Sunday, 6 May 2012

On Falling Asleep at Readings

Here's what happened recently: I was at a reading and it was in an enclosed space and there'd been free wine just beforehand. And I was sitting next to a woman I didn't know. And after a while she started leaning on me and I thought, Blimey, she's a bit forward, isn't she? So I sort of leaned away in the other direction. And then I noticed her head start to tip forward as her shoulders hunched over, and her breath came regularly and I realized she was asleep. And then her breathing got louder and more throaty and I could tell she was going to start snoring at any moment.

What could I do? How mortifying! I tried shifting in my seat and joggling her slightly, but that had no major effect. I could just tell that snore was coming very, very soon. And the poor writer at the front - how awful to have someone snore during your reading!

And then I started to snigger. My shoulders heaved and tears came to my eyes at the absurdity of it all. It was just too funny. I exchanged glances with the woman on the other side of my neighbour, who shrugged helplessly. I tried looking at the ceiling and concentrating on the reading - but it was no use. I had the giggles and they had to come out. And out they came - in a fantastically loud, fantastically porcine snort at a fantastically inopportune moment. Sleeping Beauty woke with a start, looking confused, while everyone else turned around to me and tutted over how rude I was to disturb the event with such a ridiculous oink. I think the words epic fail might apply.

Blushing and chastened but still unable to concentrate, I pondered the problem of falling asleep at readings. I've never done it personally but it seems to be a fairly common phenomenon at literary events in Berlin. The end of a long working day, a nice calm voice from a distance, a little relaxation juice beforehand, a warm room full of carbon dioxide...

I've actually read at an event where someone fell asleep in the front row, which made me giggle as well. But I have a theory that it's more likely to happen at German readings, for two reasons: Firstly, German readings are long. As in: two hours of reading and talking, probably at about a 50:50 ratio. When I go to English-language events I sometimes feel a bit cheated, having failed to hear half of the book read out loud. It's no wonder German audiences start to flag after a while, and it's not considered overly rude to leave in the middle. And secondly, German children are conditioned to fall asleep to the sound of voices. Not as in: their parents talking in the next room or the TV on. Oh no, German children have audiobooks. I know German adults who can only get to sleep to the sound of their old detective-story cassettes. Honestly. If you ask me it's unhealthy.

Next time I shall simply ignore the snorer. I'd advise you to do the same.


Anne said...

Don't bash audiobooks as a perfect way to fall asleep to. It works wonders.

Actually it's always been that way, I could easily fall asleep with talking noises around me and still do. I fell asleep during a party at least once. Then woke up like an hour later and partied on.

kjd said...

I'm sure it does work wonders, Anne - but it conditions people to fall asleep in readings!

A very good friend of mine used to have a habit of lying down and going to sleep at parties. I have to admit I've never tried it.

Anonymous said...

I once fell asleep and snored loudly through a performance by Lyndsay Kemp and the Incredible Orlando at the Edinburgh Festival.Drink had been taken.

Lindsay said...

This has made me smile! I just wanted to say hello, having found your blog. I studied German and also translation but am not using them now. It's lovely to hear about someone who is, and who is in Germany. Look forward to reading your blog now.

Lyndsey said...

haha! perhaps we should have just given her a gentle nudge...shame though, she missed a great reading.