photos and video by Dakota Fine
We figured it was going to be a disappointing day at the National Book Festival when, upon arrival, we were told that Dave Eggers had no intention of giving interviews (after we spent weeks reading his books and preparing questions). We figured that a guy who has written some of the most heartwrenching books of the last twenty years would be somewhat accessible and keep up the promises that he made to the book-loving public. We were wrong.
Here’s the thing about the Book Festival: it’s bench-deep, like the Yankees lineup. Even the pinch hitters are best sellers. We thumbed through the catalog of authors like kids on Christmas morning choosing which presents to open first.
Garrison Keillor, Hoda Kotb, Wally Amos, Hip Hop Harry, Sarah Vowell, Neil Stephenson, the list is endless. But hold up, when we said Hip Hop, did you say Harry? We’d never heard of the fella before and were curious to see what genre of writing he’s in, but he wasn’t doing his performance until later in the afternoon over in the children’s pavillion. In the meantime, we sat down with Bob Edwards, the raspy-voiced radio show host who was famously fired from NPR for absolutely no good reason and replaced with Steve Inskeep.
BYT: Ever interview Gene Simmons?
BOB EDWARDS: (laughs) No, but my friend Terry Gross sure has.
BYT: I assume you would have had better luck with him?
BOB EDWARDS: Well, no one has ever asked me about my ‘anatomy’.
BYT: Which leads me to my next question…
BOB EDWARDS: (laughs really hard) It’s doing just fine, thanks.
For the full Bob Edwards’ interview click here.
Let’s be honest though, we’ve been covering the book festival for four years now, and the things people really care about in our coverage are the pictures of kids and dogs. So let’s get this out of the way. You can be certain that the dogs at the book festival will be well-bred. Their masters are well-read intellectuals, so it’s going to be a bit like hanging out at the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual book show. Not a lot of Pit Bull or Rottweiler attacks going on here. Just Grade A pure breeds trained better than Filipino prisoners.
But the kids are the real show-stoppers at the Book Festival. Of the 200,000 festivalgoers at this year’s two-day event, we’re estimating that about 100,00 of them were kids and teens.
We steered clear of anything having remotely to do with the teens, though, choosing to eschew awkwardness for cuteness.
Speaking of awkward, we were astounded to find a man bringing his sick child to Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor for healing. We’re familiar with the term literary god, but this is ridiculous. For future reference, folks, leave your dying infants at home…
Second interview of the day was with Maestro and Baltimorian Leon Fleisher, one of piano’s greats. His memoir, My Nine Lives, came out late last year to critical acclaim. It deals with the crippling disease that left him unable to use both hands to play the piano early on his career. The resulting depression and triumph over adversity are equal turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, we couldn’t wait to get down to the nitty gritty with this important icon:
BYT: Who do you relate more to as a character and see more of in yourself: Schroeder, the piano playing kid from Peanuts or Rowlf, the piano playing dog from The Muppets?
Leon Fleisher: Lucy!
LF: Yeah, because I always take the football away just as he tries to kick it (laughs).
BYT: As who tries to kick it?
LF: The kids on Peanuts.
Check out more of the Fleisher interview here.
The festival is like the Oscars for book nerds and fanboys and fangirls. We never really understood the commotion around getting an autograph in a book, but people are willing to stand in line all day for their favorite scribe’s signature.
This guy above was very obviously at the book festival to see Neal Stephenson. In fact he spent a great deal of time explaining to us the virtues of Stephenson’s literature, which we had never heard of and sounds like some sort of cross between cyber punk and Battlefield Earth (this is a joke, Stephenson fans, please do not firebomb my house).
We caught up with Stephenson and asked him to shoot us a devil-horns sign for a photo which he politely declined to do.
Stephenson’s book signing line at the festival seemed longer than anyone else’s. Who is this guy?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYWiPkYO-io&feature=related
How about a little Asian Tiger Mom to end your afternoon? All jovial and smiles, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that this woman does not let her children get any grade other than an ‘A’ and various other ridiculous signs that she’s most likely bat-shit insane.:
“Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.”
Ok, we’re done quoting this ‘tiger mom’ or whatever euphemism this lunatic woman uses to describe the type of bullshit antics that make the average person’s jaw drop who hears about it. Although, saying that, I guess she’s the one with the book deal.
Here’s hoping we catch those two little Asian Tiger cubs on MTV’s 16 and Pregnant: Season 5!!!
“No wire hangers!”
And now onto a more inspiring mother-figure: Cedella Marley!
When we say we avoided the teen crowd, we were exaggerating a little bit. The highlight of the day may have been hanging out with Cedella Marley, daughter of Bob Marley and author/musician in her own right. We stood around with Cedella and shot the shit about Miami, DC, Jamaica and other destinations. Cedella was in town with her husband and children. As she hustled off to do another interview in the press tent, we found ourselves making small talk with Bob Marley’s grandchildren.
Us: You guys play music?
Marley grandchildren: Yes, of course!
Us: You smoke weed?
Marley grandchildren: (look around to see that their mother’s not in listening range) Yeah, sometimes (laugh).
Us: You ever casually drop your grandfather’s name into conversations with girls?
Marley grandchild: I don’t need to, I don’t have any problems there.
Us: But it helps!
Marley grandchild: (laughs) Yeah, it helps.
We can’t get over how damn cute this little girl (pictured above) was, reading her book on the grass at the mall. Makes us wish the rest of the world was this captivated by reading!
Anyways, if you weren’t one of the 200,000 that caught the 2-day book festival this year, you always have next year. Send the Library of Congress an email telling them who you’d like to see. We’re voting for Chuck Klosterman next year and still holding out hope that they’re going to bring Nick Gurewitch around to talk about the Perry Bible Fellowship.
P.S. We asked them to bring a graphic novel tent to the festival and lo and behold, they took our advice! (literally, they said they brought it because we asked). Democracy does indeed work!
For past years’ Book Festival coverage, see here…
If you’ve gotten this far thanks for checking out the photos. Tell us who you want to see next year in the comment section…