I’m sitting down today to write about Elliott Bay Book Company.

That is to say, what recently happened to me there. I’ve written about many things since except this one thing that has been consuming my thoughts.

Now, not only has Elliott Bay Book Company been serving readers in our city for nearly 50 years, it has a long history of hosting authors. And I firmly believe that the opportunity to share our work with the public in such an iconic setting as the Elliott Bay reading room, well, it doesn’t really matter who the audience is, authors are given an extraordinary stage that has an almost magical effect on the listening process. This alone commands our respect, and most people seem to understand that.

But not everyone.

Books bring us together in unexpected ways. When I gave my first reading at Elliott Bay, I watched two of my friends sit down next to each other and begin a courtship. Tender things can happen at a reading.

Tough things can happen, too.

At my latest Elliott Bay reading, one of the toughest things possible for an author did happen. I’ve resisted writing about it because it feels too small a concern when you consider all that is happening in the world.

Still, it keeps haunting me. Sigh. So I will tell my story simply. With brief sentences.

The not-so-supportive man who came to my reading shall remain anonymous.

He stood up to declare that he didn’t like my book at all.

I took a deep breath that caused my smile to disappear.

I felt that everything good I had said left the room.

There was a silence that went on for too long.

It wasn’t a good silence.

I noticed the dust balls on the floor underneath the first row of chairs.    

I thought, I know this man.

A few years back the same man came to my reading at Town Hall Seattle. His verbal criticism of my work that evening startled me in a way I hadn’t known before at a Q & A. 

I felt a jolt in my veins. It was the clearest act of sabotage that I had experienced at reading. 

I tried not to wear a look of humiliation that can take over an author’s face if she is not prepared for a comment that is meant to take her down a notch.

I remember seeing this look on a famous author’s face back when Elliott Bay was still in Pioneer Square, like she wanted to say, “what is wrong with you?”

 I wanted to say, “what is wrong with you?”

There was a woman sitting in the second row (and I’m just going to detour here to share the coincidental fact that she is faithful reader of this paper).

She turned around and told the man to sit down. 

Her words — then why are you here? — reverberated inside the underground room, drowning out the man’s voice entirely. Her will was stronger than his. What everyone, but everyone, knew was that. I wanted to hop down from the stage and hug her.

We notice things, writers do. I noticed how the man seemed to be enjoying the attention. After he sat back down, I was relieved to feel my face relax. I wanted to say, I don’t really care one way or another what you think of me or my work, as long as I stay true to myself.

People show themselves at a Q & A in different ways. They sometimes get confused because they don’t know how to phrase their question, or they forget to ask one. They tell a story, talk about themselves. There is an open space. They ache to fill it.

An author can feel either connected to or used by certain audience members.

It’s all a part of the business of bookselling.

I have always equated a reading with giving the best I have to give and receiving the best consideration in return. I still assume my audience does too. I still want that feeling for myself. I work as a speaker. There will be many more audiences.

But I will always remember my latest reading at Elliott Bay Book Company as the one where I quickly realized there is no way to plan for some occurrences. 

There is only a way to do, and make the best of it.

No matter how taken aback I was in the moment, I never once lost faith in the rest of the audience. Or in the literary tradition I was proud to be part of.

Or in myself.

This has been behind me since October. Now it’s something I’ve seen my way through again. Long overdue.