Salman Rushdie reading at Inprint

Salman Rushdie flung his arms akimbo and declared that he did not write quiet books, and so they sometimes caused trouble that could scarcely be imagined. He’ll tell the stories of some of his real life challenges in a memoir he’s writing, but otherwise hopes to stay off the front page, away from the f word that does not have four letters, and back in the books pages. In the smaller reception he almost blended into the interesting crowd, except for the books he kept signing. But on the stage he glowed, answered questions joyously, and they were asked well by Alexander Parsons. Rushdie defended magic realism, saying that it isn’t so different from other untrue stories like Anna Karenina, and that things imagined often came true, like microphones.

The actual reading was good. It was short. It was about two passages from his latest book, Luca and the fire of life, written for his youngest son, and using his middle name for the title, just as Haroun and the sea of stories used his older son’s middle name. That one we listened to on tape driving to San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. He argued for the blending of children’s and adult stories, and I have to agree – look at how many levels you can read Huck Finn. But on the other hand many feel betrayed when they realize the creepy religiosity of Narnia after being sucked in as kids.

A friend thinks Midnight’s Children is the best book he ever read, and I would have to agree if I were still young enough to have one favorite. I remember exulting when it got the Booker prize, and feeling that for once a literary prize really went to the right book.

Readings are not always good, for there is no reason an excellent writer has to be an excellent actor. I remember being very excited about a tape I got of Robert Frost reading his poetry. I was so disappointed to hear the monotone, fast reading, with none of the pauses I would put in when I read his poetry. I wonder if Inprint is always good at picking great readers as well as writers?

Inprint is a great outfit, and it’s all ours, here in Houston. They packed in nearly 2000 people to this $5 reading in Jones Hall, right downtown. That this oil town has so many readers of good books is yet another of the surprises for outsiders. But Inprint does a lot more than just readings. There is a blog with a lot on Rushdie right now. There’s a book group, programs for teachers, online reading, and a program for young writers called Cool Brains. They are linked to one of the world’s best creative writing programs at the University of Houston.

I think art soars in places with rough edges. Detroit is blossoming as an art city now. Houston with its raw industry, warehouses, and zoning-free diversity is a natural. Besides our art museums and Inprint, we have FotoFest, lots of galleries, alternative theater spaces, artsy tours of all kinds, things I couldn’t even begin to fully appreciate and keep my day job, and satisfy my love of nature. But this last year, I’ll try a little harder.

I’m guessing I’ll also find some rough, art-stimulating energy in St. Louis, but it will be different.


Jones Hall, where my grandparents saw the opera.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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