DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Day for Books, the Sequel

As I concluded the final day of the 12th annual National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress, I realized that like so many of the books featured, my 2nd day had an identifiable theme. And that theme was - all 3 of the talks I attended focused on isolated outsiders and alienated misfits trying to cope in their society.  

My 1st stop was at the Fiction and Mystery tent to listen to Charlaine Harris. Haris saw her popularity skyrocket when her 12 steamy fantasy novels about a telepathic southern Louisiana waitress named Sookie Stackhouse (and her encounters with vampires, werewolves, shape shifters and other supernatural beings) was chosen to form the basis of the popular HBO show True Blood.

As expected, Harris, who with her gentle, affable manner and friendly southern drawl, seems to be the last person who would conjure up such deadly, other worldly characters, was asked how she feels about HBO changing her characters and story lines to better fit the creative considerations of television.

"Actually, when I look at my checkbook, I feel pretty good," Harris said, her answer prompting waves of laughter from the hundreds of fervent fans who packed the tent.  Harris told her followers that the next Sookie Stackhouse novel would end the series, an announcement that brought shouts of "no" from the audience. However, despite the best efforts of her questioners, Harris declined to reveal how the series will end. "It will end the way I always saw the ending when I began writing," Harris said with a smile. After her 45-minute talk, many of her fans rushed to the signing area to get Harris to sign the copies of the dog-eared books they had brought with them..

Next up, I headed to the Contemporary Life tent to hear novelist Christopher Bram discuss his latest nonfiction book, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America. Before answering questions, Bram read a fascinating portion of his book detailing a televised 1968 confrontation between conservative mastermind William F. Buckley and his liberal nemesis, Gore Vidal. Buckley, frustrated and upset by Vidal's remarks, finally shouted "you queer," a term that was simply not used in public discourse then.

My 3rd and final stop presented the biggest dilemma of my 2 days on the National Mall. In the Contemporary Life tent, Eric Weiner was scheduled to speak.  I had just started reading Weiner's latest book Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine and I had missed him when he spoke at Politics and Prose earlier this year.

But Weiner inevitably lost out to a special discussion of the 1962 Newberry award winner by Madeline L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. That book has remained in my top 10 list since I 1st read it as a 10-year-old in 1962. The story features 3 young misfits who challenge the ultimate evil (The Black Thing - IT) in an ultimately successful attempt to restore a family and save the universe.

The panel, which extolled the virtues and legacy of the beloved classic, was led by Anita Silvey, the author of 100 Best Books for Children. She was joined by author Hope Larson, who was chosen to create a graphic version of the novel and Leonard Marcus, whose series of interviews with people who knew L'Engle well will be published this year.

"Many a book begins a journey but few continue it for 50 years," Silvey said. "I think A Wrinkle in Time is so revered because it shows that no matter who you are, you, as a young person, can make a huge difference in the battle of good and evil."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Just as it was yesterday, my final day at the National Book Festival really featured 3 related stories. First, were the authors I saw. Second, there were the authors that I passed over because I had heard them speak elsewhere. Today, that stellar list included David Maraniss, Thomas Mallon, John Lewis, and Bob Woodward. Finally, there were the authors that I couldn't see, either because of scheduling conflicts or the fact that I had to leave the festival 2 hours early to resume my volunteer work with the Obama campaign. Those authors included Avi, Junot Diaz, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Of course, the best thing about an annual festival is that there is always next year. Hey, if you love books the way I do, maybe I'll see you next September. I'll be the 61-year-old with a goofy grin of poor joy on his face and a schedule in his hand, trying to decide where I should go next..

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