Sunday, October 28, 2012

Boston Book Festival

In lieu of any interesting knitting news to share, instead I'll tell you about my day yesterday at the Boston Book Festival. This is my second year attending this free event and once again it did not disappoint. If any of you are in the Boston area - or have a friend in the area who will let you crash on their couch - you should absolutely plan on attending next fall.

Here are the sessions I attended yesterday:

Lemony Snicket!

Daniel Handler is not just a great writer, but a fantastic performer. This (not surprisingly packed) event was staged as a secret meeting with an agenda that included items like "dance the carioca" which Handler sternly informed us we would not in fact be doing. One of the first agenda items was to apologize for the absence of Lemony Snicket himself, which was explained in a rather hilarious manner by Handler pulling in a glass-enclosed creative which he waved about wildly while running through the audience thrusting it into the faces of unsuspecting spectators while shouting things like "this terrible creature!" and "enormous teeth!" and so on.

He read from his new book Who Could That Be At This Hour? and even played the accordion and sang. At the end he again apologized for the absence of Lemony Snicket and hurriedly said "I'm sorry it's been so disappointing!" while running from the room. He really is his books personified.

That's an opening event that's hard to top!

Great Brits and Books

Considerably more sedate, this event also had a full house, forcing me to sit on an uncomfortable bench near the door so it was a bit hard to hear the speakers over the outside noise. There were four panelists who discussed Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, J.M. Barrie and Victorian literature in general. They talked about the appeal of Jane Austen, one professor remarking that those signing up for a class in Austen usually have already read her books and know more about her than the professor does. They also discussed perceptions about Dickens, the serialization of his work, and his views on America. The Barrie expert talked a bit about how Peter Pan can be read on different levels and means much more than we think as children, which rather made me want to read it. This was the only event I attended that didn't involve any actual authors, but the subject matter was appealing and I liked it despite not being able to hear quite everything from the back of the room.

Alexander McCall Smith

Author of several series including the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, McCall Smith is one of those infuriating jack-of-all-trades like Steve Martin, who seem to have been unfairly dealt far too many talents while too many of us are completely talent-impoverished. McCall Smith is an author, doctor, bioethicist, and bassoonist. Oh yes, and he also wrote an opera. (Host Robin Young of NPR responded "Of course you did" which I think summed up what we were all thinking.) McCall Smith is funny and engaging, able to go on and on at length about pretty much anything and is completely enjoyable to listen to.

His newest novel, just released in the past few days, is from the Isabel Dalhousie series. I haven't read any of these - in fact I've only read a couple from the No. 1 Ladies, which I quite enjoyed - but I'm intrigued by the character of Isabel and may try one of these. This latest novel, The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, centers around an art theft. Young and McCall Smith had an interesting conversation about art theft (which, she reminded him, Bostonians can be a bit sensitive about) and the retrieval of stolen art, and the difference between a reward and a ransom. They also discussed nationalism, the difficulty of writing multiple series at once, characters who don't age, and various other interesting topics. I had no idea how prolific he is, publishing 5 or 6 novels per year, so let's hope he doesn't go the way of certain of authors I know who don't even write their own books anymore. (Also, when is HBO going to do another season of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?)

YA: The Future is Now

As I was just getting over a cold, I was pretty tired by late afternoon and considered skipping the last time slot in favor of a nap at home, but no way could I pass up this panel discussion on Young Adult dystopias.

Moderated by M.T. Anderson (author of Feed), the panel also included Gabrielle Zevin, Cory Doctorw, and Rachel Cohn. I was thinking I hadn't read much by any of these authors, but in addition to Feed I've read Zevin's Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and three books by Cohn: Gingerbread, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and Dash and Lily's Book of Dares. I haven't read anything by Doctorow yet, but now I might.

They talked about the rise of dystopia, its appeal, why it has special appeal to teenagers, whether or not their books have a message and whether or not they should, and a variety of other topics. Cory Doctorow, who is a proponent of information sharing, brought up a fascinating study in Britain. In a low income housing development, one group of residents was given free internet access and then later several factors indicative of quality of life were compared to the non-internet residents. Those who had internet access had better jobs, were more likely to go to college, were in better health - it was really quite amazing. What a great reminder of how directly people's lives are affected by access to information.

What about you? Did any of you make it to the Boston Book Festival? Or do you live in another city with a similar event?

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