her story, even a bit of their story, while I'm telling mine. I'm a memoirist.
And here is Peter, at 52 or so, writing in the preface to Leaving Small's Hotel about how he and I met and how we work together:
One cold winter afternoon, I was sitting on a bench at the Babbington town dock, looking toward Small's Island. Things hadn't been going well for me, and I was feeling desperate and alone. I let myself drift into a daydream. In the dream, I was about seven years old. I was sitting on the dilapidated dock out on Small's Island, in front of the abandoned hotel there, dabbling my feet in the water. A sudden sound surprised me, and I raised my head. There, in front of me, not more than a few yards away, was a young man in a rowboat, staring at me, wearing a puzzled look. I waved and smiled. He seemed to be astonished to see me, and at first I couldn't understand why, but then I began to realize that it was because he hadn't expected to see me in his daydream any more than I had expected to see him in mine, and that's when I understood that he and I were having the same dream.
That night, lying in bed, I figured out what must have happened. On that cold winter afternoon I somehow insinuated myself into the mind of the young man I saw in the rowboat, a student at the time, dozing over a German lesson in a college library, sitting in a chair propped precariously on its back legs. Suddenly he woke up and found that he'd fallen to the floor. People were laughing at him, and he was embarrassed, so he gathered his things and rushed out of the library . . . and outside, in the cold air, the memory of a dream returned to him, surprising him. He recalled seeing a little boy sitting on a dock in the summer sun, dabbling his feet in the water: me.
I have been living in his mind ever since. He calls me Peter Leroy. I call him Eric Kraft. He thinks he invented me. I think I invented him.
It is a curious kind of partnership, Kraft & Leroy. The usual descriptions-author and character, ventriloquist and dummy, left brain and right brain-are inaccurate and inadequate. When we were just beginning to work together, I may have thought that in Peter Leroy I had found a way to write about myself, and Peter may have thought that he had found a ventriloquist who was willing to play the straight man while he got the laughs, but as time has passed, each of us has found himself liberated by the other, and each of us has found that to a certain degree he has become what he is through the agency of the other. We are not the same person, though we share a mind.
A note on what Peter is up to in these memoirs of his: If you could look over his shoulder and watch him at work, or if you were watching him from across the street with your binoculars, you'd be likely to find that he was re-writing an episode from his past, making of his life a story that it never was, because when he reminisces he finds that he's as interested in the possibilities as he is in the facts, and also because memory, like an old radio receiver, picks up a lot of static. Here he is, at 38, writing in the very first volume of his memoirs, Little Follies, looking backward, in search of lost time, recalling a time when he was about eight, listening for voices from the past, and encountering static:
At home, in my parents' house in Babbington Heights, in the corner of the attic that was my bedroom, I had, on a table beside my bed, a small Philco radio. It was made of cream-colored plastic. The radio had seen years of use on somebody else's bedside table before I got it for my room. Over the years, the heat from the bulb that lighted its dial had discolored and cracked the plastic in a spot along the rounded edge of the top, right above the dial. On winter nights, when the attic was cold, I would bring the radio close to me, onto the bed, under the covers, and rest one hand on the warm, discolored spot while I listened.
Of all the programs that I listened to on that radio, I can remember only one clearly: one about a boy about my age who lost everyone who was dear to him in a shipwreck, and was left alone, entirely alone, on an island somewhere warm and wet and windy. He had lost his mother and father and grandparents and a clever younger sister with a voice like a flute, and he called out for them in the night, calling against the persistent, overpowering sound of the wind and the sea, and listened in despair for the sound of their voices through the crashing surf and howling wind. I huddled in my bed, with the blankets pulled over my head, and trembled when the sound of his voice and the wind filled the little cave that I'd made. This program so terrified me that I wanted to cry out for my own parents, to run downstairs for some comfort from them, at least to reassure myself that they were still there, but I couldn't run to them because I was listening to the radio at a time of night when my mother didn't allow me to listen, because, as she had told me often enough, the programs that were broadcast at those late hours were the sort of thing that scared the wits out of young boys.
Though I remember only that one program, I can remember as clearly as a memorized poem or a popular song the susurrous and crackling static that accompanied everything I heard on the little radio. Over the course of time, this insistent sound has pushed its way from the background of my radio memories to the foreground, and the private detectives, shipwrecked travelers, cowboys, bandleaders, and comedians who once were able to shout over it now call out only faintly and indecipherably, like voices calling against the roaring of the sea and the wind.
