I go to a lot of readings - not a difficult thing to do in Berlin, what with its combination of the German reading culture and a huge number of excellent venues. Most of the time this is a wonderful pastime, with fantastic writers talking and reading their great literature out loud, the chance of (gasp!) eye contact, snaffling a few titbits of information which at least seem intimate and exclusive, although I've no doubt true professionals say the same things over and over in Bielefeld, Birmingham, Bangkok and Berlin. I'm always in seventh heaven when there are informal drinks afterwards, occasionally actually speaking in person to that writer I've just been gawping at for an hour and a half.
But there's one part I always, always hate: questions from the audience. Last night I was sitting in an overheated, overcrowded room, longing to go home, when the moderator said the dreaded words: Any questions from the floor? And then it descended - that collective need to make ourselves look incredibly clever, even at the cost of making ourselves look incredibly stupid. Your previous work has mainly been set in the city - why have you now chosen the locus of the Syrian village? How much of the spiritual do you allow to flow into your work? Why do Spanish intellectuals find it so difficult to speak about the post-Franco period? What is your assessment of the Namada dam project?
Is it just me, or does anyone else have a literary leprechaun squatting on their shoulder at this point? Last night I was overcome by a barely repressible urge to ask dumb questions, the kind you might really ask at the end of a long evening:
What's your favourite colour?
Are you a cat person or a dog person?
What's your star sign?
If you woke up as a woman/man one morning, would you try to change back?
Do you prefer long walks in the fresh air or curling up with a good book?
Where's the best place you've ever been on holiday?
I'll let you know if I ever give in to that leprechaun. And any further suggestions gratefully received in the comments section...