Saturday, December 07, 2013

New Yorker article about interrogation techniques--IMPORTANT INFORMATION

This article in the New Yorker magazine contains vitally important information. It should be common knowledge but there is cultural resistance to the truth it is showing us. Please read, remember, and share the information.


New Yorker -- Department of Criminal Justice -- The Interview

The Interview: Do police interrogation techniques produce false confessions? New Yorker 12-9-13

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Miami Book Fair 2012

A detailed account of the Miami Book Fair 2012 is apparently not going to appear in this blog. The blogger pleads lack of motivation and laziness. I do have my notes, so maybe I will gradually get it done. Meanwhile, here's a highlight:

On Sunday, I attended the presentation of the Kurt Vonnegut Letters collection. The panel consisted of Mark Vonnegut, Dan Wakefield, and Don Farber. Mark is Kurt's son; I read his book Eden Express when I was in high school. He has written another, related book, also a memoir, called Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So. Mark is a gentle, intelligent man. He was mostly grown up before his father was famous or successful. Mark expressed his gratitude to his father and said Kurt was "fully present" during his childhood. He is named after Mark Twain, and he also said he was glad his name wasn't "Mark Twain Vonnegut" because he isn't sure he could have survived that. In the question and answer period, someone asked about Kurt's relationships with women. Mark thought a long time. He said, "That is hard to answer." Then he said, "He loved well, when and where he could."

Dan Wakefield is the editor of the collection.  He read thousands of letters and decided which ones should be in the book, then wrote explanatory notes for each one. He expressed his opinion that the letters are as entertaining as any of Kurt's books, and said that Kurt "shines right through" the book. He also said that Kurt was a man who "had to tell the truth to save his life."  The Oscar Wilde quote applies, too: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.”

Even with the humor, Vonnegut's message wasn't always well-received. At his death, Fox News characterized him as "a minor scribbler of left-wing screeds." And just last month, Kurt Andersen published a rather dismissive review of the Letters, one that rankled Dan Wakefield enought that he read his own response at the book fair event. Fans of Vonnegut can be forgiven for feeling a little defensive--at one time his books were not only banned from certain public libraries, but actually burned. Oh, the irony.

Wakefield talked about religion, because he is a Christian, and it was a point of discussion with Vonnegut. Kurt said he was a Unitarian so that people wouldn't think he was "a spiritual quadriplegic." But he called himself a humanist. When Wakefield wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine entitled "Returning to Church," Kurt left a message on his answering machine: "This is Kurt. I forgive you."

Wakefield also said that when someone in prison would ask Kurt for advice about how to reconnect to the world after their release, Kurt would advise them to join a church. But, he said, he realized there was a risk that they would join the wrong church and end up back in jail for blowing up an abortion clinic.

I bought and read the Letters. I don't share Wakefield's view that the book is as entertaining as a Vonnegut novel, but it definitely has value. Some of the letters have historical value (e.g. the one to the Drake School Board); some have literary value (e.g. the one describing his experiences at Dresden); mostly, they are just of personal value. Vonnegut's readers tend to take his work personally, anyway, even if it is fiction. So it seems only natural that we should be allowed to read his letters. I'm sure he wouldn't mind.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Introduction to Miami Book Fair 2012

Lord help us, they have posted the confirmed authors for the 2012 Miami Book Fair International. Look upon it, and weep. For we shall not be able to attend  one tenth, nay, one percent  of the presentations--and they are pretty much all good. All 418 of them. This is ridiculous. Have they never heard of moderation?

Anyway, to be serious for a second. I'm psyched about the possibility of seeing Tom Wolfe, even though his book is not getting great reviews (understatement). I always read his books and if they are sometimes disappointing I forgive him because he gave us Bonfire of the Vanities and "The Painted Word."

I'm glad to see two of my favorite "brat pack" actors on the list, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy. Surely they will be on the same panel and that will be entertaining.

Mark Vonnegut--I read his first memoir The Eden Express, a long time ago. It was good. I've read a lot of books by and about people with mental illness. I'll definitely read his latest, which apparently deals with bipolar disorder. And what's this about a "Vonnegut panel" and a book of Kurt Vonnegut letters? Interesting...

Dave Barry--CONFIRMED. Yay. I have his book, Lunatics, and I've read it, but it isn't signed, so there's that possibility. And I look forward to the Rock Bottom Remainders, always a highlight.


2012 Confirmed Authors


David Abrams, Fobbit (Grove)

Ibrahim Ahmad, Editor: Akashic Books -- Writer's Institute instructor

Magali Alabau,Volver (Betania)

Andrew Albanese, Meet the Reporters Panel

Gennifer Albin, Crewel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers)

Xavier Alcala, Verde oliva (Nawtilus)

Malin Alegria, Border Town #3: Falling Too Fast (Point)

Ramon Alejandro, Adua, la pedagoga (Aduana Vieja)

Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo: State of England (Alfred A. Knopf)

Roberto Ampuero, The Neruda Case (Riverhead Books)

Roberto Ampuero, El último tango de Salvador Allende (Random House Mondadori)

Lori Andrews, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy (Free Press)

Fernando Aramburu,Años lentos (Tusquets)

Guillermo Arango, El año de la pera (Universal)

Jorge Luis Arcos, Kaleidoscopio. La poética de Lorenzo García Vega (Colibri)

Robert Arellano, Curse the Names (Akashic Books)

Homero Aridjis, Los perros del fin del mundo, Noticias de la tierra, Tiempo de angeles (Alfaguara, Random House, Fondo de Cultura Economica)

Jami Attenberg, The Middlesteins (Grand Central Publishing)

Ellis Avery, The Last Nude (Riverhead Books)

Karen Avrich, Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

Derf Backderf, My Friend Dahmer (Abrams ComicArts)

Deborah Baker, The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism (Graywolf Press)

Rosecrans Baldwin, Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Andrés Barba,Ha dejado de llover (Anagrama)

Steven Barnes, Devil's Wake (Atria Books)

Mac Barnett, The Brixton Brothers Series (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)

Neil Barofsky, Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street (Free Press)

Lynne Barrett, Magpies (Carnegie Mellon University Press)

Dave Barry, Lunatics (Putnam)

Jaime Bayly, Escupiran sobre mi tumba (Alfaguara)

Deni Y. Bechard, Cures For Hunger (Milkweed Editions)

Deni Y. Bechard, Vandal Love (Milkweed Editions)

Christopher Beha, What Happened to Sophie Wilder (Tin House Publishing)

Laura Bell, Claiming Ground (Vintage)

Naomi Benaron, Running the Rift (Algonquin Books)

Nate Berkus, The Things That Matter (Spiegel & Grau)

Jeff Biggers, State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream (Nation Books)

Juan Antonio Blanco, Ready, Aim, Fire!: Character Assassination in Cuba (Eriginal Books, L.L.C.)

Richard Blanco, Looking For The Gulf Motel (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Carol Blue, Discussion of Christopher Hitchens' last book Mortality (Twelve/Hachette Book Group)

Aaron Bobrow-Strain, White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf (Beacon Press)

Kate Bornstein, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir (Beacon Press)

Ali Brandon, A Novel Way to Die (A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery) (Berkley Prime Crime)

Adam Braver, Misfit (Tin House Publishing)

Libba Bray, The Diviners (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Susie Bright, Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir (Seal Press)

Aretha Bright, Erotic Literature panel: Mother/Daughter Sex Advice

Leopoldo Brizuela, Una misma noche (Alfaguara)

Michael Bronski, A Queer History of the United States (Beacon Press)

Eleanor Brown, The Weird Sisters (Berkley/NAL/Penguin)

David Bukszpan, Is That a Word? From AA to ZZZ, the Weird and Wonderful Language of SCRABBLE (Chronicle Books)

Linda Burgess, Mount Vernon's Magnificent Menagerie and the Very Mysterious Guest (Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)

Charles Burns, The Hive (Pantheon)

Benjamin Busch, Dust to Dust: A Memoir (Ecco)

Robert Olen Butler, The Hot Country (Grove)

Anne Byrn, Unbelievably Gluten-Free: 128 Delicious Recipes: Dinner Dishes You Never Thought You'd Be Able to Eat Again (Workman Publishing)

Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (Free Press)

Ignacio Cardenas Acuña, Enigma para un domingo (Atom Press)

Margaret Cardillo, Just Being Audrey (Balzer + Bray)

Peter Carey, The Chemistry of Tears (Alfred A. Knopf)

Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf)

Brian Castner, The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows (Doubleday)

Pilar Castaño,Profesión: mujer (Planeta)

Joy Castro, Hell or High Water (Thomas Dunne)

Jose Castro, The Sharks of North America (Oxford University Press)

Matthew Cavnar, Self-Publishing Panel

William Chafe, Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Colin Channer, Kingston Noir (Akashic Books)

Da Chen, My Last Empress (Crown Publishing)

Alan Cheuse, Paradise (or) Eat Your Face (SFWP)

Hillary Chute, Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (Columbia University Press)

Pancho Céspedes, Plays music on Poetry Night

Sandra Cisneros, Have You Seen Marie? (Alfred A. Knopf)

C.M. Clark, Charles Deering Forecasts the Weather & Other Poems (Solution Hole Press)

James C. Clark, Presidents in Florida: How the Presidents Have Shaped Florida and How Florida Has Influenced the Presidents (Pineapple Press)

James C. Clark, Red Pepper and Gorgeous George: Claude Pepper's Epic Defeat in the 1950 Democratic Primary (University Press of Florida)

Rich Cohen, The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Mark Coker, Self-Publishing Panel

J.J. Colgrande, Deco (BlazeVOX)

Melissa Coleman, This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family's Heartbreak (HarperPerennial)

Steven A. Cook, The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square (Oxford University Press)

Chip Cooper, Old Havana/La Habana Vieja: Spirit of the Living City/El espiritu de la ciudad viva (The University of Alabama Press)

T Cooper, Real Man Adventures (McSweeney's Books)

Jeanne Cordova, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution (Spinsters Ink)

Leela Corman, Unterzakhn (Pantheon)

Ariel Coro, El salto (Vintage Random)

Pedro Corzo, El espionaje cubano en Estados Unidos (Instituto de la Memoria)

Justin Cronin, The Twelve (Book Two of the Passage Trilogy) (Ballantine)

Aline Crumb, Drawn Together: The Collected Works of Aline & R. Crumb (W.W. Norton & Company)

Mariela Dabbah, Poder de mujer (C.A. Press)

Kris D'Agostino, The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac (Algonquin Books)

Edwidge Danticat, So Spoke the Earth (Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc.)