Much of Peter's Personal History is set in the past, in his memories of his childhood in the town of Babbington, on the south shore of Long Island, beside the Great South Bay. His themes are love and loss, the vagaries of memory, the transformative power of the imagination, the inextricable tangle of memory and imagination in the mind, and, of course, clams.
Here he is, again in Little Follies, reliving the agony of his childhood pelecypodophobia (the fear of bivalve mollusks):
From time to time, my parents would take me to stay for a weekend with my father's large and sturdy parents, whom I called Big Grandfather and Big Grandmother. My parents stayed just long enough to fulfill an obligation. They would ordinarily leave after dinner if we went on a Friday, and after an hour or so if we went on a Saturday morning. I would stay until Sunday evening. Though I loved my big grandparents dearly, I was never comfortable during these visits, in part because they were so much larger than anyone else in the family, and in part because all their furniture was upholstered with scratchy scarlet fabric, but mostly because, as soon as I was old enough, if the weather allowed it, Grandfather would take me clamming with him on Saturday and Sunday.
Grandfather clammed in the flats, where the water was shallow-below his waist, below my chest. He would hunt for clams by "treading," feeling for them with his toes. When he found one, he'd duck beneath the water, bring the clam up, and drop it into the front of his brief wool bathing suit. Soon his bathing suit would fill up with clams, bulging enormously at the front, and he would waddle to his boat, the Rambunctious, where he would empty the clams onto the deck. I knew that I was expected to do as he did, but even thinking of dropping a clam into the front of my bathing suit brought a stab of pain between my legs; my stomach grew cold. I was sure that clams must bite and that they were likely to snap at me in there. Every moment of every visit was marked by fear of being bitten if I did as Grandfather did and fear of disappointing him if I did not.
I wanted to ask him, "Do clams bite?" but I knew that if I asked, he'd look at me with his smart gray eyes and know exactly why I was asking, so I didn't ask, and instead I began a halfhearted imitation of his shuffle, worrying all the while about what to do with the clams I found, if I found any. Should I take the awful risk?
Almost at once, my toes struck something hard, something that could only be a clam.
Slowly, resignedly, I took a breath, dipped beneath the water, and dug it out of the sand. I stood up slowly. It was a hefty chowder clam, a whopper.
"You got one," called Grandfather. He beamed at me. "I think maybe you've really got the knack."
"Yah! Woo! Hey!" I shouted.
Grandfather's mouth fell open. He watched me thrashing in the water, rolling around, holding the clam with both hands, twisting, turning. Soon enough, the clam flew from my hands and fell into the water, baloomp, a safe distance from me.
"Damn!" I cried, smacking the water with my open hand. "It got away!"
Grandfather looked at me for a little while, and I thought he was going to say something. He opened his mouth, but then he closed it again without a word.
"It's harder than I thought," I said. "I'll get the next one."
Now Grandfather was a very savvy clammer, and when he stood in the bow of the Rambunctious while we glided across the flats looking for a likely spot, he must have been able to see the clams through the sand, because he'd picked a spot so loaded with them that I couldn't take a step without feeling a couple, but I rarely admitted finding any, and whenever I did call out that I'd found one-just often enough for verisimilitude-the wily bivalve got away.
As I said, that little story is from Little Follies. However . . . it does not appear in Little Follies as I read it to you. Pieces of it are scattered over several pages, like clams in a widespread bed. I didn't want to make you sit there and wait while I treaded my way through the bed and harvested the bits I thought you'd like to hear, so I gathered them in advance and brought them together . . . so that they would make a tighter story for a listening audience.
All the excerpts that I read to you were modified in that way, and I make similar modifications before reading anything to most listening audiences. I don't make these changes for my first listener, my ideal listener, as I'll explain in a moment, but my awareness of my two ideal audiences-the silent reader luxuriating in bed and the listener sitting across the living room from me-has made me acutely aware of the differences between the experience of reading a page in comfort and sitting in an auditorium or banquet hall or on folding chairs in a bookstore and listening to a writer read. Because listening under those conditions is different from reading a text in a deliberate and leisurely manner—and more difficult—following a thread of narrative or a train of thought may also be more difficult, so I try to help. For an audience of listeners who are likely to be hearing something that is unfamiliar to them—who may, for instance, never have experienced the stomach-churning anxiety of pelecypodophobia—I cut, I rearrange, I clarify, I tighten. I think that one of the things I try to achieve is bringing the passage closer to having Peter in front of the listeners, speaking to them, telling them a story.
