Sunday, October 17, 2010
On Musings about the Boston Book Festival
Yesterday I attended the second annual Boston Book Festival. Actually, technically this is the second year of the new Boston book festival. For many years, Boston had one sponsored by the Boston Globe. It was a windy and chilly, but bright autumnal day, and the organizers should feel proud of what they accomplished in a relatively short space of time. The five events I attended went off with only minor hitches (usually related to microphones), the time-keeping was impeccable, the breadth and number of offerings was generous and thoughtful, and the quality of the moderating was outstanding (overall). And best of all, it was free. Here are some random learnings and observations from my day.
• According to David Shields, author of Reality Hunger, (in which he declares that the novel is dead), we are obsessed with reality because we experience hardly any of it. (Not sure I agree with it, but it is food for thought.) (Apparently, word of the novel’s demise date back to 1925.)
• The novel is not yet dead, but it may be women who are keeping it alive (consider the number of women in book clubs compared to the number of men).
• Check out • Check out The Electronic Literature Collection (vols 1 and 2) to see what approaches are being taken towards writing in the digital age. (Reference, Nick Montfort)
• Good quote from David Foster Wallace: “The best writing constructs a bridge across the abyss of human loneliness.”
• Question: Do we always have to be “advancing” something for it to be worthwhile? Is novelty necessarily a worthwhile goal?
• According to Daphne Kalotay, the novel may return to its 19th century form (think Dickens, with its fast pace, think Tolstoy with reality coming at you every second).
• Assessment of the MFA in writing—“Death by craftsmanship” (David Shields)
• Churches, with their vaulted ceilings, make good venues for discussing ideas.
• No matter how loud you think your voice is, when you have a large crowd (or an audience that spills over into the hallway to hear you), you need to use a microphone.
• Four good themes for Young Adult novels: fitting in, being true to oneself, standing up for what you believe in, finding love.
• Adolescent modes: hypersensitivity, sense of mystery/new discoveries, deep questioning.
• Joyce Carol Oates has an obsessively dark view of the world. Although she is a contemporary literary lion, I confess never to have read anything written by her, and I don’t think I care to based on this brief exposure. Life is too short.
• Fifteen minutes is long enough to read something from one of your works. We can buy it or borrow it from the library if we want to read it. Get to the Q and A, please.
• Don’t ask fiction writers about a) whether they believe in God, or b) whether they are victims of violence. If they want to talk about these things, they will.
• “One town, one story” is an excellent idea, and Tom Perotta’s story, “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” was an usually good choice—its characters (believable, complex), setting (a Little League playoff), its dilemmas (moral choices, paying for past sins)—all ones that people could wrestle with without any one obvious interpretation. Food for thought: What makes a character sympathetic?
• Alician Anstead must be a great teacher (even though it’s not her primary job), as exemplified by the skillful job did she leading the “One town, one story” discussion and keeping it moving while offering her own insights. (Whatever happened to Tom Menino, mayor of Boston—wasn’t he supposed to be leading it?} Having Tom Perotta there was an added bonus.
• To the Festival organizers: When seeking donations, be mindful of your audience--not everyone texts (though it may seem so), in particular not some older people who might be inclined to donate if given any easy way to do it, other than texting.
• I do not need to buy any more books….