Kwame Dawes, Jubilation! Poems Celebrating 50 Years of Jamaican Independence (Peepal Tree Press)

Uva de Aragon, Ready, Aim, Fire!: Character Assassination in Cuba (Eriginal Books, L.L.C.)

Armando De Armas, Los naipes en el espejo (Latin Heritage Foundation)

Debra Dean, The Mirrored World (HarperCollins)

Amelia Del Castillo, Palabras al vuelo (Ediciones Baquiana)

Manny Diaz, Miami Transformed: Rebuilding America One Neighborhood, One City at a Time (University of Pennsylvania Press)

Junot Diaz, This is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books)

Néstor Díaz de Villegas,Che en Miami (Aduana Vieja)

Bernard Diederich, The Seeds of Fiction: Graham Greene's Adventures in Haiti and Central America 1954-1983 (Peter Owen Publishers)

Emma Donoghue, Astray (Little, Brown and Company)

Tim Dorsey, Pineapple Grenade (Willam Morrow)

Teresa Dovalpage, The Astral Plane: Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond (Uno Press)

Teresa Dovalpage,Llevarás luto por Franco (Atmósfera literaria)

Pamela Druckerman, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (The Penguin Press)

Andre Dubus III, Townie: A Memoir (W.W. Norton & Company)

Tananarive Due, Devil's Wake (Atria Books)

John Dufresne, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Denise Duhamel, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Glen Duncan, Talulla Rising (Alfred A. Knopf)

Maggie Dunlap, Mount Vernon's Magnificent Menagerie and the Very Mysterious Guest (Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)

Martin A. Dyckman, Reubin O'D. Askew and the Golden Age of Florida Politics (University Press of Florida)

Aileen El-Kadi, Sam no es mi tio (Alfaguara)

Michael Ennis, The Malice of Fortune (Doubleday)

Eric Erlandson, Letters to Kurt (Akashic Books)

Roberto Luque Escalona, El profesor y los hombres de don Álvaro (Universal)

Barry Estabrook, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Abilio Estévez, El año del calypso (Tusquets)

María Estévez, Reina del duende (Roca)

Julio Estorino,Una palabra más fuerte (Universal)

Donald Farber, MODERATOR: Vonnegut Panel

Alberto Ferreras, B de Bella (Vintage Random)

M.J. Fievre, So Spoke the Earth (Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc.)

David Finch, The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband (Scribner)

Diego Fonseca, Sam no es mi tio (Alfaguara)

Steve Forman, Boca Daze (Tor/Macmillan)

Ellen Forney, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (Gotham Books)

Anne Fountain, Disconnect Desencuentro (Cubanabooks)

Eleni Gage, Other Waters: A Novel (St. Martin's Griffin)

Kami Garcia, Beautiful Redemption (A Beautiful Creatures Novel) (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Magnolia (B&B Press)

Juan José Garrido, Participates in panel Riqueza y pobreza en América Latina

J. Gabriel Gates, Blood Zero Sky (HCI Books)

Zack Giallongo, Broxo (First Second Books)

Mempo Giardinelli,Santo oficio de la memoria (Edhasa)

Dana Gioia, Pity the Beautiful (Graywolf Press)

Marcelo Giugale, Participates in panel Riqueza y pobreza en América Latina

John Glassie, A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change (Riverhead Books)

Judy Goldman, Losing My Sister, A Memoir (John F. Blair)

Hedy Goldsmith, Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors (Clarkson Potter)

Cary Goldstein, Discussion of Christopher Hitchens' last book Mortality (Twelve/Hachette Book Group)

Laurentino Gomes, 1822 (Nova Fronteira)

Miriam Gómez,El cronista de cine (Galaxia Gutenberg)

Christina Diaz Gonzalez, A Thunderous Whisper (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Michael Goodwin, Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work) in Words and Pictures (Abrams ComicArts)

Robert Goolrick, Heading Out to Wonderful (Algonquin Books)

Adam Gopnik, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food (Random House)

Ily Goyanes, Girls Who Score: Hot Lesbian Erotica (Cleis Press)

Chris Grabenstein, The Black Heart Crypt: A Haunted Mystery (Yearling)

Bob Graham, Keys to the Kingdom (Vanguard Press)

Ignacio Granados, Participant: homage to poet Lorenzo Garcia Vega

Reyna Grande, The Distance Between Us: A Memoir (Atria Books)

James Grippando, Need You Now (Harper)

Lauren Groff, Arcadia (Voice/Hyperion)

Michael Grunwald, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era (Simon & Schuster)

Liz Gutman, The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook: How to Make Truly Scrumptious Candy in Your Own Kitchen! (Workman Publishing)

James W. Hall, Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers (Random House)

Wayne Hammond, The Art of The Hobbit (HarperCollins)

Jenny Han, Burn for Burn (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)

Judith Hannan, Motherhood Exagerated (CavanKerry Press)

Michael Haskins, Car Wash Blues: A Mick Murphy Key West Mystery (Five Star/Gale/Cengage)

Lola Haskins, The Grace to Leave (Anhinga Press)

Meg Haston, How to Rock Braces and Glasses (Poppy)

Ben Hatke, Zita the Spacegirl (First Second Books)

Chris Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (Crown Publishers)

William Heffernan, When Johnny Came Marching Home (Akashic Books)

Mark Helprin, In Sunlight and In Shadow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Adriana Herrera, Participates in dialogue with Antonio Orejudo

Michael Hettich, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Joan Hilty, MODERATOR: Comics and Social Change Panel

Alex Hitz, My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist (Alfred A. Knopf)

Christine G.T. Ho, Humane Migration: Establishing Legitimacy and Rights For Displaced People (Kumarian Press)

Riva Hocherman, Senior Editor: Metropolitan Books. Comics and Social Change panelist

John Hogan, In Conversation with Michael Goodwin

Pam Houston, Contents May Have Shifted (W.W. Norton & Company)

Hugh Howey, Wool (Omnibus) (Random House/Kindle)

Tonya Hurley, The Blessed (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)

Scott Hutchins, A Working Theory of Love (Penguin)

Joanne Hyppolite, So Spoke the Earth (Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc.)

Susan Isaacs, Goldberg Variations (Scribner)

Eloisa James, Paris In Love: A Memoir (Random House)

Orlando Jiménez Leal,El caso PM. Cine, poder y censura (Colibri)

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son (Random House Trade Paperbacks)

Jamal Joseph, Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion & Reinvention (Algonquin Books)

Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrammage of Harold Fry (Random House)

Joseph Kanon, Istanbul Passage (Atria)

Etgar Keret, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Robert Kerstein, Key West on the Edge: Inventing the Conch Republic (University Press of Florida)

Russ Kick, The Graphic Canon, Volume 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons (Seven Stories Press)

Chip Kidd, Batman: Death By Design (DC Comics)

Derek Kirk Kim, Tune (First Second Books)

Elaine King, La familia y el dinero hecho fácil (Penguin)

Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (HarperCollins)

Jen King, The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook: How to Make Truly Scrumptious Candy in Your Own Kitchen! (Workman Publishing)

Daniel Kirk, Library Mouse: A Museum Adventure (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Julie Klam, Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can't Live Without (Riverhead Books)

Carol Lynne Knight, Quantum Entanglement (Apalachee Press)

Charles Kochman, My Friend Dahmer (Abrams ComicArts)

Enrique Krauze, Redentores (Vintage Español)

Hari Kunzru, Gods Without Men (Alfred A. Knopf)

Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (Riverhead Books)

Youme Landowne, Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home (Cinco Puntos Press)

Brian Latell, Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine (Palgrave Macmillan)

Victor LaValle, The Devil in Silver (Spiegel & Grau)

Robert Leleux, The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving (St. Martin's Press)

Nicholas Lemann, Columbia Journalism School Event

Yvan Lemoine, Comidas U.S.A.: Una coleccion esencial de recetas clasicas y reconfortantes de Estados Unidos (C.A. Press)

Mia Leonin, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Marc Levy, French language author

Mark Leyner, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)

Paul Lisicky, Unbuilt Projects (Four Way Books)

Marjorie Liu, Astonishing X-Men (Marvel Comics)

Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy (HarperCollins)

Humberto Lopez y Guerra, El traidor de Praga (Verbum Madrid)

Ricardo López Murphy, Participates in panel Riqueza y pobreza en América Latina

Guillermo Lousteau, Participates in panel Riqueza y pobreza en América Latina

Edward Luce, Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Gordiano Lupi, Ready, Aim, Fire!: Character Assassination in Cuba (Eriginal Books, L.L.C.)

