sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

September 5, 2017

national book festival and other weekendy things
posted by soe 3:28 am

This long Labor Day weekend marked the traditional end of summer fun and the recognition that fall is nigh. It meant time at the pool, enjoying the last days of outdoor swimming. It meant harvesting our basil plants from the garden, but still getting to have our traditional Sunday summer supper of caprese sandwiches and corn on the cob. It meant spending the evening at the park, but being home by 8 because you can no longer read outside. It meant buying tomatoes at the farmers market, but also leeks because the idea of hot soup no longer requires taking a nap.

But it also meant the 17th annual National Book Festival, hosted by the Library of Congress, one of my favorite events of the year.

I am not a morning person, so while every year I plan the authors I’d like to see from the first time slot to the final one, I’m not sure I’ve yet managed to arrive early enough to catch the first act. This year was no different, and I didn’t walk into the convention center until noon, shortly before the first panel I’d declared “must see” in my head.

Melissa de la Cruz, Nicola Yoon, and Sandhya Menon

On the YA stage were Melissa de la Cruz (who’s got a Christmas-themed romance coming out this fall, as a follow-up to her Hamilton-themed YA novel), Nicola Yoon (whose The Sun Is Also a Star is the reason I was there), and Sandhya Menon (I read When Dimple Met Rishi earlier this summer — it’s cute) to have a panel discussion about falling in love. While I tend to prefer a single author reading & talking about her/his experiences to conversation-style presentations, this one seemed to work well. All three had interesting things to say not only about love (“You all really love our husbands,” since that’s who the male leads are at least partly modeled on), but also about immigration and diversity.

A.S. King

I tracked down a copy of the festival poster (my collection will someday be framed and will festoon the walls of my home library) and proceeded down to the basement, where the kids’ stages were set up. Amy Sarig (A.S.) King was sharing her new middle-grade novel, Me and Marvin Gardens, about a boy in a town where housing developments had taken over the areas that had once been farm fields and the plastic-eating monster he finds. She used to live on a farm and shared how she raised chickens and would have to plan 20 weeks ahead of when she wanted to send out manuscripts because she’d need to sell enough to cover the cost of postage. She was also really funny with the kids: After she spoke admiringly of Where the Wild Things Are and the librarian who introduced her to it, a kid asked if she’d written it. After clarifying the point, the kid asked if they were friends. “No! I wish!” she said to them, adding to the adult audience members, “That’ll have to wait for later.”

Kathleen Glasgow

Back upstairs I went to hear Kathleen Glasgow talk about her YA novel, Girl in Pieces, about a girl who lives through terrible things and survives them in part by engaging in self-harm. She says she gets a lot of criticism from parents, who feel her work is too dark, and therefore inappropriate, for teens to read. But those are the very stories we need to tell, she explained, so that teens living those dark stories have a place to process them. She also said that it was particularly important for YA novels to offer a glimmer of hope in them (and even better if the protagonist is responsible for creating that hope themselves), because teens without any needed to be able to see that things can get better.

Kelly BarnhillAt this point, it was necessary to pause for lunch and to sit quietly by myself for a bit. I find this helps me deal with the crowds, which are much more oppressive inside than they were when the festival was down on the Mall.

Afterwards, I returned to the children’s stage, where Kelly Barnhill was talking about her lovely fantasy novel, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, who had a really engaging way of interacting with the kids in the audience. After being joined by Rudi, who hadn’t been able to get in the room where Michael Lewis was speaking, we raced back up to YA to catch my other must-see author, Angie Thomas, who wrote The Hate U Give.

Angie Thomas

Angie’s session was an interview between her and a reporter from the Washington Post, and I don’t think it worked as well as it could have if Angie had just gotten up and spoken. The interviewer asked her about how the main character uses two ways of speaking — one at her predominantly white school and one at home in her primarily Black community — and asked how she’d done that and if she’d thought of Starr as two separate characters. I literally groaned aloud and whispered angrily to Rudi that only a white interviewer would ask such a stupid question. Angie answered more gracefully, explaining the term is called code switching and that she was doing it right then and that it’s a skill many people of color use to navigate in social settings. She spoke about how she found adult books boring, how “reluctant readers” often aren’t so much reluctant to read as reluctant to read what people give them to read, about the upcoming film adaptation, about her second book, about how white feminists are often slow to see their own privilege, and about how you can write outside of your lived experiences, but if you get things wrong, you should expect to be called out on that and to be graceful about it.

Finally, Rudi and I went down to the graphic novels stage for the final authors of the night. Gene Luen Yang shared that the superpower he’d like most is the ability to multiply time so he could make his deadlines, two editorial cartoonists spoke about how they developed their personal styles and about creating political commentary in this era. We also got to see Lincoln Pierce, whose “Big Nate” strips are among my favorites in the Sunday comics. But the highlight of the stage was definitely Roz Chast, whose exhaustion at the end of the day made her very giggly and slightly confused about the prompting messages being held up for the moderator. She shared that living in the suburbs made her far more nervous than living in the city, although she punctuated this by telling the story of a man who had a sink hole open up beneath him as he walked, swallowing one of his legs.

Roz Chast

All in all, another good festival, and I’m looking forward to next year’s.

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