If you are a book lover, you can’t help but be excited by the National Book Festival held each September on the National Mall in Washington D.C. We are fervent book lovers so the sight and sounds of so many nationally acclaimed authors giving interviews, making speeches and autographing their books is big time fun for us. Well worth the 4+ hour drive from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to D.C. The 2012 Festival was no exception. Sponsored by the Library of Congress, held on Saturday and Sunday the 22nd and 23 of September, with over 125 authors, poets and illustrators this year, the highest number in the history of the Festival, taking to the National Mall to “do their thing”. Kicked off in 2001 by First Lady Laura Bush, a former librarian, the National Book Festival has become a big event with an estimated attendance last year of over 200,000 people and probably a lot more than that this year. From adults to teens down to little kids, there is something fun for every reader. Librarians from each state in the Union come to help staff the “Pavilion of the States” where every state has a booth featuring great giveaways for kids including maps, book markers, stickers, brochures, etc. about that state. C-Span brings its colorful big bus, the better to interview various authors for playback on Book TV. And as it has in previous years, once again, C-Span gave away big complimentary cloth bags, hot pink this year, for folks to carry their accumulated books and other goodies, a truly helpful gesture. Thank-you, C-Span.
The Festival has two over-arching components– the speeches given by the authors about their work and the book signings by these authors after their speeches. Fortunately, all the author presentations are videotaped and made available on the Library of Congress website so it’s easy to watch your favorite author’s presentation at a later date in the comfort of your own home. Which leaves the book signings as our favorite part of the day. The hard decision is selecting which authors to pick for the signings. Each author will usually only sign 2 or 3 books and the lines are long so it’s hard to meet many authors in a day. Especially when several authors you are trying to see are doing their signings in nearly the same time frame, figuring out how to juggle the lines is essential. Definitely helpful to be there with a group so that multiple people can be standing in the lines for different authors. This year we were lucky to be able to meet and get books signed and personalized by six different authors, about max we could manage and still have time for the States Pavilion. Actually, when I look back on it, getting all six was amazing because our first selected author’s signing,Gail Tsukiyama, didn’t start until 11 am and the last selected author, Jeffery Toobin, didn’t start until 4:00 pm so that we actually did 6 authors in about 5 hours, less than an hour in line per person. Of course, there were a couple authors whose books I brought with me, ever hopeful, but convinced that their lines would be impossibly long. Sure enough, they were- Thomas Friedman and Patricia Cornwell had lines so monster that they might just as well have reached from the Washington Monument to the moon they were so impossible. I had brought 2 books by each of them, just in case I was wrong in my predictions– but sadly their books never left my combination “chair- book storage-weather protector,” my big, long-handled, rolling cooler on wheels ! ( Advice: Going to a Book Festival ? Never leave home without your big, rolling cooler. )
First up for us was Gail Tsukiyama, author of the delightful novel, Street of 1000 Blossoms, also one of the authors invited to the very first Book Festival. We were in second place in her line which meant that she and we were still bright- eyed and bushy- tailed. Having brought several copies of her brand new book, A Hundred Flowers, as well as two copies each of her previous bestsellers, Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden, she was naturally inquisitive as to why we had so many duplicate copies. Gifts, I said, Christmas gifts for friends and relatives. And I’m sure they will not only enjoy her books but will also love her handwriting, it is so beautiful, a striking Chinese calligraphy style hand, the most elegant handwriting of any autograph in my collection. Since going to my first Book Festival some years back, I have found that a personalized signed book from someone’s favorite author or about someones preferred subject matter is really a wonderful and unique gift. And unless the lines are just crushingly long, most of the authors at the Festival are quite willing to write personalized messages in the books they autograph and the volunteer staff hands out little Post-Its so you can write out the message you want included as the author signs the book’s title page. I’ve also found from experience that it’s a bit hard to decide on the perfect inscription while standing in line so over the years I’ve come to the point where decide which book is for whom and them I write out the inscription I want for them on my own Post-It, all ready to go beforehand. No doubt it reduces spontaneity but, on the other hand, after one has stood for 3-4 hours in various lines in baking hot ( 90 degrees this year) or damp drizzle ( year before last) , spontaneity may be somewhat over-rated.
Next up, Stephen L. Carter. A super- interesting fellow… professor of law at Yale Law School and author of numerous non-fiction works on legal, political and moral issues. For whatever reason, in 2002 he decided to turn his hand to fiction with his debut novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, which was a New York Times best seller. He has since written four more striking novels, his latest being The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. They have all been can’t- put- them- down- once- you- start books. In fact, I have introduced so many people to Dr. Carter’s novels I think that I should get a commission, but really, they are all terrific ! My favorite is New England White, a blockbuster of a book, a suspense novel about politics set at an Ivy League university. I’ve heard him in various discussion panels on cable news where he always was very knowledgeable. At the Book Festival he was quite personable, making a humorous comment as he signed our books, 3 books per person times the 3 of us as we sort of all stood at the table together. So I am pleased to say that I now have a signed, personalized first edition copy of each of his novels plus 4 extra copies of Lincoln to give as gifts.
I must confess that the Stephen L. Carter book signing alone would have made the whole trip worthwhile for me but still to come were several more, Robert Caro ( whose 4 tier line was so long he would only sign one book per person ),Tony Horowiz, Michael Connelly and Jeffery Toobin. By the end of the day we met and gotten books signed by all four of those gentlemen. ( Toobin, who is the author of two books about the U.S. Supreme Court, was very funny and quite down- to- earth, wise cracking that there was just about nothing he loved more than folks who buy multiple copies of his books.) It was really a wonderful day. We had lots of goodies for the kids from the States Pavilion, we had met 6 terrific authors, we had watched the flags surrounding the Washington Monument flutter smartly in the breeze, we had waved gaily to Marine One, the President’s helicopter, as it passed overhead on it’s way to the White House just a couple blocks away, not sure if the President was inside, but we waved mightily anyway. And for icing on the cake, we still have all the videotaped author speeches to look forward once are added to the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival website, http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ What more could one ask from the National Book Festival except to hope to be there again next year, ready for more fun and more authors !
(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)