Roberto Luque Escalona, El profesor y los hombres de don Alvaro (Universal)

Doug Mack, Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide (Perigee Trade)

Emily St. John Mandel, The Lola Quartet (Unbridled Books)

William J. Mann, Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Sonia Manzano, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic)

David Maraniss, Barack Obama: The Story (Simon & Schuster)

Myriam Marquez, Cubans: An Epic Journey: The Struggle of Exiles for Truth and Freedom (FACE, Inc./Reedy Press)

Sandra Marquez Stathis, Rubble: The Search for a Haitian Boy (Lyons Press)

William Martin, The Lincoln Letter (A Peter Fallon Novel) (Forge)

Guillermo Martinez, Cubans: An Epic Journey: The Struggle of Exiles for Truth and Freedom (FACE, Inc./Reedy Press)

Jessica Martinez, The Space Between Us (Simon Pulse)

Ayesha Mattu, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women (Soft Skull Press)

Maricel Mayor Marsan, Trilogia de teatro breve (Ediciones Baquiana)

Andrew McCarthy, The Longest Way Home (Free Press)

Diana McCaulay, Huracan (Peepal Tree Press)

Lisa McCourt, Juicy Joy: 7 Simple Steps to Your Glorious, Gutsy Self (Hay House)

Conor McCreery, Kill Shakespeare (IDW Publishing)

Campbell McGrath, In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys: Poems (Ecco)

Erin McHugh, One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying To Be Just a Little Bit Better (Abrams Image)

Stephanie McMillan, The Beginning of the American Fall: A Comics Journalist Inside the Occupy Wall (Seven Stories Press)

Heather McPherson, Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans (University Press of Florida)

Bryan Mealer, Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football's Forgotten Town (The Crown Publishing Group)

Pablo Medina, Cubop City Blues (Grove/Atlantic, Inc.)

Brad Meltzer, Heroes for My Daughter (Harper)

Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (Random House)

Jesse Millner, Dispatches from the Department of Supernatural Explanation (Kitsune Books)

J.R. Moehringer, Sutton: A Novel (Hyperion)

Carlos Alberto Montaner, Otra vez adios (Alfaguara)

Matias Montes Huidobro, Un bronceado hawaiano (Aduana Vieja)

Carlos Alberto Montaner, Ready, Aim, Fire!: Character Assassination in Cuba (Eriginal Books, L.L.C.)

Deborah Dash Moore, City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York (New York University Press)

Susanna Moore, The Life of Objects (Alfred A. Knopf)

Arturo Morell,Innominado amor: Versos del amanecer (Baquiana)

Hans Morgenstern, In Conversation with Eric Erlandson

Michael Morris, Man in the Blue Moon (Tyndale)

Joe Mozingo, The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family (Free Press)

Seamus Mullen, Seamus Mullen's Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

David Nasaw, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (The Penguin Press)

Edward Nawotka, Meet the Reporters Panel

Melanie Neale, Boatgirl: A Memoir of Youth, Love, and Fiberglass (Beating Windward Press)

Liliane Nerette-Louis, So So Spoke the Earth (Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc.)

Jo Nesbø, Phantom (A Harry Hole Novel) (Alfred A. Knopf)

Lea Nickless, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Sherry North, Because You Are My Teacher (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Josip Novakovich, Shopping for a Better Country: Essays (Dzanc Books)

Silvia Nuñez del Arco, El hombre que tardó en amar (C.A. Press)

Louise O'Brien, MODERATOR: Cubans: An Epic Journey: The Struggle of Exiles for Truth and Freedom (FACE, Inc./Reedy Press)

Mirta Ojito, Columbia Journalism School Event

Corey Olsen, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Joseph Olshan, Cloudland (Minotaur Books)

Antonio Orejudo, Ventajas de viajar en tren (Tusquets)

Bill O'Reilly, Killing Kennedy (Henry Holt and Company)

Camille Paglia, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars (Pantheon Books)

Dan Parent, Creator of "Kevin Keller" Archie Comics' first gay character (Archie Comics)

Todd Parr, The Thankful Book (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

James Patterson, Family Literacy Event (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Little, Brown and Co.)

Orlando Patterson, An Absence of Ruins (Modern Caribbean Classics) (Peepal Tree Press)

Jenny Pedroza, Self-Publishing Panel

Yaddyra Peralta, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Larry Perez, Snake in the Grass: An Everglades Invasion (Pineapple Press)

Rodolfo Perez Valero, Un hombre toca a la puerta bajo la lluvia (Random House Mondadori)

Geoffrey Philp, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Andrés Pi Andreu, América nuestra, antología de narrativa en español escrita en Estados Unidos, by Fernando Olzanski y Jose Castro Urioste (Linkgua USA)

Andrés Pi Andreu, Antes de la Aurora, byFrancisco García Gonzalez (Linkgua USA)

Christopher Pike, Witch World (Simon Pulse)

Carlos Pintado, El unicornio y otros poemas (Ruinas Circulares)

Margarita Pintado, Participant: homage to poet Lorenzo Garcia Vega

Nélida Piñón,Corazón andariego (Alfaguara)

Craig Pittman, The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid (University Press of Florida)

Leonard Pitts, Jr.,Freeman (Bolden)

Cesar Pizarro, Cubans: An Epic Journey: The Struggle of Exiles for Truth and Freedom (FACE, Inc./Reedy Press)

Neil S. Plakcy, Dog Helps Those (A Golden Retriever Mystery) (Amazon Digital Publishing)

Sharon Potts, The Devil's Madonna (Oceanview Publishing)

Benjamín Prado, Operación Gladio (Alfaguara)

Catherine Esposito Prescott, The Living Ruin (Finishing Line Press)

Maricel Presilla, Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America (W.W. Norton & Company)

Margi Preus, Shadow on the Mountain (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Steven Raichlen, Island Apart (Tor)

Randy Rawls, Hot Rocks (Midnight Ink)

Ishmael Reed, Going Too Far: Essays About America's Nervous Breakdown (Baraka Books)

Tennessee Reed, New and Selected Poems: 1982-2011 (World Parade Press)

Matthew Reinhart, Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-up Adventure (Scholastic)

Seth Reiss, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge (Little, Brown and Company)

Susan Kushner Resnick, You Saved Me, Too: What a Holocaust Survivor Taught Me About Living, Dying, Loving, Fighting, and Swearing in Yiddish (Skirt!)

Nina Revoyr, Wingshooters (Akashic Books)

Peter H. Reynolds, Sky Color (Candlewick)

Molly Ringwald, When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories (HarperCollins)

Giovanna Rivero, Tukzon, historias colaterales (La Hoguera)

Beatriz Rizk, Teatro contra el olvido (Universidad Científica del Sur)

James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (Crown Publishing)

Howard Rock, City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York (New York University Press)

Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Rise of Marco Rubio (Simon & Schuster)

Rafael Rojas, Ready, Aim, Fire!: Character Assassination in Cuba (Eriginal Books, L.L.C.)

Rafael Rojas, La máquina del olvido (Taurus)

Dave Roman, Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity (First Second Books)

Carlin Romano, America the Philosophical (Alfred A. Knopf)

Santiago Roncagliolo, El amante uruguayo, Sam no es mi tio (Alcala, Alfaguara)

Raquel Roque, Cocina Latina: El sabor del mundo latino (C.A. Press)

M.J. Rose, What To Do Before Your Book Launch (Argo-Navis)

M.J. Rose, The Book of Lost Fragrances (Atria Books)

M.J. Rose, Lip Service (Atria Books)

Thane Rosenbaum, The Stranger within Sarah Stein (Texas Tech Univ. Press)

Hanna Rosin, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women (Riverhead Books)

Julia Ross, The Diet Cure: The 8-Step Program to Rebalance Your Body Chemistry and End Food Cravings, Weight Gain, and Mood Swings--Naturally (Penguin)

Orlando Rossardi, Totalidad (Aduana Vieja)

Marco Roth, The Scientists: A Family Romance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

David Rothkopf, Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (W.W. Norton & Company)

María Isabel Saavedra, Una vida en canciones (Ardiz Publishing)

Alberto Ruy Sanchez, Elogio del insomnio (Alfaguara)

Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Mayra Santos Febres, Tratado de medicina natural para hombres melancólicos, Fe en disfraz

Susan M. Schneider, The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact Our World (Prometheus Books)

Josh Schonwald, The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food (Harper)

Christina Scull, The Art of The Hobbit (HarperCollins)

Laurietz Seda, Teatro contra el olvido (Universidad Científica del Sur)

Onajide Shabaka, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

B.A. Shapiro, The Art Forger (Algonquin Books)

Hiroko Shimbo, Hiroko's American Kitchen: Cooking with Japanese Flavors (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Mark Siegel, Sailor Twain Or The Mermaid in the Hudson (First Second Books)

Jeffrey Siger, Target: Tinos (An Inspector Kaldis Mystery) (Poisoned Pen Press)

Michael Sledge, The More I Owe You: A Novel (Counterpoint Press)

Daniel Smith, Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety (Simon & Schuster)

Brian Smith, Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Peachpit/New Riders)

Andrew Smith, Passenger (Macmillan Children's Publishing Group)

Lemony Snicket, Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions) (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

Mahalia Solages, So Spoke the Earth (Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc.)

Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (Scribner)

Danielle Sosin, The Long-Shining Waters (Milkweed Press)

Jose Soto, Habana 20/20 (Author House)

Jessica Speart, Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler (William Morrow)

Bob Spitz, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child (Alfred A. Knopf)

James Srodes, On Dupont Circle: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Progressives Who Shaped Our World (Counterpoint Press)

Les Standiford, Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Band of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War (Harper)

Ilan Stavans, El Iluminado (Basic Books)

R.L. Stine, Red Rain (Touchstone)

Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Redemption (A Beautiful Creatures Novel) (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

Rodger Streitmatter, Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples (Beacon Press)

Rachel L. Swarns, American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama (HarperCollins)

Tom Swick, The Best American Travel Writing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Mitzi Szereto, Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire (Cleis Press)

Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (Little, Brown and Company)

Laini Taylor, Days of Blood and Starlight (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

Raina Telgemeier, Drama (Graphix)

Johnny Temple, Editor: Akashic Books -- Writer's Institute instructor

Deborah Thomas, Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (Duke University Press)

Christopher Tilghman, The Right Hand Shore (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Carol Todaro, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Isabel Toledo, Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love, and Fashion (Celebra)

Ruben Toledo, Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love, and Fashion (Celebra)

Jeffrey Toobin, The Oath: The Obama White House v. the Supreme Court (Doubleday)

Allan Topol, The Spanish Revenge (Vantage Point)

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa, Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love & Revolution (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Justin Torres, We the Animals (Mariner)

Will Tracy, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge (Little, Brown and Company)

Jessica Maria Tuccelli, Glow (Viking)

Jay R. Tunney, The Prizefighter and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw (Firefly Books)

Rosana Ubanell, Volver a morir, Perdido en tu piel (C.A. Press)

David Unger, Para mi eres divina (Random House Mondadori Mexico)

Nick Vagnoni, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Jose Ignacio Valenzuela, Salida de emergencia (Terranova Editores)

Justin Van Aken, My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Kyle Books)

Norman Van Aken, My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Kyle Books)

Noah Van Sciver, The Hypo: A Graphic Portrait of the Melancholic Young Lincoln (Fantagraphic Books)

Sam Verdeja, Cubans: An Epic Journey: The Struggle of Exiles for Truth and Freedom (FACE, Inc./Reedy Press)

Chantalle Francesca Verna, So Spoke the Earth (Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc.)

Maria Juliana Villafañe, Volar sin alas (Ediciones Baquiana)

Tom Virgin, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Siobhan Vivian, Burn for Burn (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)

Mark Vonnegut, Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir (Bantam)

Dan Wakefield, Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (Delacorte Press)

JT Waldman, Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (Hill and Wang)

Scott Wallace, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes (Broadway)

Gregory Wallance, America's Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR's State Department, and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy (Greenleaf)

Joan Walsh, What's the Matter with White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was? (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins: A Novel (HarperCollins)

Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)

Lila Quintero Weaver, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White (University of Alabama Press)

Robert Weil, Editor, W.W. Norton & Company; In Conversation with Alan Ryan

Eric Weiner, Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine (Twelve)

Susan Weiner, Sweat Broadsheet Collaboration

Amy E. Weiss, Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past-Life Memories (HarperOne)

Brian L. Weiss, Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past-Life Memories (HarperOne)

Irvine Welsh, Skagboys (W.W. Norton & Company)

Henry Wiencek, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Antoine Wilson, Panorama City (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Anthony C. Winkler, God Carlos (Akashic Books)

Sherri Winston, President of the Whole Fifth Grade (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

Alex Witchel, All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments (Riverhead Books)

Terri Witek, Exit Island (Orchises Press)

Kimberly Witherspoon, Publicist/Agent: Writer’s Institute Instructor

Naomi Wolf, Vagina: A New Biography (Ecco)

Tom Wolfe, Back to Blood: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)

Avi Wortis, Sophia's War (Beach Lane Books)

Carlos Wynter Melo, Mis mensajes en botellas electrónicas (Fuga Editorial)

Bunny Yeager, Bunny Yeager's Darkroom (Rizzoli)

Kevin Young, The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Carlos Yushimito del Valle, Lecciones para un niño que llega tarde (Duomo Ediciones)

Manuel Zayas, El caso PM. Cine, poder y censura (Colibri)

Jean Zimmerman, The Orphanmaster (Viking)


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Miami Book Fair 2011

First, the good news: The National Book Foundation presented Mitchell Kaplan its “Literarian” lifetime achievement award this year. He definitely deserves it.

Now, the stream of consciousness recollection of the Book Fair Experience, 2011:


I got to downtown Miami about 11:00 a.m. on Friday, welcomed by a moderate warm rain and wall-to-wall school buses. The sidewalk was swarming with kids, big and little. I browsed the booksellers, checked into the hotel, educated myself about the overnight parking situation, and then left for the airport about 2:30. I had plenty of time to explore the airport parking lot and terminal, watch the people and read my book—I was carrying around Andy Borowitz’s Fifty Funniest, so I was adequately amused.

Toni arrived a few minutes early and we were out of there, back to downtown via the scenic route. We took a quick tour of the Miami Dade College campus which hosts the fair and a more leisurely stroll through Bayside Marketplace—which is right across Biscayne Boulevard—and then had dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Good food, topped off by a movie trivia quiz inflicted on us by the waitress. Toni knew most of the answers, but she wasn’t given any prizes. I failed to see the point.

Next we were off to Midtown Miami, a new area to me and in fact pretty newly developed—I don’t know the history but I wouldn’t be surprised if it used to be a slum. The Friday night event we chose to attend was the Literary Death Match, held at a bar called Bardot—it’s like a secret club, no markings on the street side, you have to go around back and come in through the parking lot entrance. I didn’t know there was a parking lot, so I used the parking garage across the street. Turns out, that was a good move because it only cost $3 instead of the $15 the bar was charging.

Jennifer Hayden was the victor in the Literary Death Match. Terry Shine was eliminated in the first round. The other contestants, alas, I have no record or memory of their names, and only a sketchy recollection of their performances.

Terry’s defeat was probably a victory in disguise because that kind of Charlie Brown experience is what he is best at making into funny-in-a-pathetic-way anecdotes. Besides, none of his competitors was given a Florida Book Award this year -- so he can be comforted in that knowledge. (More about the FBA later)

Back to the hotel for the slumber party/gabfest—we didn’t get to sleep until pretty late, but hey, we had a lot of catching up to do.

Up by seven and off in search of coffee. It’s Miami; we didn’t have to go far. We sat in the street corner café and plotted out our strategy which didn’t include any autographing lines, because Toni only had a few hours and we had not a moment to lose. We started with

Senator Bob Graham

Senator Graham and I have a history, although he may not remember it. Back in the early 80s I was doing my community activist thing in Key West, fighting an imminent cruiseport that the city and Chamber of Commerce types proposed to build with Community Development Block Grant funds. Using those funds requires community input but the powers that be in Margaritaville had ignored that. We wrote numerous letters to then-governor Graham in protest of the steamroller tactics of our local officials and tycoons—and he wrote back, too. In the end we carved out a compromise that allowed our native culture to co-exist with the cruise ships, but that’s another story. Graham was a good governor, as far as I could see—his administration was instrumental in requiring communities to create long-term development plans, and that was urgently needed in the Keys—too little, too late, perhaps, but also, better than nothing.

So, fast forward: Graham was quite the mover/shaker in the Senate, chairman of the intelligence committee, and co-chair of the 9/11 commission and later of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. What I didn’t know until very recently is that he was the brother of Phil Graham, longtime publisher of the Washington Post.

From his work with the intelligence committee and the 9/11 commission, Graham knows a lot more than the government will let him tell us, but at least he did oppose the occupation of Iraq and hasn’t changed his mind about that. His novel, Keys to the Kingdom, is a way around his frustration of not being able to inform the public. He says it’s a mixture of historical fact and “informed conjecture” – the reader can work out which is which.

It was a real pleasure to see Graham talk. It is evidence of how well he spoke that I didn’t take many notes, so I don’t have many specific quotes. Someone asked about the role of third parties in presidential elections and he said he didn’t think they were very significant. He cited Teddy Roosevelt and Ross Perot. Someone shouted out, “What about Eugene Debs?” And Graham said, “Did he run for president?” So he lost some points there, but the audience members were quick to enlighten him; in fact Debs ran for president four times, receiving nearly a million votes in two elections, 1912 and 1920, the last time running his campaign from a prison cell.

At the intersection of the Miami book fair, Bob Graham, Dave Barry, and Tropic magazine is this interview, published in 1983:

http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/01/1737608_p4/interview-with-bob-graham.html

P.S. The blockbuster event we missed while watching Senator Graham: Jeffrey Eugenides and his book The Marriage Plot. Oh well.

