Frazier shares witty readings
When an evening with a writer begins with a short piece on the perils of campfire cooking and has the audience in stitches within minutes, it’s sure to be a good lecture.
Author, humorist, and traveler Ian Frazier came to the Carnegie Lecture Hall in Oakland on Monday as a part of the Ten Literary Evenings series. As the name suggests, the series — funded in part by the Heinz Foundation — brings 10 prominent writers to lecture on their works and their worlds.
Frazier, a contributor to The New Yorker, has penned several books in addition to many years’ worth of columns for the magazine. His most recent book is titled The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days and gives an unorthodox look at modern motherhood.
Despite being “technically on tour” for the book, Frazier declined to read aloud from it for the audience, charmingly saying the profanity was “too uncomfortable to read aloud.” Instead, he read short excerpts from his essays, talked about his upbringing and travels, and lamented about parenthood.
Frazier grew up in Hudson, a small town in Ohio, where he says the eternal boredom of childhood in a tiny American suburb was the best way to grow up. He poetically described the small town as a center of centrifugal force, spinning kids around the nucleus until they gained enough inspiration to spin off and do something great with their lives. He also talked extensively about his amorous relationship with — of all places — Siberia and how that love resulted in a book called Travels in Siberia.
Frazier’s whimsical attitude and witty interjections provided the perfect occasion for his anecdotes about traveling in Russia. Calling Russia “the greatest horrible place in the world,” Frazier described the differences between its society and ours, told stories of the people he met, and painted beautiful scenic pictures for the audience.
He described his attachment to the country, saying, “Everyone belongs to one country, but there’s always another country that is yours. For me, it’s Russia.” Frazier will be returning to Siberia in a week — though he never expected to — to participate in a cultural conference.
Frazier wrapped up the evening by switching gears and focusing on parenthood, making a connection to the themes of The Cursing Mommy. He read a piece called “Laws Regarding Food and Drink; Household Principles: Lamentations of a Father,” a parody on the Book of Lamentations found in Jewish and Christian scripture. The piece described the rules of the dinner table and general standards of kid behavior, and its cheeky yet exhausted tone was recognizable to anyone who had ever yelled at children or been yelled at themselves.
Hilarious and entertaining, Frazier’s lecture made for an enjoyable evening. Though his stories had little rhyme or reason, the audience was no less engaged.