This past Saturday was the 2010 National Book Festival, held on the National Mall in DC. I first went last year, shortly after we’d moved to the area, and I had so much fun I had to go again this year. For anyone in or around DC who loves books, it is a great event! Basically it’s a group of huge tents with author speakers from many genres like Fiction & Mystery, Teens, Historical, Kids, Poetry, Contemporary & Life, etc. Each author gives a15 minute talk and then has a 20-minute Q&A with the audience about what they’re working on, how they write—basically anything! It’s really fun getting to know writers whose work I love on a more personal level. And awesome for learning about new-to-me authors as well! This year I went to see Ree Drummond, aka Pioneer Woman (!!! Yes!!! I almost died when I saw her in the program), Diana Gabaldon, Elizabeth Kostova, Julia Glass, and Ken Follett (!!). Here’s what I thought of each:
Ree Drummond: So overall she was adorable. I think she was counting on the fact that the people who came to her talk would already know who she was, so she didn’t give much intro at all before opening it up for questions. Thankfully, someone pointed this out and asked her to back up and tell her story, so we did get to hear some! Her life just fascinates me, and she’s such a real, down-to-earth, country gaI—and so funny! If you haven’t heard of her blog, go immediately to The Pioneer Woman. Her humor and compassion and fastidiousness in documenting recipes step-by-step with 46 pictures to boot is hilarious, and also super helpful. I was also excited to her about her new book coming out!!! It’s called Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, and tells the love story of meeting her husband on a trip back to her hometown in Oklahoma. It comes out February 2011 and you can pre-order it here. Overall, a good start to the day (hopefully if she comes back she’ll get a later timeslot, since at 10:30am not many people were there yet).
Diana Gabaldon: So I had never heard of Diana before, but after hearing most of her talk, I want to read her books. She has to be one of the most engaging and funny speakers I’ve heard in a long time. She is quirky, talks fast, makes fun of herself, writes these epic-long novels that many people commented on how multiple generations of their family are obsessed with, and overall very entertaining. She writes the Outlander books, which sounds like an action/romance/mystery/fantasy sort of series? By all accounts they sounded like odd, impossible-to-categorize, and can’t-put-them-down types of books. So, how can I not check that out? Oh, and she’s also like 4’11” with dark hair past her waist. Just thought I should add to your mental picture. J
Elizabeth Kostova: So Elizabeth was much different than the previous two. She went to Yale, and overall I found her more methodical, analytical…more academic in the way she approached her writing. She wrote The Historian, which I didn’t read, and honestly it doesn’t seem super up my alley, but all the same it was very interesting to hear her talk about the process of writing it. It took her 10 years to write with 3 kids under the age of 6, so she wrote mostly at night while everyone was asleep. I guess The Historian (based on the Dracula myth) isn’t like most novels in that it is one long piece of prose; instead it is a (LONG!) document that contains letters, memos, articles, anecdotes, and the like and together they’re woven together to create a story. A very interesting—but quite daunting!—task for putting together a novel. Her new novel, The Swan Thieves, sounds like a more traditional historical novel, but it also deals with the idea of myth, so if you’re into that—check it out!
Julia Glass: Julia was a real disappointment for me. I missed her last year when she was presenting in the morning and I couldn’t get myself downtown in time. So I was really looking forward to her this year. I really enjoyed her first two novels, Three Junes (which won the National Book Award) and The Whole World Over, as they’re so beautifully written, you’re just lulled by the rhythm of her prose. But…I just didn’t like her very much in person. She had quite a long speech prepared, and overall I found it unnecessarily political, pretentious, and boring. It felt like she was reliving her life for her own benefit, not inviting us in. She also seemed to have a chip on her shoulder that she was basically the opening act for Ken Follett, and she let us know about it. Overall I just wasn’t impressed, and honestly it makes me want to read her books less now that I know who’s behind her beautiful writing. Sad, really.
Ken Follett: I was really looking forward to hearing Ken speak, and he definitely didn’t disappoint! So first off—I didn’t realize he was English, so surprise accent! Off to a good start. He started by telling us about his new book, Fall of Giants, which is the first book in a planned trilogy that will follow five families around the world through the 20th century. Each book will focus on a war (WWI, WW2, and the Cold War), and he explained that he wanted to do another epic after everyone “responded so warmly” to Pillars of the Earth and World Without End (don’t you just love the Brits?). He read a passage from the book and it sounds very good. He did quite a bit of research, and all of the quotes by characters that existed in real life were taken from historical documents, memoirs, etc. so it sounds like it will relatively accurate from a historical standpoint. And you know how terrible I am at history so if he can find a way to make it interesting to me so I actually remember it, HOORAY!
So, all in all, a very successful National Book Festival. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area next year!
ps. One person I didn’t get a chance to see was Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games trilogy (young adult fiction…the first book was a cross between Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Lord of the Flies), which I spent Sunday devouring. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend. I’m partway through the second book, Catching Fire, and it seems just as good so far.