11:00 A.m. James Gleick and Dava Sobel. Gleick’s book is Information; Sobel’s is Copernicus. Here’s Gleick’s soundbite: “History is the story of information becoming aware of itself.” Very poetic. Copernicus fact: on February 19, 2011, the 537th anniversary of Copernicus’s birth, atomic element number 112 was named Copernium (symbol Cn) by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Still adding to his legacy, after more than half of a millennium! You go, Nic! On the other hand, we are still saying that the sun rises in the morning and sets at night…

We left the nerd fest and immediately got in line for Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson. I held our place in line while Toni went foraging for some breakfast. She found an arepa—again, it’s Miami, you don’t have to go far before you run into an arepa vendor. Meanwhile, I chatted up the person in line next to me, which is just a no-brainer at the book fair. You know you’re going to have a lot in common with the person waiting with you to see one of your favorite authors. The person in question turned out to be a former postal employee named Terry who lives in Oregon but owns a house in Coral Gables. Terry had an extra ticket for the Dave Barry happening, which was good because Toni and I didn’t have any tickets. (To clarify: the tickets are free, and the worst-case scenario is that without one you have to go to the end of the line, but you still get in, eventually.) So, when Toni returned, she used the proferred ticket and I just went along and handed the volunteer at the door a ticket for a different event—they all looked alike, and as I said, they were free tickets.

Dave and Ridley had a very smooth presentation, scripted and choreographed and accompanied by slides. I’ve heard the weinermobile story many times (Dave was delighted to be offered a chance to drive the Oscar Meyer promotional vehicle because his son was in middle school at the time. He drove it up to the line of parents waiting to pick up their kids and used the loudspeaker to announce: “Rob Barry, report to the weinermobile”)—but this was the first time I had seen an actual photo of the vehicle in question and Rob, grinning, beside it. “He had recovered by the time the picture was taken,” said Dave, "but if a 12-year-old could have a heart attack, believe me, he would have.”

Dave and Ridley discussed their latest Peter Pan book, The Bridge to Neverland. This book is a companion volume to their Peter Pan trilogy, which, just to be different, is four books. So that’s five books altogether, and apparently they are having fun and making money so they’ll probably keep going. According to the Amazon reviews the books are great. I own The Secret of Rundoon, in hardback, double-autographed, but I haven’t read it.

After the Barry/Pearson session, we sallied forth to browse the booths—neither of us was eager to load up on three dimensional objects that would take up space in our respective homes, but it was fun to shop. I scored a $1.00 copy of Silas Marner—I want to have it at my house but I keep giving it away so I needed that. Otherwise, the one book I was looking for, The Lost Memory of Skin (more on that later), was not to be found at the Books and Books booth, so I decided to get it from the library instead. The street fair is an exciting part of the fair—McSweeney’s is there, and the ACLU, and people promoting Kabala and the Green Party, as well as newspaper publishers, “Muslims for Peace,” my local used book store (“Bookwise”), lots of authors selling their own books, and so on. We visited the food court where Toni bought Greek food and I queued at the “Crepe Express”—as Toni pointed out, the name wasn’t particularly apt—she walked to the other end of the food court, bought her food and came back, to find me at approximately the same position in line as when she left. I don’t care. It’s the only time I get authentic French crepes and it’s a highlight of the book fair for me. I had chicken, spinach, mushrooms and cheese in my crepe. YUMMMMMM!

We still had time to visit the Chinese pavilion, but there was no entertainment going on at the time we were there so it wasn’t particularly interesting. Chinese products on display? Really? What is the point of that? Virtually everything in America is a Chinese product. We don’t really need a table full of fans and plastic jewelry to represent Chinese manufacturing. Anyway, let me take this opportunity to mention that, in case you aren’t aware, China is on its way to being in charge of everything. It’s just a matter of time. I’m not worried about it because I believe they will do a good job of running the world. And they respect old people, which is what I’ll be if I’m even still alive when my prophecy comes to pass.

The end of the fair for Toni. We went back to the hotel, got her stuff, and picked up the car from the parking lot (It has a car elevator! I think it’s the first time my car has been on an elevator—I hope she enjoyed it.) We had a smooth trip to the airport and Toni was there in plenty of time to go through security and relax before her flight.

When I left the airport I avoided the mistake I made the day before. That mistake was, following the directional signs showing the way out of the airport. I know NOW that there is a sharp right turn that is NOT marked that you have to take if you want to get on the expressway. I made the turn and so avoided the scenic route and got back to the book fair in time to be early for the Rock Bottom Remainders show. Also, I got my car in the FREE parking lot. That’s another highlight of the book fair, and another thing that I only do once a year, parking for free in downtown Miami.

So—I got to the RBR concert, an hour early, but the seats were mostly all taken already. I spotted my line-buddy Terry and sat in the same row—after I scrounged a chair from behind the stage.

The concert was great, but I missed Kathy Kamen Goldmark. The only female contribution was Dave’s wife, Michelle, and daughter, Sophie, doing their traditional tune “La Bamba”—Dave always mentions that Michelle is Cuban and Jewish; I think he should also say she is a sportswriter, just to make the Venn Diagram even more interesting. Andy Borowitz contributed his signature “political” song, the Monkee’s “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. He rocked. I have a special fondness for the one gospel-tinged number the band did, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” led by brother Sam Barry. I like thinking of Sam and Dave growing up as Preacher’s Kids. I have a lot of sympathy for Dave’s Sunday School teachers.

After the concert I went back to Bayside and shopped the boutiques for a while, had vegetables and rice at the food court, and then came back to the hotel to REST. I fell asleep at a reasonable hour, and got up early to go jogging—I was out the door by 6 a.m., inspired by Toni’s scheduled half-marathon in St. Pete. But before I got far it started raining and I wimped out—only jogged about 3 miles but it was nice, anyway.



SUNDAY

10:00 a.m.

Russell Banks, Michael Ondaatje, William Kennedy

I am not familiar with any of these writers’ works but I’m aware that they are famous and have won lots of awards. I showed up in passive mode, ready to absorb whatever they had to offer. I was really surprised at how deep the discussion got, right away—all of them read passages from their books that dealt with the nature of reality, the meaning of “truth” and so on. Russell Banks spoke for the panel when he said, “The most interesting thing about life is that you can’t really know anything about it.”

I was most interested in Banks’s novel, “The Lost Memory of Skin,” because I’ve been hearing about it for a while. It is set in a fictional version of Miami, and deals with the phenomenon that occurred here when a law was passed that dictated where a convicted sex offender could live; the law was so restrictive that there was only one place in the city that qualified, and sex offenders gathered there, under a bridge, to live. If it was a literary invention, it would not be entirely believable but it is a historical fact in Miami, this really happened.

I didn’t buy this book at the fair but later ordered it from Amazon, along with Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot—I look forward to reading both of them during Christmas break.

William Kennedy’s book is something about Cuba and/or Ernest Hemingway, but it’s really about the nature of reality, you get the idea.

Michael Ondaatje’s book, Cat’s Table, I didn’t really get a feel for it. I was distracted by his unidentifiable accent—British English is his second language, apparently.

I had planned to stay in the main auditorium and hear George McGovern speak on “What it Means to be a Democrat,” but he canceled, so instead I went to a double header on Florida history: Beth Brickell on William and Mary Brickell: Founders of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and then Les Standiford and John Blades on The Last Train to Paradise.

The first thing you need to know about Beth Brickell is that she is not related to the power couple who founded our fair cities. She doesn’t even pronounce her name the same; she says Bri-CKELL—we say BRICK-ell. Her parents’ interest in geneology encouraged her to pursue the story, however, after she heard about the Brickells during a stay in Florida (she’s originally from Camden, Arkansas). She was in Florida to film a television series. She played the wife on the show Gentle Ben. What list celebrity would that make her? D? E? Anyway, it was interesting trivia.

The history of South Florida—they always emphasize how recent it is and how when the founders arrived here there were essentially no American inhabitants—there were Indians, but that is pretty much glossed over. The amount of chicanery that was involved in luring people to buy land and / or move south is also rarely mentioned. Nevertheless, William and Mary Brickell were interesting folks. William got rich in the 1852 Australian gold rush—probably not by finding gold, but by selling things to the prospectors. He met Mary in Australia and they moved to the U.S. William had an interest in the oil industry when it was just beginning, and that interest led him to make the acquaintance of Henry Flagler and John D. Rockefeller. Mary missed the mild climate that she had known in Australia and so the adventurous couple bought 2500 acres in South Florida and moved there to establish a trading post. At the time they arrived the region had an official population of 12.

If you want to know the rest, you can read the book.

I have read the Standiford book; it’s about the building of the Overseas Railway. It’s really amazing and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or civil engineering. The railroad from Miami to Key West was the largest privately financed project ever undertaken, Standiford says, and they were doing something that had not been done before. They used steam-powered machinery to create the pilings and bridges and causeways. It was a massive operation and a logistical challenge because they were so far from civilization and they needed so many workers. The new edition of the book has added a large number of photographs from the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach (John Blades was there representing the museum.)

After the Florida history session, I headed off for my final event of the fair, the Florida Book Awards. I am happy to report that T.M. (Terry) Shine’s book, Nothing Happens Until it Happens to You, won the award for fiction this year—not just the award for “best title” that I have repeatedly (if unofficially) nominated it for. Terry dramatized a passage from the book with the help of his charming teenage daughter. Two other authors also read, and the presenter boosted the Florida Book Awards, saying it is the “most comprehensive” state book award program in the U.S.

