I promised a full report on the National Book Festival, so here it is! I’m still rather exhausted from yesterday’s adventure, so forgive me if I ramble a bit.
The day got off to a rough start. I thought it would take me three hours to drive to the Vienna/Fairfax Metro station (Google confirmed this, by the way) but it actually took me four. And then the Metro ride into D.C. took 50 minutes instead of 30. Fortunately I had given myself lots of extra time to get to the festival, so instead of being an hour and twenty minutes late I was only thirty minutes late. Thus I managed to catch the last twenty-five minutes of Isabel Allende’s presentation. (I am so glad she got fifty-five minutes to speak. Most presenters only had thirty minutes.)
My first impression of Allende? Her voice didn’t match the voice I had for her in my head. I don’t know why this threw me off, (what did I expect? the voice in my head doesn’t have a Chilean accent), but it took me a few minutes to get past this and actually listen to what she was saying. She said a lot of things I had read in My Invented Country and The Sum of Our Days, especially once we got to the Q&A (people ask some really unoriginal questions during those things). Someone asked her what she’s currently reading (finally! an interesting question!) and she said she was reading Things I’ve Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi. Nafisi was one of the highlights of last year’s festival, so this answer thrilled me to pieces. Allende mentioned, too, her discomfort with her work being labelled as “Latin American literature” because such distinctions lead to being excluded from the canon of Literature (she actually said this much better than I just did). I agree with her. That exclusion is one of the pitfalls of genre labels.
After she spoke I joined the throngs of people waiting in her book signing line. Last year I brought several books by several different people to be signed, but this year I decided I did not want to a) spend most of the day in line or b) carry around lots of books all day, so the only book I brought was My Invented Country. The line was really long, and by the time I actually got my book signed the festival volunteers were really rushing us all through, so I barely had time to squeak out “thank you” when she signed it. While that was a little disappointing, I did enjoy the hour of line-bonding with my fellow Allende fans that preceded the signing, even though by the end I was sunburned and sweating profusely.
(I’m sorry. I’m sure you don’t want to read about my sweat. But it was really, really hot yesterday, and only the presence of great authors and great books kept me from getting really cranky. Last year the weather was the exact opposite: cool, with showers here and there . . . exactly what it’s like RIGHT NOW. Seriously. It’s 61 degrees out. Why is it 61 degrees now? Why couldn’t it have been 61 degrees yesterday? Or at least not 90? I’m trying, rather unsuccessfully, not to be completely peeved about this.)
Once my book was signed I dashed over to hear Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth author) speak. As soon as I saw him, I thought, “Yep, that’s totally the guy who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth.” Something about him, maybe that mischievous twinkle in his eye, just fits the book. He was witty and quirky and a delight to listen to. When he finished I grabbed lunch, rehydrated myself, and then returned to the tent to hear Marilyn Nelson and Timothy Basil Ering. (Aren’t you glad you’re getting a play-by-play of my entire day??)
I had never heard of Marilyn Nelson, but I knew Timothy Basil Ering from The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone (haven’t read it? read it!) and as the illustrator of The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Marilyn Nelson wasn’t the most dynamic speaker in the world, but Timothy Ering, on the other hand . . . I now completely love him. He recently illustrated Marilyn’s picture book Snook Alone and clearly loved everything about it: its prose, the experience illustrating it, everything. He was so obviously thrilled and honored to be at the National Book Festival and in the presence of people who love his work. Listening to him speak was the unexpected delight of the day, and I’m so glad I had the chance to hear him.
|see? very unfortunate cover
Immediately following Marilyn and Timothy was Mem Fox. Before yesterday my only experience with Mem was her book Reading Magic, which, in spite of the fact that it looks like a cheesy self-help book, is actually a great book about the importance of reading aloud to children. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never read any of her thirty-something children’s books, but that is going to change soon.) Anyway, she was a hoot and a half. Like Timothy Ering, she was totally enthusiastic about being there and it was infectious. She read three of her books aloud and did a phenomenal job. She read with expression, interjected little comments, made faces . . . oh, I loved it. I wish I could carry her around in my pocket. She was just that wonderful. I’m totally buying her latest book for my niece.
After Mem Fox, I took a brief break from the children’s tent to hear E. O. Wilson
, renowned ecologist, biologist and champion of small creatures (he’s a big fan of ants). He just published his first work of fiction, Anthill: A Novel
. While I am normally leery of Blatant Message Books – and that’s what this sounds like – I’m adding this to my TBR anyway because, well, it’s E. O. Wilson. The man is brilliant.
Then I was down to just three more presenters: Rosemary Wells (author and illustrator of the Max and Ruby books, Noisy Nora, etc.), Judith Viorst (author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, etc.) and Jerry Pinkney (author and illustrator of The Lion and the Mouse, etc.).
Rosemary Wells was a bit of a let-down. She got a little political, and quite a few people left while she was speaking. Judith Viorst, on the other hand, was really funny. She told stories about her kids and grandkids (and, much to his embarrassment, pointed out the real Alexander, who’s now grown with three kids). She read the first part of her latest book, Lulu and the Brontosaurus, (illustrated by Lane Smith! yay!), which I now need to go find because I need to know what happens to Lulu.
Jerry Pinkney was just as wonderful as he was last year. He spoke in a conversational tone and was obviously thrilled to be sharing his latest book. I seriously love that man. I had planned on telling him how much my students last year loved The Lion and the Mouse
but I completely chickened out. Maybe someday.
Okay, I’ll stop rambling now Overall it was a good day!
P. S. Today’s my nine month blogiversary! I may actually make it to the one year mark! Wow.
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