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.