Henry Cole presented his book, A Nest for Celeste, with slides because it’s a children’s picture book. Really cute: it’s about a field mouse who hitches along with J.J. Audubon on one of his expeditions.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s young adult novel, The Red Umbrella, is set against the background of Operacion Pedro Pan—that’s the program whereby parents in Cuba sent their children to the U.S. to escape from growing up under the Castro regime.

Jose Alvarez won in the Spanish language category. He didn’t read from his book because most of us in the audience wouldn’t have been able to understand it. He described it, though, and it sounded interesting; it is the story of his remembered childhood home in pre-Castro Cuba. Nostalgia or cultural anthropology, either way it is a record of a lost time and place.

I left the book fair about 5 p.m. and consequently did not see Michael Moore. I expect he was a dynamic speaker but then again I pretty much know what he thinks about everything. He’s fairly predictable and I already know that I agree with the substance of what he says 99% of the time but am still capable of feeling offended by his presentation. I wasn’t offended by his Oscar speech, though—I thought it was excellent. “We live in fictional times.”

But this isn’t fictional: The Miami Book Fair, 2011. I was there.


Due to being disconnected from the internet for the entire first half of December (thanks a lot, AT&T), I am very limited in being able to enhance this narrative with links and photos. (I’m in a Panera right now and have been notified that the internet connection is limited to 30 minutes because it's the lunch hour) I'm posting it anyway, and maybe I'll add more when I have an actual internet connection.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Miami Book Fair 2010


This is the highlight of my year and I have been actively planning for weeks. The book fair website has a feature that creates a personalized schedule and that has been very helpful. There are so many events happening simultaneously, and I can only attend one at a time so about 95% of the published schedule is irrelevant to me and frankly I don’t want to think about all the stuff I am not able to see; that is just a blot on the perfect happiness of the book fair experience.

So as I start out, here’s my schedule:

Saturday

10:00 a.m. Dave Barry and Willie Geist
11:30 a.m. Dave Eggers
12:30 p.m. Greil Marcus and Alex Ross
2:30 p.m. Sam Barry, Kathi Kamen Goldberg, and John Dufresne
4:00 p.m. Heidi Cullen, Gwynne Dyer, and Peter Maass
6:00 p.m. Rock Bottom Remainders

Sunday

10:00 a.m. Carl Hiaasen
11:30 a.m. Ron Chernow
12:30 p.m. Simon Winchester
3:30 Skip Horack, T.M. Shine
5:00 p.m. Jonathan Franzen


November 20, 2010
On the road by 8:15. This time last year, the express lane on I-95 was only completed on the northbound side but now it’s southbound as well, and that makes the trip much more pleasant. At one point in North Miami there was construction on the interstate and the poor slobs over in the non-express lanes were slowed to a crawl. But in the express lane, we whooshed by them, thinking, “I bet you wish you had paid that twenty-five cents now!” I made it to downtown Miami in about 35 minutes, which is ridiculously fast. I was definitely breaking the law but wasn’t going any faster than the other express commuters.

First objective reached: to get to the fair in time to grab one of the limited number of free parking spaces. I figured this out last year after too many years of paying Miami prices for parking. I park in the free garage and then I don’t move the car until Í leave on Sunday night. Part of this strategy is getting a nearby hotel room rather than as I previously have done, staying on Miami Beach. The Beach has its advantages, but the book fair takes up enough of my energy that I’m not looking for nightlife when it’s done for the day. The closest hotel to the book fair is actually a Holiday Inn, but I opted to go two more blocks and pay less for the Continental hotel—not to be confused with the Inter-Continental, a five-star property across the boulevard. The Continental is what might be called a commercial hotel, someplace you picture a traveling salesman might stay if he’s not making his quotas this month. It has terrible reviews on the internet sites but I haven’t had a bad experience. The rooms are small and the furniture is old but the sheets are clean and there’s plenty of hot water. (And, no bedbugs: I checked.) Last year the internet connection worked. This year it didn’t, but I don’t need it.

The first and definitely not least event:

Dave Barry

By the time I joined the line at 9:20 there were already more than a hundred people queued in separate lines. Over on my side, the book nerds, and across the corridor, the wealthy book nerds who shelled out $175.00 or more to be designated “Friends of the Book Fair.” The two populations are similar in appearance; the only difference I can see is that the few young people in attendance are all on our side. The book fair demographic is largely in the “geezer” range. I’m sure that will become more true as time goes on, until when I’m 105 years old I’ll be one of the last people on Earth to remember what a book was. The woman ahead of me in line was reading from a Kindle, which reminded me of what Barbara Kingsolver said at this venue last year: “I’m in favor of forms of entertainment which don’t electrocute you if you drop them in the bathtub.”

At 9:50 the Friends started in but the volunteers only let in ten at a time, as though crowd control were a big concern, like they needed to prevent these wealthy, elderly book nerds from stampeding or rioting or breaking into fisticuffs over who sits where. Honestly, I think they could have let them all file in and sit down. As it was, the process took way too long and the event didn’t start until 10:20. The MC said, “We never have an introducer for Dave Barry because if I got up here and started to introduce somebody who wasn’t Dave, people might throw tomatoes at me. We want to be sure he has as much time as possible.” But she did need to introduce Willie Geist, who was unknown to me and also to the people around me in line. It turns out he has an early morning show (“Morning Joe” ) on CNBC. He is good-looking and witty, but he’s no Dave Barry. Geist got a laugh with his opening remark: ”I’m pleased to see such a big crowd. I’m well aware of why you are here.”

Willie Geist is the son of Bill Geist. I’d never heard of either of them; Google leads me to the information that the father is a correspondent for CBS. The book Willie is promoting, American Freak Show: The Completely Fabricated Stories of Our New National Treasures, is an exploration of the absurdity of celebrity culture. It begins with a transcript of Sarah Palin’s 2012 inaugural address: she’s giving the speech at the Ice Palace in Tampa, before a professional wrestling event. Keepin’ it real for real America. Other subjects of the book include the Kardashian’s (“Who ARE these people?”) and the “balloon boy,” Geist noted, to the amusement of the local crowd, that the balloon boy’s family has now relocated to Florida. Dave chortled. Willie exclaimed, “This is where they come! This is where it all ends!”

Willie shared the experience he had with one of the characters in his book, Rod Blagojavich. He related that when “Blago” arrived in the CNBC studio for his interview, he burst into the room yelling, “Gentlemen! Good morning! I am innocent of all charges!” Then he proceeded to shake hands with everyone in the room and after that he signed autographs, unsolicited-- just walked up to people, signed a piece of paper and handed it to them. Apparently, nobody has ever enjoyed celebrity more than Blago does, and his experience is unmarred by embarrassment, shame, or apprehension of any kind.

Dave Barry took the podium to enthusiastic applause and immediately related his story du jour which involves an incident at the “Miami International Airport and Construction Zone” in which he was detained and patted down because the X-ray scanner showed he had a “blurred groin.” Here’s his version of that story.

Among his other topics was his colonoscopy essay, which is the only part of his latest book that is previously published material. That piece has probably changed the world more than anything he’s ever done. If it’s really true that colonoscopies save lives, then he is responsible for some of the planet’s population being alive instead of dead right now.

He also talked about how crazy Miami is, and noted that he is a booster of Miami tourism, having designed a bumper sticker that reads, “Come back to Miami—we weren’t shooting at you.”

During Q&A, someone asked what is the funniest story you know. Dave told this classic story about how the Oregon Highway Patrol attempted to solve the problem of a dead whale on the beach. Geist‘s tale was a less-told story but also funny. When he was in college, he rented an RV with some friends and drove to a football game. They parked for the night in a field. Some of the partiers sacked out on the roof of the vehicle. Some other members of the group arrived late and, experiencing an attack of munchies, decided to drive the RV to a convenience store several miles away. Somehow they drove all the way without fully awakening the passed-out passengers up top, and didn’t realize until they had arrived at their destination that they were there. Months or years later, when Geist was nominated for homecoming king, he was asked to relate to the alumni committee the most memorable event of his college career. He drew a blank, and all he could remember was the infamous RV incident. As the story unfolded, he could see the horror growing on his audience’s faces, and he realized very quickly that there was no chance he was going to be elected to be homecoming king.

Geist looks like a midwestern homecoming king, though; he definitely has the face for television. I had never heard of him before and I wasn’t especially bowled over, but he was genial and entertaining. Dave was brilliant. How we love him! Here’s a riff on Florida drivers: "Of course, everyone in Florida follows the traffic laws to the letter—it’s just that each person drives according to the traffic laws of his native country." Someone asked whether he had a funny story about the Department of Motor Vehicles. Dave replied that in Florida they give out driver’s licenses in Happy Meals. And he added, “I’m convinced that if alien beings ever land on Earth, they will already have Florida driver’s licenses.”

Dave was asked to comment on Florida’s newly elected governor, Rick Scott, and he said, “Why can’t we elect someone who looks like a human being? Charlie Crist looks like a traffic cone, and now we have Skeletor…”

I stood in line so Dave could sign a book for me. I told him as always that I was representing the Joel Achenbach fan club (and emphasized that all of Joel’s fans are his fans as well). He likes to say, “Ah, yes, the Boodle!” to show that he is in the know. So he did say that. I told him that Joel has a book coming out in the spring. He was somewhat skeptical. Just because he writes two or three books a year, he thinks anybody who takes longer than six months to produce a published volume is some kind of slacker. I told him I was sure the book would be out and I hoped Joel would be at the book fair in 2011. Dave’s not holding his breath, but I know he’d be happy if that occurred, because in past years when I mentioned Joel’s name he always looked around and said hopefully, “Is he here?”

