BOOKLOVE: 2014 Library of Congress National Book Festival Edition
My mother came into the house one day, a smile on her face and a newspaper in her hand, walked right up to me, opened the paper right in front of me, and shoved the paper into my face. “The 2014 Library of Congress Book Festival” it said and nothing else except the date and the place. My first reaction was that of apathy. I have been to book festivals in the area before and, frankly, they were not that exciting. However, after thinking about it, I did get interested. After all, it’s the Library of Congress and one would expect that something like that would be big. So, I looked into it by reading about it on the web. I looked at the list of authors who will go to the event and there it was: EL Doctorow, Claire Messud, Billy Collins, SIRI HUSTVEDT, and PAUL AUSTER. What other decision did I have but go?
Naturally, there was a part of the convention center where the Festival was being held reserved for Politics & Prose, the indie bookstore who are one of the sponsors of the event. They were selling books written by the authors who are going to the festival and sign copies of their work. These are the books that I bought divided into the books that were signed and the ones that were not. First, the signed books:
- The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud – Messud was introduced to my consciousness after reading an article about her response to an interviewer when asked if she would like to be friends with Nora, the protagonist of The Woman Upstairs, even though Nora has an outlook that’s “almost unbearably grim.” This was Messud’s response:
“For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘Is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘Is this character alive?’ ”
The response was a beautiful summation on why I read books which is not about making friends but about knowing about these characters and the stories they tell. Anyway, when I was having my copy signed, I talked to Messud about the interview and her response which led to this:
- Winter Journal by Paul Auster – I was glad to see the TPB edition of Auster’s memoir about “body, time, and memory” which is written in what I assume is an unconventional way (when did Auster write in a conventional way?). Anyway, I was very excited in meeting one of my favorite authors (I skipped EL Doctorow just so I can be early for his line) and, when it was my turn, I asked him if I can shake his hand, and then told him that I was his biggest fan from the Philippines. He then signed my copy of Winter Journal with:
- 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (translated by Natasha Wimmer) – I vaguely remembered Natasha Wimmer as the translator of Bolaño’s book when I saw that she was signing books beside Paul Auster. However, I didn’t have any of Wimmer’s translation of Bolaño with me so, after having Winter Journal signed, I went back to the bookstore and got myself a copy of her translation of 2666 then went back in line to have it signed:
What took the cake, however, was the moment when I was in front of Paul Auster again so that I can have Moon Palace signed. I was giving him the book and was about to tell him my name when he cut me off and said: “No, I remember. Bennard.” then proceeded to sign the book. Damn it, I know that he must have forgotten my name by now but there was a thirty-minute period, between my first encounter with him and the second, when my name was stuck in the head of one of my favorite writers.
- The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – I wasn’t planning on getting this book of hers since I was thinking of getting one of her book of essays. However, none of her works were available except for The Blazing World. Still, I got the book then fell in line since God knows what will Rhena will do to me if she knew that I had the chance to have one of our books signed by Siri Hustvedt and didn’t take it. Anyway, when it was time for me to have The Blazing World signed, I told Siri that Rhena is a huge fan of hers and that it was her who introduced Summer Without Men to me. She asked me what Rhena’s name was, how it was spelled, and then added a special message for her:
Here are the other books that I bought:
- The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins – I have never heard of Billy Collins before I bought this collection of poems. However, I overheard two people in a spirited discussion of his works and their underlying beauty that I decided to investigate and read a few pages from his works on display. While doing this, I also asked one of the employees of Politics & Prose about Collins’ poetry and she said that “his poems are accessible and the imagery is beautiful.”
- Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow – I was supposed to have this signed but the line was too long and I wanted to be early for Auster’s signing so I ditched Doctorow’s line and went to Auster’s instead.
- A Thousand Forests in One Acorn: An Anthology of Spanish-Language Fiction edited by Valerie Miles – The concept of the book is that Miles asked several authors who primarily write in Spanish to submit some of their works (short stories or segments from their novels) that they think is a representation of themselves at the height of their writing prowess. As a bonus, the book includes interview with the authors about their reasoning for their submitted selections.
It was a very glorious day for a reader like me especially since I met Paul Auster. For that alone, it was well worth the trip.