So, I make adjustments to help the listener who is in a situation like this one—the captive listener, let's say. There are other types of listening audience, though, and I'll get to them in a moment, but first I'd like to consider the importance of the muse.
One of my contentions about the origins of the impulse to make art is that there is no such thing as inspiration. There is no inspiration, and so the classical role of the muse is nonexistent; there is no Erato or Thalia whispering provocatively into the writer's ear. The closest thing to inspiration is neural noise. "Noise provides a Darwinian network with the raw materials for creativity," according to Frank T. Vertosick, Jr., in The Genius Within, his treatise on the brain and its operation. "The process we call thought results from the Darwinian sculpting of network noise in the absence of external training." Romantic,isn't it? Thought, imagination, and inspiration are faculties distributed throughout the brain and are in large part just the grandiose name we give to noise—random interactions among memories old and new. Our consciousness detects signals from the neural networks, but, like an old radio receiver, it also picks up a lot of static. Some of this noise comes from within the network itself, produced by the operation of the neurons and circuits of neurons, noise from within the brain. Other noises come from outside the brain, outside the self. The sources of some of these noises are familiar, homely—like a blob of gum on a sidewalk that seems to have the shape of a familiar face, a phrase on a bus placard that echoes a phrase heard long ago, an aroma in the air that one is sure one has smelled before, but who knows where or when—while other noises reach us from sources that are more distant, exotic, and intriguing—from books, for example, where noise hisses and pops along the page, between the lines—or from conversations with strangers, where noise crackles around the edges of the import of the talk, detected by the faculty of peripheral audition.
So. Inspiration is bunk. Must the artist therefore lose the muse? Not at all. There is no such thing as inspiration, but there is certainly such a thing as motivation. There is for me, and there is for Peter. Each of us writes to please his ideal audience, and because my ideal audience provides my motivation, I'm pleased to call her muse.
When I speak to students in writing courses, I sometimes suggest that they write for the one person they consider their ideal reader, and that if they know no one who satisfies the requirements of ideal reader, they invent one. My conviction is that if your reader is the best you can imagine for your work, and you write to impress that reader, you will be doing your best work.
Peter's muse, his ideal audience, is his wife, Albertine Gaudet. Here is just a little bit of what he has to say in Passionate Spectator about the first time that he recognized how powerful she would be as a motivator:
Albertine Gaudet is my wife. I've heard her referred to as my long-suffering wife. She is sleeping beside me while I compose this paragraph in my head. We met while we were in high school, shortly after I returned from a summer in New Mexico, winging back to Babbington in a small plane that I had built in the family garage. She did not fall in love with me at first sight, though I was already in love with her before I met her, having seen her image in a drawing, admired her from afar, and listened to the praise of a friend who also loved her. When we met, she was being pursued by a number of eager boys and young men who are all now, I suppose, captains of industry and finance, assiduously plundering their employees' retirement funds. To make her mine, to get her to accept me as hers, I had to woo and win her, had to seduce and convince her.
Peter's method for making Albertine his, getting her to accept him as hers, for wooing her, winning her, seducing and convincing her, is to write his memoirs and present them to her as gifts.
I also have a muse, my ideal audience, my wife Madeline. Here is Peter on the importance of Madeline to the work:
Kraft met the love of his life when he was fifteen, and at eighteen he had the good sense to marry her. This was a lucky break—for Kraft, of course, but also for me, because Kraft wanted to do something that would make him look good in Madeline's eyes. That desire was absolutely essential to the work that would eventually become my personal history, adventures, experiences, and observations, because it kept Kraft on the job. The job became very difficult, and very confusing, and he sometimes felt like a lost soul in a labyrinth, but he would press on and press on and continue to press on, and he would keep on working at the writing, even through the most difficult patches, because he was writing not only for himself, but for Madeline: to amuse her, to impress her, to intrigue her, to seduce her. (I suspect that more books are written for such reasons than the vanity of authors allows them to admit.) Even when Kraft wasn't having any success at all, the thought of Madeline's reading his work someday and being affected by it kept him writing. (Readers who later came to feel that his books seemed to have been written just for them, as if the path between author and reader had become a shortcut, were responding to that underlying motive.)
Peter is correct. Everything that I have written I have written first for Madeline. The qualities that make her my ideal reader are these: First, she is well read; she reads, on average, two or three books a week. Second, her reading is both broad and deep; her tastes are catholic, but she has a discriminating palate. That sounds paradoxical, but it isn't really. She is that rare reader who meets a work on its own terms. If books were food, she'd be an omnivorous epicure. She'll savor a dainty dish subtly finished with truffle oil, and she'll down a hamburger with relish and gusto. To meet her standards or win her praise, each must be superior for its type. Writing to please a muse of such discernment and such broad tastes has encouraged me to broaden my reach, to mix styles high and low, low comedy and high satire, surface scintillation and deep thought.