+++++++++++++

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers is the coolest person I have encountered in a long time. He is cute, yes, and smart. But he’s also very good-hearted and sincere without being corny.

Eggers has a book out and also runs a publishing house and edits a magazine. He has a web site, as well, and masterminds a video distribution service. So I assume he is rich, and has to spend a lot of time marketing his products to keep the machine going. But he mostly wanted to talk about 826 Valencia, which is his nonprofit reading and tutoring center in the Mission District of San Francisco. At the publishing company, all the employees stop what they are doing when the neighborhood kids get out of school for the day, and everybody spends two hours working with the kids. First the students finish their homework, and then they read and write books. Because it’s a publishing house, all the tools are there to create real books from the kids’ work, and that is what they do. They publish the students’ work and they host author nights where the students talk about their books and sign copies.

There was an issue with zoning because the space is zoned for retail. So it was necessary to sell something in the storefront. They did market research and had meetings and arrived at the conclusion that there was a pressing need in the Mission District that was not being met, so they opened a pirate supply store. They sell eyepatches and planks, pirate flags and peg legs. They thought it was humorous and creative but were surprised to find that there really is great demand for pirate paraphernalia, (“It’s a very passionate subculture,” says Dave.) The store turned out to be phenomenally successful. It makes enough money to pay the rent for the entire enterprise. Consequently, when a McSweeney's branch opened in Brooklyn, they decided to follow the same model: publishing/tutoring center/retail. In Brooklyn, they sell superhero supplies. If you buy a cape there, you can test it using a large industrial fan, to make sure it will flow out behind you gracefully as you fly. Meanwhile, the customers at the store discover the tutoring center, and often return as volunteers. The model is successful in San Francisco and New York and in numerous other locations.(Echo Park sells time traveler equipment.) Nick Hornby has started an organization in the UK called the Ministry of Stories, inspired by 826 Valencia.

Eggers’s current book is called Zaitoun. It’s the awful, true story of one man’s experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Zaitoun is a good guy, a regular guy, but he gets caught up in a tangled web of misguided law enforcement and anti-terrorism efforts. Eggers says Zaitoun has received letters and emails from across the country, all saying essentially “On behalf of America, I apologize.” That’s the closest thing to a happy ending that this terrible story can have, I guess.

Proceeds from the book go to the Zaitoun Foundation, which promotes intercultural dialog and understanding.


++++++++++++++++

I stood in line to get Eggers to sign my book bag and also, one of his art prints. I am in possession of a number of pieces of his art work because I'm a member of the McSweeney's book club, and we all received a shipment of the prints a couple of months ago. Here's the one he signed:


The book bag is a true collector's item at this point although it's not in mint condition because I sometimes use it (!) to carry books in. And it's been schlepped around downtown Miami for three or four years now. But here are the signatures I have so far: (1) Joel Achenbach (first in alphabetical order; first in our hearts). (2) Frank McCourt (may his soul rest in peace) (3) Mitchell Kaplan (the owner of Books & Books in Coral Gables, he's the godfather of the Miami Book Fair.) (4) Leonard Pitts (5) Barbara Kingsolver (6) Sherman Alexie (7) Dave Barry (8) Ridley Pearson (9) Andy Borowitz (10) Dave Eggers and (11) T.M. Shine.

Now that's a book bag.

= = = = = = = = = =
Because I was standing in Dave Eggers's very long line, I missed the 12:30 p.m. Greil Marcus and Alex Ross session. Marcus has a book out about Bob Dylan, and I don't even know what Ross had to offer. I tried not to think about it, and moved on to


Sam Barry, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, and John Dufresne

I attended this session, which is dedicated to helping aspiring writers, thinking I would buy one of the books for my daughter, who is a talented writer but is not especially inspired to produce finished products suitable for publication.

Sam and Kathi, who in addition to being literary collaborators, are also married to each other, performed a skit demonstrating how books are chosen for publication. Sam’s big brother Dave was an appreciative member of the audience, with a front row seat.

Dufresne talked about the work of writing a novel. He quoted Somerset Maugham, “There are three secrets to writing a novel; and nobody knows what they are.” Then he added his own words of wisdom: “Everything in your life is incompatible with writing, and always will be.”

Dufresne’s most recent book is entitled How to Write Your First Novel in Six Months. He said, “I wrote the book but I haven’t read it yet.” (He’s in his third year of working on his current novel.)

Here’s a tip for aspiring writers: if you have a manuscript and you’re looking for an agent, look at books that are somewhat similar to yours, and check the acknowledgments. Usually the writer will thank his agent. You need an agent to be published by the big New York houses. But for the smaller university presses, you can submit the manuscript yourself.

Approaching the end of the day, good time to contemplate the end of the world as we know it. Three authors who have written books about climate change:

Heidi Cullen, The Weather of the Future
Gwynne Dyer, Climate Wars: the Fight for Survival
Peter Maass, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil.

This was a depressing session. I can’t even bear to summarize it.

Relief from the somber realities was upcoming on the 5th floor terrace of Building 3:

The Rock Bottom Remainders

. . . in concert. Featuring local Florida author Tim Dorsey on cowbell. Also local radio personality, (not an author, he himself emphasized) Paul Castronovo, of the “Paul and Young Ron Show”. Kathi Goldmark, Sam Barry, Scott Turow, Les Standiford, Ridley Pearson, various other people—oh, yeah, Michelle Kaufman and Sophie Barry, (Dave’s wife and daughter, respectively) and, I think, one of Sophie’s random friends. Not a large group this year, which initially seemed to improve the odds of everybody’s finishing the song at the same time. But early optimism on that score was later dashed. Also, remembering how many verses the song has seemed to be a problem. Come to think of it, those two problems are related. Anyway, they did most of the RBR classics, including “Proof-reading Woman,” “The Slut Song,” “If the House is Rockin’,” and “Hurricane Blues.” Other numbers on the set list included "Wild Thing," “Wait Till the Midnight Hour,” and “Margaritaville.”

At one point, Dave introduced “The greatest writer of legal fiction in the universe” (Turow) and someone near me said, “Oh, I didn’t know John Grisham was here.” (literary rimshot…)

Really fun, and the weather was great, just about 75 degrees and a slight breeze. It sprinkled a little bit but not enough to interfere with anything. I chatted with Suzie and Mike—Mike used to work for the Miami News and he knew Dave from the old days, also had recently visited with him at a Miami News reunion. When they ran into each other later the same week, he said, “Hi, Dave, remember me, we were talking the other day at the Miami News Reunion.” Dave replied, “Oh, hey! Hi! So you finally sobered up, eh?”

After the concert, I grabbed a sandwich from Subway and headed for the hotel. I thought I would write up some of my notes but I was soooo tired! I fell asleep before I got anything done.

November 21
Got up early Sunday morning and went jogging along Biscayne Bay. I wasn’t able to cross the bridge because the sidewalk was closed for construction, but downtown Miami at sunrise is still very charming. I was running and gawking, sightseeing as I went. It occurred to me that it was something like the experience people have when they tour on Segways, just with a little more effort.

I had a pretty leisurely morning, didn’t have to rush, but got packed and checked out, took my stuff to the car and was in the Carl Hiaasen line by 9:30. The line was even longer than the Dave Barry line on Saturday. Possibly because the Hiaasen fans were joined by a bunch of Scott Turow readers—I don’t think those two groups have a huge amount of overlap.

Carl Hiaasen

Hiaasen was charming, as usual, maybe a little more downcast than he was the last time I saw him. His latest book is Star Island, a tale of celebrity culture and intrigue set in South Beach. He said South Beach is difficult to satirize because anything you make up will likely be surpassed by a real event before you get your book published.

South Florida does seem to attract the weirdos. Hiaasen was about the third speaker I heard mention that the “balloon boy’s” family was moving to Florida. Carl’s comment: “That was inevitable, wasn’t it?” Another example: Rush Limbaugh could have lived anywhere. Carl says he understands why Limbaugh chose to live in Florida—it’s because we have the friendliest pharmacists anywhere. "If you want to back a dump truck up to the pharmacy and fill it with Oxycontin: 'Okay!'”

Carl said he had to read a lot of tabloid newspapers and watch a lot of celebrity tv reports as research for the book. He kept hearing about the “Kardashians” so he asked Dave Barry, who tends to be more up on current culture, “How many of them are there?” Dave said he thought there were “15 or 16”…

But Carl is satirizing the culture; he does not think it is funny. The story he told indicates very well what his viewpoint is: On a day when eight American soldiers died in Afghanistan, in the most severe fighting of the war to date, Lindsay Lohan was arrested for something and it was her story that was the lead—it was difficult to find information about what happened in Afghanistan.

The main character in Star Island is a kind of Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan type celebrity. Carl is mildly disgusted with the position this type of celebrity holds in our culture. He said, "5,000 years ago, they would have been culled from the herd. You know? They shouldn’t be allowed to poison the gene pool."

Scott Turow

Scott Turow talked about but did not read from his new book, Innocent. It is a sequel to Presumed Innocent. He was careful not to give away the surprise ending from the original book so that people could read the books in any order. He and the audience also observed the taboo at the book fair although it’s a good bet that the overwhelming majority of people there were aware of the plot of Presumed Innocent. That was nice, though.

