Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to see Garth Risk Hallberg speak at the International Festival of Authors about his debut novel, City on Fire (my full review here). I’ve never attended a reading or interview at the IFOA before, so it was pretty neat to see upon entering the Harbourfront Centre: outside of the presentation space, there was an area set up where people could purchase City on Fire and other books by authors who were participating in the IFOA.
Once it came time to hear Hallberg discuss his book, I headed eagerly into the Brigantine Room and took a seat at a small table near the front. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos or videos during the event, so you’re going to have to rely on my wonderful descriptions.
The afternoon began with a reading by Hallberg from City on Fire. I would say his reading was nothing less than pure performance. Hallberg put on different voices for all of the characters and even acted out their mannerisms, mimicking what he was reading from the scenes. It made the whole thing seem very real in my imagination and I could picture myself in the world of the novel again.
Following the reading, Hallberg was interviewed and spoke more about how this epic novel came to be and what it was that inspired him to write about 1970s New York. He says that he thought it was pretty out-there to have a book that tried to encompass everything and leave absolutely no loose ends, which is what he does in City on Fire. Hallberg wanted to create a world that you could just fall into and imagine as vividly as Middle Earth, or Narnia, but with the punk underground of the 70s.
It was definitely interesting listening to Hallberg discuss his writing style and process, as someone who wants to write her own novel some day. He seemed very down to earth, constantly referring to himself as no one special, down-playing his new status as “literary celebrity”. When asked if he’ll be coming out with another book at some point, Hallberg responded, “I’m always working on something”.
Following the event, people had the chance to line up and get their books signed by Hallberg. The first time I had the chance to meet him, I hadn’t gotten a copy of the book yet, let alone read it, so when I got up to the front of the line, I was very excited to tell Hallberg that I absolutely loved the book and had trouble putting it down.
I’m really proud to be able to have a signed copy of this novel sitting on my shelf now, and I can’t wait to see what his next novel will bring – because I will be first in line to buy it.