So, following my own advice, I write to move my muse, but I'm always aware that I'm writing to move a muse in two modes: the listening muse and the silent-reading muse. I write for an ideal reader who will experience the book twice. What do I want to happen to her in general, whether she is experiencing the book as listener or reader? I want her to see that I can think, that I do think, that the life I'm living is an examined one. I want her to know that I feel, that my heart is as engaged with the world as my mind. I want her to know that I have my powers, that I can take the data that the painful world of time and place supplies me and subject it to artistic alchemy, or at least to a trickster's sleight of hand, and turn it into something else; I want her to see that the life I'm living is not only an examined one but an imagined one.
So far, so good. We've established that everything I write is written for an audience of one, an audience that is, first, a listening audience. When I have finished a book, I read it to my ideal auditor, who happens also to be my ideal reader, one chapter a night, until I've read it all. The anticipation of that reading has given me a way of knowing when my work on a book is finished. How do I know when I've finished a book? I know that the book is done when it seems good enough to read to Mad.
When I was first invited to read my work in public, I tried practicing in private. The more I practiced, the worse I got. I was almost as bad as Marcel Proust . . . at least as Jean Cocteau described him.
Lying stiffly and askew [Cocteau wrote in The Difficulty of Being] Marcel Proust would read to us, each night, Du Côté de Chez Swann. Proust would start anywhere, would mistake the page, confuse the passage, repeat himself, begin again, break off to explain that the lifting of a hat in the first chapter would reveal its significance in the last volume, and he would titter behind his gloved hand, with a laugh that he smeared all over his beard and cheeks. "It's too silly," he kept saying, "no . . . I won't read any more. It's too silly." His voice . . . became a distant plaint, a tearful music of apologies, of courtesies, of remorse. . . . And when we had persuaded him to continue, he would stretch out his arm, pull no matter what page out of his scrawl and we would fall headlong into the Guermantes or the Verdurins household. After fifty lines he would begin his performance all over again. He would groan, titter, apologize for reading so badly. Sometimes he would . . . go into a closet, where the livid light was recessed into the wall. There one would catch sight of him standing up, in his shirt sleeves, . . . holding a plate in one hand, a fork in the other, eating noodles.
Well, with the exception of the noodles, that is much the way I was, or at least the way I felt. Our older son was working with a local theater group at the time, and he brought some of the actors over to give me some advice. They taught me relaxation techniques and taught me to breathe and project, but I was still nervous and insecure. As they were leaving, though, one of them said to me, "You know, you have a great advantage over us."
"I do?" I said.
"Yes," he said. "You wrote what you're going to read. You must think it's good, or you wouldn't have published it. Sometimes we have to convince ourselves that a play is good, but you're already there."
I realized that he was right. I did think that what I'd written was good. Specifically, I thought that it was good enough to read to Mad. If it was good enough to read to Mad, then it was good enough to read to everyone else, and that conviction released my inner ham.
Now, when I read for that first audience of one, I perform. The occasion is the book's opening night. I'm nervous, of course. There's a lot on the line. As the reader, the performer, I want to deliver for the writer—put the work over, make it a success. For the cause, I drug the audience with a martini to try to put her in a particularly receptive frame of mind, and I think it helps. My martini-mellow muse is receptive . . . and forgiving.
Martini-mellow or stone cold sober, my muse knows how to listen. I said earlier that Madeline is a constant reader; she is also a constant listener, a constant auditor of books. She reads two or three books a week, and she listens to another two or three. She goes through her days like one of those people one passes on a New York street who seem to hear inner voices, but her voices come from a tape recorder or CD player. When she jogs in the morning, she's listening to a book. When she goes about the apartment doing chores, she's listening to a book. She wears a fanny pack, actually a tummy pack, bulging like Peter's grandfather's woolen bathing suit, with a cassette recorder or CD player in it. At times during the day, when a message reaches us from the outside world—an e-mail, say—that's important enough for me to want to bring it to her attention right away, I seem inevitably to approach her at a moment when she is at a particularly gripping passage in the other world of the book. "Mad?" I'll say, as gently as I can. "Yah! Woo! Hey!" she'll say. "You scared me to death!"
