I was very excited to attend the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, September 23 this year. As I walked past lines of people snaking around buildings and then pressed through the crowds clutching tote bags, a woman on an outdoor stage announced, “God must be literary, because he blessed us with good weather.”
Higher powers aside, it was a gorgeous day to browse the nearly 200 booths of publishers, bookstores, magazines, reviews, and other literary organizations from across the US and Canada. I stocked up on $10 books from Europa editions, cracked up reading Jane Austen comics in a hardcover version of Hark! A Vagrant!, and said hello to local publisher Tin House, whose current issue “Portland – Brooklyn” gave me a little swell of local pride.
Beautiful day in the plaza near Brooklyn Borough Hall
The only downside was choosing just one forum to attend each hour and then queuing up with crossed fingers that we’d make it in before the cutoff. (It was really crowded!) These two were my favorites:
Characters on Characters: I listened to Walter Mosley, Edwidge Danticat, and Dennis Lehane discuss their characters with Harold Augenbraum of the National Book Foundation. Highlights: Lehane said the best opening line is one such as “Joe realized he was out of milk,” because your readers will keep following Joe until he gets that milk. Mosley said he never does research, because a fiction writer is “in the business of telling lies,” and Danticat said that she has to leave a place before she can write about it, otherwise the reality gets in the way of the place she’s creating. All of them objected to the idea of their characters as “dark,” saying that exploring what people do in difficult situations, and the complexity of human nature, is what they are really interested in.
L to R: Augenbraum, Lehane, Danticat, & Mosley. (Sorry for the blur: we snuck in!)
Enduring Unlikable Women
The title alone was intriguing, but the lineup of Elissa Schappell, Gilbert Hernandez (creator of Love and Rockets) and Dana Spiotta lured me in. The discussion didn’t disappoint and raised several points: What makes a character “unlikable?” How important is it for the reader to “like” the protagonist? Do readers excuse bad boy characters while vilifying complex women who defy the status quo? I could’ve listened to these witty, challenging authors’ discussion for much longer.
In all, it was a fabulous day and I would highly recommend attending. (Especially if it’s your birthday and you are a complete book nerd and have a half-empty suitcase to fill with paperbacks.)
(Mel Wells is the Program Coordinator at Literary Arts)