Monday, September 17, 2007

Long rambling post on my experience at the BBF.

So, the Brooklyn Book Fair.

It didn't take me that long to get to Borough Hall, surprisingly. I hopped on an A, and it took me 20 minutes from midtown, so I arrived EARLY to my pleasant surprise.

Early to Matt (de la Pena)'s reading, that is. He sat on a panel called "The Sporting Life" with two other children's writers - Phil Bildner and Sharon Robinson. I was kinda dorkily excited when they said she was Jackie Robinson's daughter. Because I have a clear memory of reading Bette Bao Lord's In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson in 5th grade, and we had all these discussions on it, and it kinda gelled because I'm Chinese and all and this book was about an immigrant Chinese girl (who moved the year Jackie Robinson was making headlines).

But I digress. The point is, the two of these other panelists also wrote sports books, though their books seemed to skew younger than Matt's (whose book is really like, high school level). Well, Mr. Bildner did his reading, and it was oh-so-theatrical that I bet he does GREAT kids readings with picture books and everything (totally the kind of reader I giggled over when I was like, seven, sitting on beanbag chairs). And Sharon Robinson was very sweet and earnest in her love for kids and sports. Matt read from part of his book, Ball Don't Lie, which describes the gym his main character, Sticky plays in. If you haven't read the book, Matt has a really great urban rhythm in his writing, and this part of the book is pure poetry. Hearing an author read their words is always interesting... in a way, you kind of get to hear how it sounds in their head. I love the poetics. The rhythm. Matt's got that going for his book, for his reading. It's truly a little urban masterpiece, down to the last word. And of course, hearing him reading it is pretty great. [His new book, Mexican WhiteBoy is slated to come out in 2008. Hooray for sophomore novels!]

Anyway, after, a few questions and answers, Sharon Robinson making big overarching statements like, "Well, I think we all..." which I sometimes wanted to contradict, but she's so sweet, you know she kinda doesn't realize what it means when she says that. We found out a couple of interesting things, like Sharon Robinson's brother lives in Zimbabwe and has TEN kids, Phil dresses up as an old baseball player when he visits kids, Matt got his start writing beautiful heartbreaking love letters to women, and oh-so-much-more. Not so many kids in the crowd, but it's interesting nonetheless, to see authors talk about their books. Even better when you know one of them....


Here is a bad picture of the three of them. Do you love the railing in my way? Do you love how small the picture is? I do. But believe me, up close, they are all stunningly beautiful with tiny pores and large smiles. (Whatever.)

Next, I went to find Moonrat at her booth. Once I did, she was sporting the Harper Perennial button (which I soon found EVERYONE was because they say "Olive You"!) and I desperately needed one for myself. However, we decided to go eat instead. She eats a salad, I eat some eggs, Space Alien has eggs too. We dine outside (it is unfortunately a tad chilly) with young guys playing jazz in the background. Yum yum yum.

So back to the fair it is. I almost immediately get in line to get tickets for the 3:00 readings (at 1:45, the line is already fairly long). I grab my ticket that ensures I get to see my beloved Danticat, and then I go to Bank Street to pick my little sister up some books.

I settle on three: Gail Carson Levine's Fairest, Libba Bray's Rebel Angels, and Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely. Yes, three fantasy books. But it was that or teen chicklit, and if you haven't figured out yet how I feel about chicklit, well shame on you. Anyway, my sister has specifically requested the Libba Bray and Gail Carson Levine signatures (nevermind that when she was seven, I found her a signed copy of GCL's The Fairy's Mistake at Bank Street and she's lost it), so I have to FIND these authors for them to write my sister's beautiful name alongside theirs. Of course, that's when I find out that Gail Carson Levine has ALREADY LEFT (doh!) and that Libba Bray and Melissa Marr won't be available until 3, which is, when I have to go to the reading.

Magically, Jamie appears (having gotten lost on her way to Brooklyn and having gone over the Brooklyn Bridge like 3 times back and forth), and after picking up lunch with her, she offers to get the books signed while I go to the reading. (She does, and the messages made out to my sister make no sense whatsoever, but I think it's exciting for a 13 year old to see her name written in a book by authors she knows... or a 25 year old. You know. Whatever.)

So then I go WAIT ON THE MASSIVE LINE that is for the "My Life" panel which Danticat is on. MASSIVE. I have a brief panic attack that THEY WON'T LET ME IN because some people on the line don't have tickets and they are ahead of me. "If I don't get in, I'll kill someone!" I declare. The lady in front of me tries to convince me that I should sneak behind the dude in the red shirt that is policing all of us and just go up. That's when I shrink back, reticent Asianness taking over. She rolls her eyes at me. "Suit yourself," she says.

Okay, we finally get in. I am sitting in the VERY VERY VERY front row because it's so packed, and this is not good because, well, the panelists are sitting at a JUDGES TABLE thing so I can barely see their heads. But whatever. It also means I'm that much closer to Edwidge. Hee hee. It's so packed that they start letting people sit in the JURY seats behind the authors. This is met with laughter, because Mike Farrell is the one to suggest this.