She has been listening on tape for years, but recently she has been listening to books on CD as well. There are, she reports, advantages to the digital medium. The first, which impressed her immediately, is clarity. The CD sound is much better than tape, and the more transparent reproduction of the reader's voice makes the text more clearly apprehended.
I should point out that not all texts benefit from this increased clarity. Some books benefit from a bit of garbling, a little static, particularly if the book is weak and the listener is generous and intelligent. I remember Madeline's father's saying that as he aged and became a little deaf, the things people said to him seemed to become much more interesting—and clever—even witty.
However, clarity makes a good book better—and makes a good reading of a good book better—so the clarity of the compact disc is welcome. Durability is another welcome improvement over tape. The medium itself is more durable and is not subject to distortion from stretching of the medium, or to accidental erasure. Random access, of course is one of the strengths of any digital medium, and as every bookshop browser knows, random access is one of the great strengths of the printed book. The random access of the CD allows Mad quick and easy chapter access, and for many books on CD, it even allows direct access to parts within a chapter. The CD player Madeline has is no more than a notch above an entry-level model, and yet it has a memory chip that stores a period of playback to eliminate skipping during active use—and a remarkable bookmarking capability. She can add as many as 99 bookmarks on each of as many as five CDs. That's like sticking 500 Post-it notes on the pages of a book.
Digital technology has brought the experiences of my reader and listener closer together. The bookmarking feature—those 500 post-it notes—allows something like the experience of marking passages that intrigued or pleased or puzzled the reader on first encounter. When my reader first encounters a motif, I hope she will find it sufficiently striking, apposite, intriguing, or even puzzling to recall it, so that when it is encountered a second time—or an echo of it—the fully engaged, fully curious, reader will mentally mark it as a feature of the fictional landscape, something to be anticipated, noted, and interpreted. Following that kind of patterning has been much more difficult for a listener than a reader, but now the digital listener can return to the bookmarks and make comparisons and note the connections.
I wonder how far digital technology can advance the convergence of reading and listening. Already, the listener can perform the analogue of skimming, pressing the fast-forward or reverse button to move quickly forward or backward in the text while a hearing rapid, compressed version of the audio—and the bookmark function allows marking of passages. So, the listener can skim, bookmark, review, return, skip, jump ahead, cut to the chase, flip to the end to see who done it. Some audio publishers index their CDs to subdivide chapters into smaller chunks, about three minutes long, about 400 words, or just a bit more than a page of a hardcover book. Skipping from chunk to chunk is an audio equivalent of flipping the pages of a book.
There is even one way in which digital audio books have become superior to printed books: they're smaller and lighter. Apple's iPod mini weighs 3.5 ounces, is the size of a short stack of credit cards, and has a capacity of 4 gigabytes of audio. In MP3 form, my recording of Inflating a Dog, the eighth volume of Peter's memoirs, is 308 megabytes, complete, unabridged. My entire oeuvre, nine books, would amount to about 2800 megabytes, 2.8 gigabytes, far below the capacity of an iPod mini. It's a humbling thought. Twenty-two years of work in a tiny box.
Well—there you have a portrait of the first reader and first listener for whom I write: voracious, and discriminating; appreciative, and critical; intelligent, and passionate; analog, and digital; traditional, and cutting-edge—most definitely a reader worth the wooing.
I have long known that my desire to woo—and win—my ideal reader and muse, and the knowledge that her first experience of a book would be hearing me read it affects my writing. Early in my work on a book, when the first reading is still so far away, the effect is general, and not very strong. Still, she is always on my mind, and her presence keeps me from being lazy at all stages in the development of a book. In the early work, it keeps me from staying on the outside of a scene, merely observing. It forces me to get into the work, to participate fully in the world that my imagination makes, so that when I return, what I return with, the report from my imagination, the news from nowhere that becomes a novel, will be as full and rich as I can imagine it. This is the hard work of the imagination. Daydreaming is easy. Generalities are easy. Dwelling in the imagination, exploring and mapping it, and returning with specifics is not easy.
The closer I get to the occasion of my first reading, her first listening, the more I have the first auditor in mind. Now the thought of her prompts two impulses, one radical, the other conservative. The thought that she has the generosity of spirit and intellect to indulge a work of art, to accept its audacity, to suspend judgment of even the most outrageous trope or theme or twist of plot until it has had its chance to pay off, sometimes makes me think that for her, if I try very hard, I can fly. On the other hand, the thought that she will spot every error, that her critical perspicacity is so acute, that she is so discerning, that no weak spot, no attempt to hide a blemish will escape her, makes me careful, painstaking, and precise.
