library of congress

National Book Festival 2013, Washington DC

This isn't even the beginning of how crowded it got in there...ย 

The bus from Pittsburgh to Washington DC was uneventful, at least for me. I can sleep anywhere and was focused on getting as much sleep possible on the overnight ride to Washington. Hotel check-in wasn't until 2PM and I was arriving in our nation's capital at 4AM.

Everything worked out. It turns out the Au Bon Pain in Union Station is open 24 hours a day and I found the perfect seat next to the least talkative late night traveller. I completed much needed maintenance on this very site, polishing a few things I had meant to address many times before.

Coffee^2 +  time + peace = productivity  

I wanted to use my yearly trip to Washington DC as an opportunity to walk around the city and record. My goal was to capture the transition of the city waking up on a clear and beautiful morning into a day at the National Book Festival (NBF) and possibly snippets of some of the author's lectures. Instead, I decided to tackle the events of the weekend without trying to record in the over crowded tents stuffed to the gills with book nerds from all over the country. I took pictures instead. I also took notes. Enjoy them while I devise a better way to record in more 'extreme' settings


Before I get started though a quick briefing about the National Book Fair can be found here.  My family has been attending since the beginning and we've enjoyed watching it grow to a huge and wonderful event that we look forward to every year.


Getting a good seat in the Fiction & Mystery tent of the NBF is all about strategy. In my case, I have two parents who need to have seats for the hour long presentations while I myself don't mind standing/sitting on the grass. You have to get there before the author you wish to see and either be pleasantly surprised by the current presentation or just read through your program, keeping an eye out for someone giving up their seat early. When you see a spot, you've got snag it like the trophy in Capture-the-Flag because you'd be surprised how quickly a 60-something year old Don Delillo fan can move. I was able to snag seats at the end of the third row for Margaret Atwood that we wound up keeping for the rest of the day.

There are three authors that I was particularly taken with, all for different reasons. My notes only cover a small part of the hour long presentations which can be viewed in full on the Library of Congress website.

The first was Margaret Atwood, because... she's Margaret fucking Atwood. She had chosen to be interviewed for her presentation by a book editor for the Washington Post who, while at least 20 years her junior, could not keep up with her. Of course they talked about her new book, MaddAddam and what it meant to complete the trilogy of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. She also touched a bit on the Jonathan Franzen "controversy" explaining briefly why he should get over himself and get used to Twitter being a thing.

What stuck with me was one of the last topics discussed. Who is "your perfect reader"?

"Someone who likes the cover," she responded. She explained, half joking and half serious, how hard she worked to convey the real meaning of her novel to those designing the cover. Originally they presented an image of virginally white flowers with an elegant and delicate title. As the book features a fair amount of cannibalism she found the flowers to be misleading. I took away the importance of advocating for your work and how something that many would see as trivial, was being taken seriously as a matter of quality control and not vanity. She finished her description of "her perfect reader" as someone who, "Gets all the jokes, sniffles at the sad parts, and is anxious at the tense parts...the perfect reader is always with the book."

Brad Meltzer was the second author of note. Not that I consider myself a huge fan of his work, as a matter of fact, I've never read anything he has written. I have heard of the television program, Decoded but the conspiracy theory thing... isn't my thing. What I found interesting about his presentation was his flair for talking in front of people with a mixture of humility and outright braggadocios. His speech included comments about the IQ level of Miami, how breakfast with the President, (even with GW) is responsible for keeping the NBF well attended, and why Solomon Rushdie is a bastard, (it has something to do with stealing napkins/bagels or both, I can't remember exactly). 

The author I was holding out for at the end of the day was Justin Cronin. Author of The Passage and The Twelve, he's got me sucked into his apocalyptic vampire trilogy and I'm not afraid to admit it. But, I'm not going to talk about his presentation because, while it was interesting for a fan it wasn't his session that stuck with me. Instead, before Cronin, it was Ayana Mathis that completely blindsided me.

The author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie , Ayana Mathis shared an excerpt from her book and answered the FAQ she expects to get up front. What the book is about, "Strength, movement, and dislocation... Beauty, what I think is beautiful." etc.

It was how she transitioned into reading a Philip Levine poem, They Feed They Lion, and discussing why his poetry and literature in general is a form of radical empathy that really grabbed me. She went further into how empathy creates a bond, responsibility, and demands of one another. At this point in her talk I realized, sitting on the ground in a huge tent filled with at least 300 people in the middle of the National Mall, that you could hear a pin drop. We were all connected at that moment.

She then discussed how the story of Hattie had gone beyond the tale that she had told and had touched people's hearts in a way she never had thought was possible. 

"You find your way into another human being, that's what reading is."

And that my friends, is the reason I go to the National Book Fair, every year. 


Snapshots from my walk around DC (more to come)