Sunday, September 25, 2005

National Book Festival

Joined the vast crowds of people on the Mall in Washington D.C. yesterday. I had to go see and hear from other writers at the National Book Festival. For a companion, I had only a stalwart 16 year old boy. We first joined the crowds on that amazing conveyance that barrels along underground - the Metro. Just us and a couple thousand war protesters. I have to admire these people for the wit they displayed on their signs and t-shirts. I was particularly fond of "better sentences, not war" and "apathy - a conflict of disinterest."

My companion and I soon found seats under a large white tent listening to a young writer, Jonathan Safran Foer. I have been meaning to read his first book - "Everything is Illuminated" - will have to see if I can scare up a copy at the library.

He was followed by a still handsome though somewhat grayer than the last time I saw him - John Irving. I am well acquainted with John's life having attended the same schools. I have vivid memories of his reading to us from "the Hotel New Hampshire" - the chapter titled "sorrow floats." This man writes the last sentence of his books first, then spends month deciding how to get to the last sentence before ever writing the first sentence. Which means when finally does begin to write, he attends to his word choices quite carefully: a fact I much appreciate.

After consuming the world's largest hotdog, we next settled in to hear the wonderfully accented tones of Neil Gaiman. Another man I should read more of. He was followed by that satorially splendid, Tom Wolfe. Who gave us his version of best American fiction from Crane's "Maggie, Girl of the Streets" to "Grapes of Wrath." From his lovely vanilla ice cream white suit to his slightly long, slightly thinning hair he looks every inch the writer who is strained by contact with ordinary people. By that I mean people who are less well-dressed. Highly entertaining.

Our last writer - the one the 16 year old had come to hear - is man after all our souls here - George RR Martin. To those of you who haven't read his Song of Fire and Ice series - starting with "A Game of Thrones" - what's wrong with you? There is enough conflict and intrigue to satisfy every castle dweller. And his 4th book in this series comes out in November - a wonderfully dismal time to curl up with a cup a tea and nice long story.

After hearing Mr. Martin, we took us ourselves to the back of a very long line to meet him and get a book signed. While doing this (which took 2 hours), said 16 year old and I bided our time by calling his sister at university and teasing her because she wanted to be here. Ah, well-placed cruelty can be so much fun!

During the course of this entire day we were aware of the war protesters. The man we most admired went by shouting "make books, not bombs." At one point I found myself the only person with 70 feet of two middle-aged men of opposing views. My first instinct was rush between them and tell them to stop being idiots. Fortunately my second instinct stopped me. Their yelling finally attracted the attention of official people from the Book Festival who then encouraged them to part. There were sirens all day long and helicopters circling. We tried to go back to the Metro station but found a thousand other people had the same idea at the same time. Instead of waiting around, we walked a few blocks north to another station, which was a sea of humanity also, but not quite so bad. In between stations, we had to cross the protestors parading along Pennsylvania Avenue. Democracy in action. Lastly a bumper sticker in the Metro parking lot - "Frodo lost - Bush has the ring."

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