If you follow me in any other venue of social media, then you’ve learned by now, probably pretty extensively, that I am a huge fan of the Broadway sensation “Hamilton,” not to mention its Pulitzer-prize winning writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Last night Miranda played Hamilton for the last time on Broadway, we presume, unless he fouls up his career royally in coming decades and has to create a theme park or something. But that’s highly unlikely, and this morning Miranda is back where he was when he came up with the first Secretary of the Treasury as hip hop artist, which is the role of reader.
If I were lucky enough to ever speak to Miranda, I wouldn’t ask him to drop some knowledge. I would ask him what he’s reading lately. Not for nothing, mind you; I love a writer that can convince his wife to love musicals and produce a book about a libretto (see above) that’s almost better than the libretto. We know he’s got the chops. But asking him what he’s reading lately…that question feeds the writer as a reader, and feeds the asker as well as the answerer.
When I first moved to California in 2004 I lived on the border of Sunnyvale and Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Of the two hamlets, I preferred Mountain View for some reason (still do; sorry, Sunnyvale), and I would sit in the coffee shops and walk in the bookstores there, feeling somewhat sane before hopping on Caltrain to head into the crazy City north of us. One evening I had the opportunity to see one of my writing heroes at a Zen/meditation bookstore in Mountain View. I had written with her books as inspiration for at least a decade at the time: a writer named Natalie Goldberg, who is best known for Writing Down the Bones. I’m not sure what book she was reading for at the time (I’m sure it can be researched by any publication she had right around 2004), but when they opened up the Q and A portion of the program I asked the question:
What have you been reading lately?
She came to a full stop in her breathing and her being for a moment, and then heartily thanked me for that question. “That’s my favorite question,” she said, and then animatedly gave us some novel and memoir titles and talked about them with such enthusiasm you would think she had written those books herself. Later, during autographs, she thanked me again.
In every year since, I’ve asked writers that I’ve met at book-signings or Litquake events that question. Every single one of them changes when they get that question, from idea-peddler to fellow reader. Oh, they seem to say with their breath and the light in their eyes, you want to know THAT. And then they start, tentatively, telling everyone within earshot about this novel or memoir or work of journalism until the tentatively wears off and we are all sucked into the joy of reading what someone else wrote.
I hope Miranda’s reading something wonderful. I hope you are, too.