Knowing that she will eventually read the book in bed or at poolside, I know that she will find everything I have put into it, all the pleasures I have hidden for her there. Knowing that she will first listen to the book while I read it to her, I know that I have to maintain a thread-like the clew of thread that Ariadne provided for Theseus when he braved the Minotaur in the labyrinth—a way to trace a path through the novel's maze. I don't want my muse getting lost in the tangle of my tale; I may want her to feel a bit lost from time to time, just for the frisson of feeling lost, but I don't ever want her actually to be lost. I want a thread, a clue, a story line, or the growth of a character, the progress of a problem, one of the good old devices that drives a book along a road, a winding road in my case, maybe even a meandering ramble through a garden of forking paths, but a way from start to finish that the first auditor will find it pleasant to follow.
If digital technology makes the listening experience come to resemble the reading experience more and more, will that change the way I write? Yes . . . and no. The thought of the two experiences of the work is so ingrained in me by now that I doubt that I could escape the duality if I tried. I write to be read, and I write to be read aloud. I write for a reader who will hold the book on her lap and for a listener who will sit on a sofa, across the room from me, with her legs tucked under her, a martini on the table beside her, and listen—who will when I have finished reading, if I have been successful, be wearing a certain smile, the smile that tells me she has been amused, impressed, intrigued, seduced by what I've written for her . . . that she will want to read it again . . . and that allows me to hope that at least some of those who follow her, as listeners or readers, will experience something similar . . . that at least some of them, after they have finished listening or reading . . . will also be wearing that smile.
Little Follies: The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy (So Far)
Grown-up Peter Leroy embellishes upon events of his childhood in a small Long Island clamming community. A highly imaginative, naive, perfectionist, young Peter struggles to comprehend the unusual relatives, neighbors, teachers, and children in his life. Originally published as an eight-part serial novel. 1982.
Herb 'n' Lorna: A Love Story
When Peter Leroy is bequeathed a small box containing meticulously crafted, animated, erotic jewelry, he begins a journey through his grandparents' lifelong romance. Brought together through their artistic ability, Herb and Lorna seemed to have had a normal married life. But, in the end, what appeared on the surface to be an ordinary life was one full of constant surprises. Some descriptions of sex. 1988.
Newly divorced Matthew Barber is a Boston toy company executive who moonlights as restaurant critic B.W. Beath. While he surveys dining rooms and their customers with his mistress and sardonically observes modern social life, his own reels out of control. Strong language and some descriptions of sex. 1990.
Where Do You Stop? The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy (Continued)
Peter Leroy's sixth-grade year centers around a fascinating but never-ending science paper. But he still has time to build a lighthouse, lust after older women, and bug his grandfather (who is sharecropping a miniature wheat field in Peter's yard) to submit his inventions to a television show. 1992.
What a Piece of Work I Am: A Confabulation
Peter Leroy tells the story of the imaginary sister of his imaginary childhood friend. Ariane helps Peter's grandfather with his dying wife and tries to understand the couple's devotion. Later, Ariane turns herself into a performance piece for paying audiences and eventually for herself. Some descriptions of sex and some strong language. 1994.
At Home with the Glynns: The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy (Continued)
Peter Leroy, almost twelve, is captivated by the twin daughters of the neighboring Glynns, but his first task is to gain the confidence of their bohemian parents, an artist and a poet. Peter's involvement in art heightens both his aesthetic and sexual awareness. Descriptions of sex. 1995.
Leaving Small's Hotel
Peter Leroy and his wife Albertine's ownership of Small's Hotel is in jeopardy. Their latest scheme to save the inn involves nightly readings from Peter's memoirs for their guests. Soon the listeners begin finding ways they can fit into the plan. Some strong language. 1998.
Inflating a Dog: The Story of Ella's Lunch Launch
Peter Leroy recalls an entrepreneurial adventure of his mother: her summer purchase of a clam boat to sell refreshments along the bay. Arcinella, however, is slowly sinking despite the secret efforts of thirteen-year-old Peter and his sweetheart, Patti, to keep her-and his mother's dreams-afloat. Some descriptions of sex and some strong language. 2002.
Eric Kraft grew up in Babylon, New York, graduated from Harvard College, and holds a master's degree in teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has taught school and written textbooks, and for a time he worked the Great South Bay of Long Island as part-owner and cocaptain of a clam boat, which sank. He has been the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he was for a time chairman of PEN New England. In 1999, he was awarded the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature.
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Posted on 2010-11-12