Sunday, September 26, 2010

National Book Festival 2010

I never seem to be able to put up a post about the National Book Festival anywhere near the time it actually happens. It's been more than a month now, but at least we're still in the month immediately following the one in which the festival happened. This year's was the tenth National Book Festival, and my third. I went to my first one two years ago, with older son, and it rained. I went to my second one last year, with a friend, and it rained. This year, I went with older son and the friend from last year, and it did not rain. It was, however, unseasonably hot, close to the 90s(F) if not in them. The Washington Post, one of the main sponsors of the event, estimated that there would be 130,000 people at the Festival (compared to the 30,000 at the first one, in 2001). I would not be at all surprised to hear that they were right. This one definitely seemed more crowded than the last two. I'm sure the lack of precipitation helped. One tent at the book festival always serves as the Pavilion of the States. You can get a map that serves as a passport and then circulate among tables representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories or other possessions. Each table has various swag--bookmarks, posters, stickers, maps, tourist pamphlets, rulers, toys--to pop into the free festival bag. If you get a stamp/sticker from all the places, there's even a prize, which this year was a memo pad complete with pen. As for all the swag, it's great if you're a teacher or know teachers. I sent mine to my cousin-in-law who homeschools one of her children and whose family members are all very prolific readers.

In terms of speakers, we caught several authors with whom at least one of us was familiar. One of my choices was Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves. One questioner began by telling Kostova that Kostova's grandmother was the librarian who has planted and nourished her love of reading. Kostova noted that the same grandmother had read all of Jane Austen aloud to her by the time she turned 16. One question concerned the writing process Kostova used. In fact, Kostova noted, her writing process was very different for each of her two books. She wrote The Historian as you would read it, in order, with no deviations. She wrote The Swan Thieves, a more psychological novel, in sections, which then took her a year to stitch together.

Older son suggested that we check out Jonathan Safran Foer, whose latest book, Eating Animals, concerns vegetarianism. He wrote the book to try to explain to his children where meat comes from. In this regard, I couldn't help but think of one rental property in which I lived as a grad student. It was a cottage on a farm and the landlord's young daughters eagerly gave me a tour of the farm shortly after I moved in. Upon coming to the rabbit hutches, they eagerly introduced the rabbits by name; the only name I remember was Napoleon, not surprising since their mom was French. I asked if all the rabbits were pets. "Oh no," they assured me, "we eat them!" While I do eat things with faces, I'm not sure I would want to eat something I had named. Finally, among the facts Foer noted was that 18 percent of college students describe themselves as vegetarian, meaning that there are more vegetarians than Catholics on college campuses.

Older son also suggested we hear Peter Straub, an author about whom I knew nothing. I loved hearing Straub describe his "hunger to read" as a small child. He noted that he was really bummed that there was no reading in kindergarten, just cutting out animals with baby scissors. Even in first grade, what reading there was, was Dick and Jane. He said he "spent a lot of time being really angry as a kid" until he discovered the school library, a situation to which I could personally relate. One of the questions asked Straub concerned the two books he had co-authored with Stephen King. The question was whether it was possible to tell who had written what parts. Straub noted that he and King had played tricks such as attempting to write in the style of the other, and that only one person had demonstrated to him a consistent ability to tell which author wrote which passage. I'll put the name of that person--it's another author--at the end of this post in case you want to try to guess who it is.

Finally, as with previous festivals, there were a number of costumed characters. If you're still working on a guess as to the author who could distinguish between Straub's and King's sections of their books, don't start scrolling yet, because I'm putting the answer right after the last of three photos.

Ready for the answer? The one person who can consistently distinguish between Peter Straub's and Stephen King's contributions to their collaborations is Neil Gaiman.

Is there a fourth National Book Festival in my future? Probably! It's an event not to be missed if you're in the area on the right day. I am still amazed that there is no cost with any of the activities. Yes, you can purchase books by the festival authors, but you can also bring your own copies for signing. Or you can just go and enjoy the experience, which is how we did it this year and may very well do it again next year.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Falling Up and into the Studio

There's a crispness about the mornings, and last night I put on a sweatshirt over a long-sleeved polo shirt (a real, for-true polo shirt, with a logo of horses, riders with mallets, and the name of a polo club) upon leaving the gym. Yes, it is almost fall and as the child of teachers, I view these few weeks as the start of a new year.

Even apart from the feeling of a new year, having my own, dedicated studio space is like turning over a new leaf. I can run in and do little things, big things, just about anything I want to do. I recently pulled boxes of batik strips, cut years ago, off shelves and whipped up this little quilt top hanging on the closet door. It still needs a narrow strip of black around what you see here, and then a border which will, I think, be strips of the blues, greens, and purples but not the oranges and yellows. I'll get to that when I finish the current quilting project, which is quilting the top you could see hanging, again, on the closet door in one of the studio shots in my most recent post here.

I took a break from that quilting this past week to make a new sword bag. For years, I've wanted to have a different sort of bag for my swords. I tried knitting and felting large pieces but never came up with anything even close to an appropriate size to use. Some months ago, I purchased some Japanese fabrics from my favorite online merchant for such things, planning to try to use them for a sword bag at some point. When I set up the studio, they went into a plastic bin labeled, what else, "SWORD BAG." Last Sunday, the zipper on the bag I've been using, a real, designed-for-swords, bag purchased from a martial arts supply house broke beyond repair after years of use by three different people. The need for a new bag trumped the usual "I'm working on other things and can't do that now" argument, and between Sunday and Wednesday I managed to craft a sword bag that was quite commented upon at Thursday night's class. I couldn't have done it without the studio space in which I could work in a flurry.

If you've seen the fabric rolls in which chefs carry knives, or knitters carry needles, that's what I was aiming for as a sword bag--a fabric case that held swords in pockets and could be rolled up for carrying. For fabric, I had a dark blue Japanese canvas with ivory logos printed on it. This became the outside of the bag. For a lining, I used an ivory Japanese lightweight cotton fabric that had dark blue dragons printed on it. Here they both are, sewn together, and laid out so that I could figure out how to configure the pockets. Here it is after I've pinned some pockets into it. Before I sewed the pockets I'd pinned, I came up with a plan for buckled straps to hold the roll shut as well as a strap for carrying. My plans had to be modified a bit by not being able to obtain as much of one kind of strapping as I planned to use and only being ably to find one kind of buckle of which I could buy four. Even given all that, I managed to come up with something that seemed as if it would work. Lots of pinning, sewing, unpinning, and sewing later, I had a finished bag with four buckles into which I could put all my various swords as well as a jo staff, roll up, buckle, and be ready to go using the handy shoulder strap. The small bag you might notice hanging from the outside of the sword roll holds my black belt. It's now residing in the kit bag in which I carry my gi, tape, notebook, and other necessities.

I must admit that I do like the new bag or roll better than the bag I had been using. Several people in class Thursday night suggested I should make more and try to sell them. I pointed out that the market for sword rolls is likely a very limited one. I did admit that were I to make another, there were some things I'd do differently to make it even better. Upon hearing this, younger son suggested I should make another, new and improved one and then give the first one to him. He also suggested that I could make the second one using the raw silk he got me as a Mother's Day gift in Vietnam in 2009. I have to admit that it's an idea worthy of consideration. First, though, I have that other quilt to finish...