Scatalogical and lewd: the best kind of reading

Nathalie Chicha's drawing of Sarah Shun-lien BynumAlthough Nathalie Chicha approaches readings as I do* — “the way children down cough syrup: squirming, making faces we can’t help, but also pleased at our own bravery” — she provides a bang-up report from Sunday night’s reading at P.S. 122.

The event featured John Haskell (I Am Not Jackson Pollock) and National Book Award nominee Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (Madeleine is Sleeping; Chicha’s illustration of the author appears at right).

Haskell “acted out his story with his voice,” while Sarah Shun-lien Bynum:

read her story in a manner no one else could ever emulate, but mainly because she, by nature, has a rare and strange and disorienting voice — somewhere between the sound of a bird cooing and a young girl playing, and over-acting, a wise and wizened woman. Pitched high and tremulous, it sounds Disney-sweet but also panicked, and always faintly out of breath. Delightfully, Bynum announced at the start of her reading that the room’s classroom-like furniture prompted a mischevious urge to “read the most sctalogical and lewd parts” of her novel. And so, her girlish, warbling voice read lines like these: “When M. Jouy placed his cock in her palm, it looked accusingly despondent and she was ashamed, for other girls had spoken of its liveliness. But when she wrapped her sturdy fingers around its girth, it shuddered in her grip like an infant bird.” And if the the text was both lewd and lyrical, it now was also perversely innocent, and innocent by way of its straightforward enthusiasm for the perverse.

* But without actually downing the cough syrup beforehand.


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