Print EditionsI just came back from the panel discussion over at the DePaul Center. Three authors were there promoting their books and talking about music.

Chuck Klosterman: Fargo Rock City; Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Killing Yourself to Live; Chuck Klosterman IV; Downtown Owl.

Greg Kot: Wilco: Learning How to Die; Ripped; “Turn It Up” Chicago Tribune.

Nathan Rabin: The Big Rewind; “The A.V. Club”.

Each presented a reading from their work. Rabin started with a section of his book dealing with drugs and the challenge with his reading was more technical than anything. The sound system in the basement of the DePaul center seemed to have been set by bonobos with a penchant for reverb. Big hollow room and nervous spoken word came out as a booming, sometimes incomprehensible mess.

Rabin Klosterman KotBy the time Klosterman took the microphone, they had figured out the sound system. Klosterman’s new book Downtown Owl is a novel. It is his first. And instead of reading from that novel he read an essay from his forthcoming book, Eating the Dinosaur. He explained this decision by saying that authors reading from their own novels can never end well. A reading should select a small section of the book and present it in an entertaining way. If you do that successfully, the audience is left wondering what the other 400 pages are all about and walk away thinking the novel is craptastic, pretentious fluff. After all, they have already heard the best part. And if the author flounders in making the selection for the reading, then the reading goes poorly and the audience walk away thinking the author is craptastic, pretentious fluff. So he reads essays. Essays are about the right size for this sort of event. And so he selected an essay about Chicago’s favorite musician: Garth Brooks. (His claim; not mine.) The essay focused on the need for our music to be both authentic and staged and looks with laser-like relentlessness at Chris Gaines. Klosterman tries to answer the question nobody is asking: why did Garth Brooks create Chris Gaines?

Greg Kot, just off the highs of the Pitchfork Festival, joked that if he wasn’t as successful in entertaining the audience he would be brief so that we could get out of there and catch the Billy Joel/Elton John concert at Wrigley Field. And if we couldn’t afford that we might get more entertainment from perusing the reader comments of his review of Thursday’s concert. Nevertheless, he selected a short section of Ripped that dealt with how the Internet has hyper-accelerated the development time bands have previously enjoyed. It was a theme he repeated in some of his reviews of acts at Pitchfork.

Chuck Klosterman 2After the readings the panel took questions with Kot, the journalist, firing the first few off to his fellow authors. The topic focused on the health of media: specifically print and music. The authors contrasted the two fields, how even if all music were available for free, musicians had a revenue stream unavailable to authors: live performances. They talked about the role of record companies, the apparent uptick in nostalgia formats like vinyl and eight-track.

And at the very end each of the authors patiently stuck around for at least an hour to talk to audience members and sign books. After all, that is how authors make their money: they sell books. Kot underlined this point at the close of the panel when he asked the rhetorical question: Let’s be honest how many of you would have paid $15 to hear us?

Quiet laughter filtered through the room.