Lectures

Stage Fright/Hogging the Spotlight: On My Very First Book Lecture

After months of preparation, I finally gave my first lecture last Wednesday.

I feel sick. I don’t want to. I can’t do it. What if they hate me? What if I can’t do it? What if I talk so fast I’ll be done in twenty minutes or they won’t be able to understand me or they’ll boo or worse throw their notebooks or their syllabus which I wrote especially for them at me and they never want me back again and the future I imagined I’d have as a lecturer will be dead before it’s even started and I’ll be stuck as a teacher for the rest of my life? I’ll tell them I’m ill. I won’t do it. Help. These are the thoughts that went through my brain right before I had to do my very first book lecture, last Wednesday. Want to know how it went? Read on!

One would think I won’t have any problem speaking in public. I’m a teacher, so I spend my days (and some of my nights, dreaming) speaking to large crowds. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite the same thing. I’ve explained boring grammar so many times I could do it in my sleep (and yes, I have had dreams where I had to teach the present simple to the entire school, and children kept entering the classroom, through the door, through the windows, even through the walls). This lecture, however, terrified me. I think it’s because I really, desperately want to do this. I don’t think there’s anything better than talking about my great passion, literature, in front of a crowd of like-minded people. I couldn’t, I wouldn’t mess this up.

So there I was, in a bookshop in a village close to Groningen, on a cold and rainy night. I was wearing my prettiest clothes and the most glorious pair of shoes ever designed, and I pretended that I was ready for it. And, to be honest, I was. I had read the book, De Kapperszoon by the Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker (its English translation The Hairdresser’s Son will be published in 2024) three times, I had made notes while reading it, and used sticky notes on every other page. I also listened to interviews with the author, I read his other books, and kept thinking about it all day long. That’s why it wasn’t too hard to come up with ten pages of lecture material (and a PowerPoint presentation, and over two dozen flash cards) – but still I was afraid something would go wrong. My boyfriend unsuccessfully tried to convince me otherwise. I told him I couldn’t do it, but he said I had to, even if he had to drag me there. He did.

There I still was, waiting for the bookshop’s owner to finish his introduction. It was my turn to talk. I took a deep breath, thought of everything that could go wrong, then replaced those thoughts with everything I was going to talk about, and I started talking.

First I gave a short introduction on the author, who, twelve years ago, had sworn to himself that he would never write another novel again (they’re pretentious and so are their authors, he claimed). Eventually something nagged at him, and he decided to give it one more go. But this one’s different: he included himself in it. And that’s what I was going to talk about in the next forty-or-so minutes.

I discussed the theme of fact and fiction, and of storytelling. I talked about why writers sometimes write themselves into their novels, and mentioned some examples of authors who had done so successfully. After about ten minutes, I realised I hadn’t looked at any of my flash cards yet, so I shuffled them a bit and continued talking. I moved on to how Bakker’s fictional self helps out the main character, Simon, in De Kapperszoon. Bakker plays an interesting game with this novel, because the reader is constantly reminded of the fact that the characters are all made up, but we still believe they’re somehow real.

I kept going. I talked about choices Bakker had made, quoted from the book, made some jokes, and before I knew it, half an hour had passed. It was only until the bookshop’s owner asked me how much longer I was going to keep talking that I realised I hadn’t felt any nerves at all. I looked at him, muttered something about ‘maybe five minutes or something’, grinned at the audience, moved on to the next slide on my presentation, and talked (maybe a bit faster than I was planning to) about how this novel gives us a great insight in the author and the way he sees the world.

And then, all of a sudden, it was over. That is to say, the lecture part. After a short break there would be a Q&A. I looked at my boyfriend, who beamed at me because he had been right all along when he told me I could do it. The bookshop’s owner told me he had a great time, but begged me to take it easy and give the audience some time to digest the avalanche of information that came at them. I drank three glasses of water (for I suddenly realised I was parched), went to the bathroom, and reclaimed my spot, waiting for questions.

‘Well,’ the audience told me, as if with one voice, ‘it was all very clear, so we don’t really have questions.’ I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s not really the point of a Q&A, now is it? In the end, someone asked me why I thought De Kapperszoon was such a fun book, and I happily answered it. Then others wanted to know other things as well: why the main character chose to do something, and why the author decided to use certain words. Someone also said they loved my interpretation – and my sense of humour – of this book. I thanked them wholeheartedly. After a while, I was told that the video recording of my lecture had gone terribly wrong. I begged my audience to stay one more hour, so I could do it again, but somehow they all decided that they had to leave. My lecture had officially ended, and we went home, too.

It was still raining, but I hardly felt it. ‘I guess I’m a lecturer now,’ I told my boyfriend. He assured me I was, and that it went really, really well. I told him I agreed, and that I might even be a little proud of myself.

I have repeated those words to myself every day since.

Have you ever attended a book lecture? Which book would you love to see a lecture about? Do you think hearing about someone’s interpretation of a book influences your own reading? Why, do you think, would writers include themselves in their work? Please do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more bookish posts!

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