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My own, personal holiday: The Annual LOC Book Festival

23 Sep

I love books. Always have. (In related-news: I’m a dork.)

In fact, if I’m being honest, I partially blame books for not wanting to be a mother. I can’t tell you how many of my book-loving friends have said, “Now that I have a kid, I’m lucky if I read a few books each year.” Hear that enough times and you’ll begin to think of children and books as mutually exclusive.

And if you’re me, books have more appeal: you can pick them up whenever you want (and set them down just as quickly); they don’t cry – but can make you cry for all the right reasons; there’s no risk of death if you drop them on their spines; they’ll never sass you – although you may learn some choice new swear words from them; and if they crap the bed, it’s only in a figurative sense.

Now that we’ve established that I love books, let me tell you about my favorite weekend of the year: The Library of Congress’s Annual Book Festival. It’s a holiday that rivals Christmas in my book. <–See what I did there?

If you’re not familiar, the festival is a two-day event with huge tents (seating a few hundred people each) on the National Mall, with well-known authors presenting every hour. Here’s this year’s line-up of authors.

I ventured down both days and was able to hear Margaret Atwood, Brad Meltzer, Terry McMillan, Adam Johnson, Christopher Buckley, and Denise Kiernan. I wanted to see Joyce Carol Oates, Alyson Hagy, Khaled Hosseini, and Veronica Roth, but – due to either conflicting schedules, exhaustion or rain – had to miss their talks. Fortunately, the LOC records all the talks and broadcasts them on their website. (At this point they only have 2011-2012 webcasts available, but I expect they’ll add this year’s soon.) Guess what I’ll be doing with my next few weekends?

Of all the sessions I attended, the one that most pleasantly surprised me was Brad Meltzer’s talk. I tend to steer clear of authors that crank out thrillers that occupy the top slots on the NYT’s best seller list because (alert: unfair judgement coming) they generally strike me as formulaic, so I haven’t read any of his books. In fact, had I been there alone, I probably would’ve skipped his talk entirely, but I thought he might hold some appeal for Alan since he, too, is a recovering lawyer.

I’m glad we hung around. The guy is a great story teller. Sure, some of his anecdotes – like brunching at the White House – were somewhat self-congratulatory, but they were entertaining. If he writes as well as he talks, I might have to give his books a whirl.

The other presenter who surprised me was Christopher Buckley. I’ve never made it past the cover of his books and assumed I wouldn’t be a fan since he was a speechwriter for George HW Bush, but he was amusing. Unlike other authors, who transparently promoted their latest book by giving a reading or discussing it directly, Buckley cleverly promoted his book by talking about how titles are chosen. He then offered up a few titles that he’d suggested to the publisher for his latest book, using that prompt to tell us the stories he was drawing on – from the book.

He also wove in a few tidbits about proposed titles for other famous books that had the audience laughing. The one that cracked me up was his reference to Steinbeck, saying that when The Grapes of Wrath was translated into Japanese, its title became Angry Raisins. Amused, I tweeted it out…

When I checked my Twitter account a few minutes later to add a new post, I saw that a slew of people – including the person manning the official Library of Congress account – had retweeted my comment. BOOM! 

And that’s when I realized the full magnitude to my dorkiness. Not only was I treating the festival as my own private holiday, but I was also starstruck by having fewer than 140 characters noticed and shared by the Library of Congress. Nevermind that it was probably an intern who selected my post for retweeting.

Which means my excitement was probably on par (in all aspects) with this:

But hey… considering I think a book festival is nirvana, it shouldn’t be shocking to learn that I’m a big old dork.

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When ignorance really is bliss.

3 Aug

Whenever I travel, I try to read a book set where I’m visiting. Usually I lean toward a novel and supplement it with guided walking tours so I can get a blend of fact and fiction. In preparation for my upcoming trip to Australia, I picked up something I read years ago, a non-fiction travelogue by Bill Bryson called In a Sunburned Country.

I remembered enjoying it (from the comfort of my couch in DC), so I thought it would be a nice primer.

WRONG.

Oh sure, it’s as funny and educational and telling as I remember. The problem? Bryson is fixated on takes great joy in regaling readers with tales of all the dangerous/poisonous creatures that inhabit the land Down Under. As someone who is a bit of an arachnophobe, this is NOT helpful.

(Separately, what does it mean that I’ve managed to weave phobias into EVERY post this week? I’m scaring myself. Is that a phobia too?)

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Review: When fiction jumps the shark.

8 Jan

Because my mantra is generally, “So many books, so little time,” I’ve found audiobooks are a great way to sneak an extra book in during the course of the month. So when we packed for Michigan, I hit the library and grabbed, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” to entertain us on the drive.

About 30 minutes into it, I lost Alan. In part because his CD player was trying to eat the disc and the stress of its skipping tracks irritated him, but mainly because the narrator of the story is a dog.

Yes, you heard me: a dog.

It’s far-fetched, but I thought it was a fun and clever device… especially enjoyable for dog-lovers who would like to believe their pets are capable of complex thought and motivation akin to a human’s.

So I lost Alan but continued listening to the book after returning to DC. I just finished it this week, and would’ve given it a pretty positive review, had it not jumped the shark in the final chapters.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read this book and are planning to, then stop reading this because I’m about to give away a major plot twist.

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