Being at the Brooklyn Book Festival—which I also attended in its year of inception, and which has clearly multiplied its prowess since then—was rejuvenating. Really, it’s not a bad place to be at on a Sunday when you’ve been feeling brain-dead for months. I only wish I’d gotten there soon enough to catch more panels than I did.
It was a few minutes past 2pm when I rushed past the steps outside the Historic Brooklyn Borough Hall. Nelson George (City Kid), Alyssa Katz (Our Lot) and Tom Vanderbilt (Traffic) were just beginning to discuss their take on necessary components of urban life.
All around, of course, were vendor tents filled with books.
I headed straight to the information booth to pick up my tickets for the Literary Masters panel at 3. Picking up the ticket was easy enough, but when I went to St. Francis College just to check out where the auditorium was, there was already a line forming, so I spent the rest of my hour there. The readers at the panel were Paul Auster (Man in the Dark), Francine Prose (Goldengrove), and Russell Banks (The Reserve).
Francine chatting up Paul.
Doesn’t Louisa Ermelino of Publishers Weekly look like an ideal librarian hottie?
The excerpt Paul read was smart, funny and engaging, and my favorite amongst the three. It was from a scene in which the young narrator first meets an intriguing, sharp-mouthed elderly professor and his mysterious French friend who has rightly identified the narrator’s sad face as being that of a poet.
Russell Banks approves.
Francine Prose read next. She said she had proposed to read from a book that’s coming out later this month, but that her publisher said, Why would you read from a book that’s not available yet? In retrospect, she said, she forgot to give the most counter-argumentative reason: Because it’d be fun?
I like her because of her open and devoted approach to consuming literature, which has been captured in the book Reading Like a Writer. When I tried reading one of her fiction works a couple of years ago, though, I lost interest soon and had to put it away (mainly because the central characters were from the world of academia and I couldn’t bring myself to care about them), so I was happy to hear the excerpt she read from Goldengrove. It was a scene that introduces the two young sisters, who like to re-enact scenes from old movies, and their mother: that I can totally care about! It reminded me of The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West, which I loved.
Paul listens on.
Russell Banks read a short story, whose only merit, he said, was that it was short. It was actually much longer than the two excerpts that had just been read, but it was a sweet story about the passage of time, which involved a 50-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman who had been lovers about thirty years ago. I kept wanting it to end abruptly, because of all the sweetness involved, with just a wave of a goodbye or something, but there were numerous closing lines that spelled out the main character’s reflections on the passage of time.
When I headed back to Borough Hall, these Jewish folks were singing and clapping and dragging a mini procession out onto the street. Apparently they had just escorted Rabbi Simcha Weinstein to the Main Stage (the stage by the main steps). The Rabbi, with Ethan Gilsdorf (Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks), Brian Raftery (Don’t Stop Believin’) and Eddie Sarfaty (Mental), were just starting their discussion on obsessive fun!
The St. Francis Auditorium was a nice place, and though I badly wanted to stay there for the 4pm panel with Oliver Sacks, I didn’t have a ticket for it. I was back in the ticket line to pick one up for the 5pm panel with Astra Taylor. There I saw Thurston Moore, who had spoken at an earlier panel.
Once the ticket was in hand, I ventured out to breeze through all the vendor tables. They would be all packed up to leave by 6, which is when I would get out of my 5pm panel, so this was my last chance.
The Harper Perennial table was one of my favorites:
Everything was priced at $10 each. I bought this 4-book series of short stories by Stephen Crane, Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville, and Leo Tolstoy.
Verso Books table was my second favorite. Bought a bunch from here at 50% off!
I love Bookforum. I should subscribe again!
Clock Root Books was my third favorite. Look how pretty their table was!
And look at that amazing Iraqi cook book! Why didn’t I buy it?
Familiar faces outside the Author Green Room.
I went to the 5pm Writing Writers panel, presented by Bomb magazine, because of Astra Taylor, trusting her to ask good and sincere questions, which she did. What I like about her is that she always seems to be a little confused and driven to figure things out. I can relate because I’m always confused and trying to figure things out!
This nice woman from Bomb magazine introduced, and I can’t believe I’ve forgotten her name even though she pronounced it with a great Spanish accent.
Although I picked this panel over the one with Oliver Sacks, I had no idea who the two authors about to be interviewed were. That’s Christopher Sorrentino (Trance) above. I’d also misunderstood the content of this panel: I thought the subject was what writing about real, brilliant writers, alive or dead, reveal about “the creative impulse, the relationship between fact and imagination and the ethics of representation”. But, of course, they meant fictional characters who happen to be writers, which is a lot less interesting because though a few select real writers are brilliant and endlessly interesting, most of the writing world that revolves around the MFA and the publishing industry is pretty dull, don’t you think?
But maybe I’ll be proven wrong once I read Man Gone Down from Michael Thomas, pictured above.
I enjoyed all of Astra’s questions: for example, is there a pressure to depict a character in good light, just like there is when she’s making a documentary? Is there a social obligation for them to write? Do rejection letters turn out be really helpful?
And the answers were enjoyable and smart, too, though I have to say that Michael Thomas, who had a self-conscious air about him the whole time, seemed almost unwilling at times to comprehend Astra’s perfectly clear questions.
I wonder if this is one of the few opportunities for people to go into this gorgeous court room.
As I was regretting eating a burrito bowl from a nearby Chipotle (I thought it’d be a light option, but all they do is give you more of the heavy stuff in place of the tortilla!) on my way back to my bike, here was Jonathan Lethem, signing books and chatting with fans.
I did see David Cross outside the Author Green Room, but I missed what was apparently the highlight of the whole event: him repeatedly spanking Jonathan Ames with a paddle, but, guess what, it’s been captured on video!
Next year I’d like to go way earlier so that I can attend more panels and spend more time at the vendor tables. I didn’t even get to several tables I’d wanted to check out: Word, the bookstore in Greenpoint; New York Times Book review; Tin House, etc.
I can’t believe I missed the Naomi Klein panel, for example, and I don’t know why every time I think of Naomi Klein, I see Nina Garcia’s face! I think it’s Naomi’s Canadian accent when she says “again” and Nina Garcia’s pointed mouth that perfectly fits that accent.
Or maybe they just look alike. Can you even tell who is who?