Turow said the germ of an idea for this latest book may have come from an Edward Hopper painting, “An Excursion into Philosophy.”

In the Q&A, Hiaasen was asked about the election of Rick Scott as Governor, and he said, “As a columnist I have to be glad because there will be plenty of material, but as a citizen, as a father, as a grandfather…I could have hoped for a better outcome.”

He noted that Scott spent $73 million of his own money to be elected, and said Scott has “the worst resume in the history of politics.”

Then someone asked, are you at all optimistic about the environment? And he replied, “No. I’m not.”

After a pause, he continued, “For a while, during the Clinton administration, when the Everglades restoration project was on the front burner, I thought there might be a chance to make some progress. But with the recession . . .

“We all want clean air to breath and clean water to drink—Democrat or Republican—it’s not a radical idea. But if you show up in Tallahassee talking about environmental issues now, you get treated like you’re crazy.”

= = = = = = = = =

I didn’t have time to stand in Carl’s autographing line if I was going to hear Ron Chernow. It was at this point, giving up standing in one line so that I could stand in a different line, after the long day on Saturday and with six hours of more or less continuous activity ahead of me, that I kind of hit the wall, as they say in long distance running. I had my doubts about whether I had the energy to get through to the end of the day. I guess my blood sugar level was dipping, and maybe Hiaasen hadn’t helped with his Eeyoresque presentation. I briefly considered packing it in and heading for home. But then I turned to the person next to me in line, a nice young woman who was also on her own. I struck up a little conversation with her, compared schedules—she had also been there all day on Saturday and was planning to spend the day on Sunday too—and I decided I could do it. As it turned out, I only had to stand in line for Chernow, and then got to stay in my seat for Simon Winchester. After that I had a two hour break for lunch and shopping, and the rest of the day unfolded very smoothly. That brief moment of fatigue was the only time in the whole weekend that I felt less than perfectly happy.

Ron Chernow

Washington, a Life

About George Washington:

He didn’t chop down a cherry tree and then admit it to his father saying, “I cannot tell a lie.”

He didn’t have wooden teeth. His teeth were carved ivory and maybe some of them were human teeth purchased from slaves (a common practice at the time.) He only had one natural tooth of his own at the time he became president.

And so on. Chernow says he “needed a machete” to cut through the dense forest of myths and misconceptions about the Father of Our Country. Chief among these is the perception that Washington was stiff and expressionless—this idea is fed by the famous portraits of him done by Gilbert Stuart and other contemporary artists. But revolutionaries are not boring individuals. Washington’s laconic and stoic façade covered a strong personality. Chernow, with this book, tries “to recreate the charisma that seems to have gotten lost to posterity.”

Washington was a prodigy—at age 23 he was in charge of all the military forces of Virginia. He is legendary for his perseverance and bravery. He was unanimously elected to leadership positions.

His revolutionary ideas flowed naturally from his personal interests: the British denied him a commission and outlawed western settlement just at the time when Washington was acquiring properties. So he joined in with the founders and made important contributions. When the constitutional convention was held, the delegates met behind closed doors. Washington’s presence was important to the public, reassuring them that the congress was a legitimate proceeding.

Washington created the first presidential “cabinet.” His had three members, Alexander Hamilton at Treasury, Henry Knox as Secretary of War, and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. That’s if you don’t count Edmund Randolph, the Attorney General.

Washington hoped for a non-partisan government but the mudslinging started right away. He was accused of having been a spy for the British throughout the revolutionary war. The divide between Hamilton and Jefferson led to a split in the country and the formation of political parties.

Washington was opposed to slavery, but knew it was a divisive question so he avoided the issue. He freed his slaves in his will, but wasn’t able to free the slaves who were controlled by Martha. It was arranged that her slaves would be freed upon her death but she was made uneasy by this arrangement, since it meant all her slaves were waiting and even hoping for her to die so they could be free. She freed her slaves about a year after George died, and about a year before her own death.


Simon Winchester


Winchester’s book about the Atlantic Ocean is a big tale but also a collection of interesting stories.

Here’s one: In the Faroe Islands, halfway between Norway and Iceland, the residents are descended from Vikings. Winchester says they have too much testosterone and not enough to keep them busy; that’s how he explains this strange activity that they have developed. The western sides of the islands form high, sheer cliffs—as high as 2000 feet in places. On the sides of these cliffs there are small areas, very steep, where patches of grass grow. This grass is fertilized by puffin guano, which is exceptionally rich in nutrients, so the vegetation is very lush. In the spring, the strapping lads of the Faroe Islands take boats to the foot of the cliffs. They each hoist a lamb onto their shoulders and they climb up ropes until they come to one of the patches of steep grass, and they put the lamb there. Winchester says they have to hold the lamb until it gets its footing because the pitch makes it nearly impossible to stand. Once the lamb is stabilized, they go away and leave it there. A few months later they return, and the lamb has grown into a sheep. They climb up the ropes again. When they reach the sheep they give it a shove and it falls into the water below. If the fall doesn’t kill it, they finish the job and then take it back to town. The meat thus harvested has a reputation for being exceptionally tasty. This is a typical Winchester story: weird and wonderful, if slightly cringe-inducing. That is how I remember The Professor and the Madman. I haven’t read Atlantic, but I’m sure it is entertaining and educational.


T.M. Shine and Skip Horack


This Sunday afternoon event was not well attended. T.M. Shine continues to be one of literature’s hidden treasures.

Skip Horack wrote a novel called The Eden Hunter. It’s about a pygmy who is captured and brought to America as a slave, then escapes and lives in the wilds of Florida in the early 19th century. The book is inspired by true historical events and has received favorable reviews.

I was there to see T. M. Shine and was happy to finally meet him in person after being an admirer for over twenty years. He has a dark sense of humor and a quick wit. Here’s an archetypal Shine aphorism: “Desperate is the new cool.” His newest book is called Nothing Happens Until it Happens to You. He pitched it to his publisher as a memoir but they wanted a novel so he punched it up with some fictional characters. But it’s still very much what he would have written if they had let him write a memoir. Because with Shine, what’s going on inside his head always gets as much attention as what’s happening “out there” in the real world. When he writes humor, his narrative follows the knife edge of credulity. You want to believe it really happened but it feels like he’s pulling your leg most of the time. When he does journalism, it’s believable but you know that if you had been in the situation he’s describing you wouldn’t have had the experience he had. Shine has a unique worldview and an uncanny ability to put it into words.

The audiobook: what a thrill to find that someone has taken the time and spent the money to make the novel you worked hard to write into an audiobook. That would make you feel special, wouldn’t it? Until you get the CD, and listen to it, and find out that they apparently hired the actor who voiced C-3PO to read it for the audiobook. This is not a voice that is conducive to humor. Shine brought the CD and played some of it for us so we could share his pain.

Terry Shine embodies the new reality in journalism and literature. He was laid off from his job at the free weekly paper that is a subsidiary of the big daily newspaper, not because he wasn’t good but just because the paper is on the verge of going out of business and had to cut its staff to the bare minimum. He has written features for the Washington Post magazine but that was mostly because of the close connection between the Miami Herald, where he debuted as a feature writer, and the Post; and since Tom Shroder is no longer at the Post it makes it much more problematic for him to publish there. Shine is not a big networker or self-promoter, I gather. What he is, is an artist. He says he’s looking for work and that he has accepted that writing might just be a hobby for him. I can only hope for his sake that he finds happiness, and, for my sake, that he keeps finding a way to get his work published. Here’s his blog, PinkSlipMyAss. If you sign up, you can be notified when he posts; it’s not a regular occurrence.

= = = = = = =

Jonathan Franzen

I’m an avid fan of this best-selling author. I had a sort of mystical experience reading his book of essays How to be Alone. You know the way schizophrenics think the television is speaking to them, personally? That’s how that book was for me. I kept getting the feeling that Franzen was slipping personal messages into the text, and they were about me and they were about him. Not about the two of us together. About each of us, alone.

I wish the book fair schedule had not put Franzen at the very end of the program. By the time Sunday evening came around, I was very tired and looking forward to getting home. Still, he did not disappoint. He read passages from his new book, and then took questions from the audience.

Quotes:

“I’m writing extreme stories, based on my own personal experience of the world.”

“Is it possible to be irritated with yourself? The other day I was irritable and everything everybody said or did was getting on my nerves. But I noticed that nothing I thought or said irritated me.”

“It’s doubtful whether anyone who has an internet connection at the workplace is writing decent fiction.”

= = = = = = = = =

The drive home was actually uneventful but I was tired and it was a dark and rainy night, so I was a little stressed. All ended well, however, and I was back at my house by 8:00 p.m. A nearly perfect Miami Book Fair International weekend—the only thing that would have improved it is if one or more of my literary friends could have joined me for the experience. I will note that people do go to the book fair alone, it’s much more common to see single people there than at a concert or a movie or the county fair or an art show. And any time I felt like chatting, I had no problem turning to the person next to me and striking up a conversation. Everyone is friendly and intelligent, so it’s not a lonely experience. But I got spoiled the three years I had an enthusiastic companion. A bunch of people have told me they will try to come next year, and since my very favorite author is publishing a book in 2011, next year might just be a regular Achen-festival. If you are an organized person who already has a 2011 calendar, it’s not too early to mark the date: November 19-20 should be the big weekend, but you can keep an eye on the official website for news and updates.