Today I put on my community gloves and went for the Hobbit Read-a-Thon, a day-long, out-loud, nonstop reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic, in Woodlawn, at the DISCO–The Desert Island Supply Co headquarters. I loved The Hobbit, which I read at a young stage, and was cast in a world of fantasy that I still appreciate as an adult.
My fellow creative writing teacher at ASFA, Iris, was with me. I didn’t think I would participate in the reading. I just wanted to listen to readers, and was amazed when at 4pm, after we arrived, more than 3 quarters of the book had been read. The reading started at 9am. Kids were writing in their booths, so were other crafts going on; knitting, drawing and so on. We had mead, there was good food, maps, and books with prompts on the creative things one would do if marooned on a desert island. I thought I’d be at Woodlawn for an hour, but didn’t leave until 7pm. It’s strange to explain what happened. The readings were great, and I ended up reading a chapter and really having fun. Blame it on the mead. Then I sat down talking with folks and Iris mentioned that the Hobbit wasn’t among her favorite books because there were no female characters in it. I didn’t remember that. Perhaps because I read it in my tomboy days and thought I was one with the crew since I was always hanging out with boys. Perhaps it was the story which was really fascinating that I forgot to put on my feminist glasses and simply went with the flow. Perhaps I was a gullible reader, as long as the story and characters were interesting, I went along. I found myself wondering what it would be like if i reread it.
The curious thing is that most of us who wanted to leave ended up staying till the book was finished. I overheard a conversation, a man saying he was trying to get his family to go home. His kids were running around, and his wife sat rapt. 30 minutes later he stood up to read. How he abandoned his idea! I was also thinking, I should now go, I’ve been here longer than two hours. Iris, who had wanted to spend just one hour, ended up relaxing completely and waiting for the finale. It must be the atmosphere of this space, I thought. Before I’d sat down, I’d taken a walk around the buildings and taken in the surroundings. What a forsaken place, It had occurred to me, a lonely town where business closed at 5pm sharp. Yet we stayed. I’d watched the dollar store across the street close, the thrift shop, funeral home, barber shop, and what looked like a drinking place. I would be depressed to live here, I found myself thinking. But I sat comfortably among the fans of The Hobbit and enjoyed mead and the reading. When Chip Brantley, the man behind the vision, showed up to read the last part of the book, there was silence and respect. We clapped and cheered and sang the last chorus, and I was left amazed that we’d accomplished the goal of reading and completing a book publicly. I was told by one of the organizers that the previous year they’d read one of the Harry Porter’s. Good idea. Think about Things Fall Apart, The River Between, Efuru, So Long a Letter…It would be great to do the same back home. Gather the readers and celebrate writing that way. Time is precious, and a full day’s reading seems like such a long time, but the memory, oh, the memory would be worth every minute spent. I didn’t stay for the fundraising that was starting at 7pm. I had another communal event–open mic poetry reading–but when I got home I said no, good to close with The Hobbit, and attend the poetry performance some other time.