Sunday was the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival. The weather was beautiful, the turn-out great and don’t get me started on the food trucks (I ♥ @fritesnmeats ). Lori from @TNBBC drove us into the city (Thanks Lori!) and I think I can speak for both of us when I say it was a blast!
So what were the highlights? Prepare yourself for Parentheses OVERLOAD!
5 minutes in…literally 5 minutes… I spotted the Akashic Books booth. I know next to nothing about Akashic Books (they published Go the F*ck to Sleep) . But I fell in love with their Noir Series of city anthologies and had to buy two. ($10.00 each! Most tables had books discounted, which was awesome!). The first book, Brooklyn Noir, was published in 2004. Since then the series has grown to 50-something books… I tried to count them all on their website but it was too much work. Akashic is committed to keeping the books authentic – which means that many of the stories are written by native authors and translated into English. I am now the proud owner of Haiti & Havana Noir. (Don’t Ask! I’ve no idea why I got stuck in the H’s). And I saw Mumbai Noir on the Akashic website… which I wishlisted.
Lori & I, between the two of us, attended a fair number of panels… 5 in all. The first was at 11AM – Radical Fictions – presented by The Housing Works (one of my favorite bookshops). It featured readings by Jennifer Gilmore, David Goodwillie & Justin Taylor. Lori was there for Justin, but I’d circled this one in advance because I was interested in the counter-culture vibe. Of the three it was Goodwillie’s reading from his novel, American Subversive, that really grabbed my attention. Onto my GoodReads wishlist it went. (This is the part when I tell you how freakin’ awesome the GoodReads app for the droid phone is! Seriously. It made keeping track of the books I wanted sooo much easier. You can type in a search or – if you can figure out a way to do this without looking shifty, which I haven’t so feel free to share – scan the barcode to bring up the book instantly).
Next stop: Borough Hall. The lines were huge. Lori and I had planned ahead to split here… she met up with Levi Asher (Literary Kicks Blog) and they went to Apocalypse Now, and Then What? Tananarive Due (who two women RAVED about when we were on line getting the tickets), Patrick Somerville & Colson Whitehead were on this panel which was moderated by Paul Morris. I went on my own to see Walker In the City, moderated by Edmund White. Sergio Chejfec (with his lovely translator Margaret B. Carson) were the draw for me, but I was happily surprised by the readings of the two authors I wasn’t familiar with – Geoff Nicholson & Teju Cole.Edmund White was an excellent moderator… is there anything literary-related this man doesn’t do well? Not only did the authors have time to read from their books, but he asked them really interesting and (even more rare) relevant questions. Nicholson, in addition to being an author, also blogs at The Hollywood Walker. Teju Cole did an amazing job discussing and reading his new book Open City (he called it an exploration in subtle asshole-ness) which led to my second purchase of the day. (For those keeping track: yes I bought the 2 Noir books. But I bought them at the same time which equals 1 purchase. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it). Overall, though there wasn’t time for audience questions (which in my opinion are over-rated and tend to suck) Walker in the City surpassed my high expectations.
Afterwards I had my books signed by Sergio Chejfec, Margaret Carson & Teju Cole. Then Lori & I had the chance to chat with Levi – always a treat. Turns out Levi is a bit of a history buff… so we bored Lori for a bit talking about the George Washington autobiography Levi just finished (he really was a great guy), Benjamin Franklin (McCullough’s book gave him a bad rap), my obsession with the history of disease (Yellow Fever & The Spanish Influenza are particular favorites) and our general thoughts on the book festival so far. After which we went our separate ways. Well, Levi went his separate way – Lori and I went to visit more booths.
My favorite thing about the Brooklyn Book Festival are the small independent publishers. These guys are the heart and soul of Fall book festivals. We stopped by Overlook Press (no word on the new Moer’s book), Europa & New Directions (wish-listed The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya), A Public Space, Melville House (wish-listed The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto), and a bunch of others. I had intended to spend more time at the periodical tables – BookForum (see my review later this week on their Japanese Lit Magazine Monkey Business), NYRB, & The Paris Review among others – but they’re there to sign up subscribers and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I’m sure what I want to know is on the websites.
We also stopped at Coach House Books – another favorite publisher based out of Canada. There I purchased Isobel & Emile by Alan Reed because of the quirkily-stilted writing style. Monoceros, another of their novels, also looked very interesting and went onto the wishlist.
Lori took me to two more panels, both on short stories, Getting To It and Getting Trough It and Short and Sweet (And Sour). I probably wouldn’t have gone to these without her. I’m so glad that I did (even though it took us 3 different buildings to find the former!). The panel standouts were Alan Heathcock’s powerful reading (the best I heard this year) of a short story from his collection Volt – which had him sounding more than a little like a Baptist preacher – and Amelia Gray’s hilarious readings from her Flash Fiction collection AM/PM. Prior to Gray’s reading I was completely unfamiliar with flash fiction. Now I can’t wait to read more (recommendations anyone?).
And that’s about it, folks… other than an incredible burger from the Frites and Meats food truck (grass-fed beef cooked perfectly medium rare, goat cheese, a crazy-good homemade sauce and spring mix on a chiabatta, and these fries with garlic mayo sauce to dip in) right before we hopped the train back to PABT there’s nothing left to report.
Can’t wait to do it all again next year!
What I bought:
- Open City by Teju Cole (Random House)
- Haiti Noir & Havana Noir (two separate anthologies published by Akashic Books)
- Isobel & Emile by Alan Reed (Coach House Books)
What I wish-listed:
- The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya (New Directions)
- AM/PM by Amelia Gray (Featherproof Books)
- The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (Melville House)
- Volt: Stories by Alan Heathcock (Graywolf Press)
- American Subversive: A Novel by David Goodwillie (Scribner)
- Monoceros by Suzette Mayr (Coach House Books)