Anyway, it finally starts, after packing in as many people as possible, and Edwidge reads from her new memoir, Brother, I'm Dying. By the way, I bought this book an hour earlier (after the YA books) from Bookcourt, sort of through clenched teeth. Because the book is $24, and at Barnes I could probably get it for something like $18. But, I must have it so I can get it signed, along with my copy of Krik? Krak! that I've brought along just for this occasion.

Okay, so she goes, reads a little bit from it. She talks about how it's less of a me-moir, and more of an us-moir (chuckle, chuckle). About how her uncle dies and her dad is diagnosed with a disease and she finds out she's pregnant and this is all around the same time, and she's going through a lot. She says she doesn't think it's a rant on immigration, but some people think it's too much so and some people think it's not enough. Honestly, I'm sure it's beautiful, regardless. This is Danticat we're talking about. I love her love her love her, and that's the sort of obsessive weirdness that goes through my head while I'm listening to her speak. I like her voice, how low and smooth it is. It's exactly what you'd expect it to be, given her writing. I like when things like that happen.

So then Mike Farrell goes (he reads this long, very important, affecting sounding thing, except I'm focusing on trying to get a clear shot of them and I'm not really listening), this woman Katha Pollitt does to (I feel like I should know her but I don't). Some guy's Nextel phone goes off during her reading, like LOUD beeps and staticky hello? hello? garble garble garble? and he actually ANSWERS it! It goes on for a good minute or so before the guy FINALLY gets up an leaves. Asshole. Katha Pollitt was pretty funny, but I missed half of the punchline because I was too focused on this guy.

Questions/Answers - some guy asks Mike if his compassion extends towards animals cruelly being treated in labs and processed as our chicken nuggets (my words, not his), and he is going on this weird tirade where I almost wonder if he's one of those creepo PETA people but Mike answers, brilliantly, "I'm a vegetarian." Later, this guy comes up to Edwidge and she goes, "That was a very interesting question you asked..." and he asks her, "Are you a vegetarian too?" and she says, "Actually, I am... but I've been eating fish..." and I thought how nice of her.

Here's a picture of the panelists.. sort of. It's so bad because I was way too close. But again, I'm sure, if I could actually see their faces, they are really stunningly goodlooking people. [On a sidenote, Edwidge's brother was there, and he's a pretty goooodlooooking guy......]


I try to get my book signed right then and there, but eventually she is shuttled out, so I go stand on the line. I make friends in line. We discuss other writers, and I offer to take pictures for them. Then it's my turn, and of course I have to give her my spiel on writing and how much she has affected me and other things I can't talk about on this blog because it's too identifying, but anyway, she is very sweet, gives me suggestions on MFA programs, blah blah, and meanwhile, the girls I've met in line have taken pictures with my camera, one of me looking like a bashful, starstruck teen. [I wonder when I will ever get over my awkwardness in meeting authors I love...]

Oh, and in line, I saw Jonathan Safran Foer (who I missed that day in favor of Danticat) walk over to Edwidge and talk to her for an extended period of time. I wonder if author-to-author, he's a little more personable....


Hmm. After that, me and Jamie went over to say hi to Moonrat (who's booth was crazy) and then we went to sit in a final panel, called "Brooklyn's Own", showcasing authors representing a few of Brooklyn's literary journals, including Harp & Altar, A Public Space, Tin House, and a publisher, Archipelago Books. They were LATE... as in we were standing on line for a good 25 minutes before they finally let us in. I was pretty tired by then, so Shane Book's poems, while I'm sure very good, were kind of lost on me (and I'm not a huge huge poetry fan anyway). Elizabeth Strout, whose books I hear are pretty good, was not all that great of a reader, though her prose itself is pretty good. Michael Thomas was really interesting, actually. I loved his reading, this snippet of a memoir and having to do with getting Red Sox tickets and being an African-American Red Sox fan in New York, and his son crying over a loss.... funny, poignant, well-written... I'd actually definitely look into his stuff after hearing him. And then there was Joseph Coulson, whose reading was fantastic, but for this reason: I don't know if I'd read the content of his book because jazz and sailing (which is what his book is about) aren't really my thing. But oh boy, that guy can read. I wasn't even listening to the meaning of his words sometimes, more listening to their cadence. He does it very coffeeshop like, rhythmic, poetic, almost like we're listening to slam poetry. The way he breaks up his phrases, the way he moves his hands while he's reading, the places where he takes his breath, the way his voice lilts. I could care less about sailing and all of that, but listening to him read is awesome. Maybe he should do his book on tape. I would seriously consider buying. It's like he had it well rehearsed, well-practiced, like he'd heard it a million times in his head and said it a million times outloud. Really quite nice. My only problem with these guys is that they definitely read for way longer than my attention span allows at 5:45 pm on a long Sunday.

But anyway. After that, Jamie and I parted ways, I found Moonrat, and we, of course, went to eat.

Have I mentioned that I love Brooklyn, and that everytime I go there, I wish I lived there?

And that was my very long, not-actually-all-that-eventful day at the BBF.

Oh, on a final note, can we please give me a round of applause (pat on the back, whatever, I'm not picky) on the fact that while I bought 4 books, only one was for myself?

1 drops:

moonrat said...

mmm, foodsies. bread pudding. mmm.

a good day, a good day. wish we could have book fairs EVERYday.

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