What if you had the chance to meet a fictional character from one of your favorite novels?
As we pause for the sound of teenage girls swooning at the thought of crossing paths with a real-life Edward Cullen from the Twilight series, let’s clarify that fiction actually did meet reality last night at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Legacy Village.
Larry Smith—poet, novelist, editor of Bottom Dog Press, along with a slew of other credentials to his name—gave a reading from two of his most recent books, The Kanshi Poems of Taigu Ryôkan and The Long River Home.
Smith’s reading from River brought the aforementioned magic to life. He explained that the novel, although fictional, is gleaned from actual happenings in his family history, with most of the characters clearly based on specific members of the Smith family. Although the names have been changed—the Smiths become the “McCalls”, and Larry himself becomes “Lee”—kernels of truth persist in the story covering four generations of the Smith/McCall family. In fact, the back of the novel contains a family tree of the McCall family, which Smith admitted he created to help him keep his characters straight.
When asked by one of his own family members how much of the novel was true, he noted that it’s hard to say. “A lot of it was legends,” Smith said.
He began the reading with selections from the Taigu Ryôkan collection, which he co-translated with Mei Hui Liu Huang. Although the author was Japanese, Smith explained that Taigu Ryôkan had a special reverence for the art of Chinese poetry, and therefore wrote in Chinese. As a result, the translators included each poem in three versions, Japanese, Chinese, and English, not only staying true to the author’s original, but also creating an appealing visual effect on the page.
Many of the poems show strong ties to the natural world, which Smith compared to the writings of Thoreau. Between poems, in Smith’s very relatable style, he also offered biographical snippets about the author—like the fact that he’d married in his 80s—providing just enough setting for the forthcoming poem.
Although Japanese poetry wouldn’t seem to have much connection with a novel about rural southern Ohio, Smith’s unassuming, conversational tone (along with some accompanying instrumental background music) eased the audience seamlessly through the transition as he bowed to what he said was his wife’s request to “read something sexy too”. Smith read a chapter focusing on his character, Andrew, the most “colorful” character of the family, who kept two wives in two states, among other indiscretions.
The Long River Home has been gaining ground, nominated for Best Appalachian Book of the Year, and it, along with The Kanshi Poems of Taigu Ryôkan, nominated for Best Translated Book of Poetry, are available at Joseph-Beth, Bottom Dog Press, and many other local and online bookstores.