The Sunday Salon ~ My Trip to the National Book Festival!

September 28, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, LIfe, My Life with Books, Philippa Gregory, Reading | 29 Comments
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Yesterday, despite the muggy, slightly drizzly day, I had the most wonderful time at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.  The night before I thanked Target that my latest purse was huge.  It hard cover versions of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Neverwhere, to hard cover copies of The Other Queen, and paperback versions of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Satanic Verses, and The Color of Water.  I should have weighed it, because it was heavy.  I didn’t really care, though.  I was excited to be gathering signatures for them all.

We left our house just after 6am and drove to Vienna, VA, where we caught the Metro to The Smithsonian and walked out on the Mall.  It was so wonderful to be in the capitol.  It had been 12 years since I last was there.

“There’s a familiar sight.”  Danny said as we were walking toward the event.

“What?  The tents?”  I replied.

Danny pointed straight ahead.  “No, the Capitol.”

“Oh…”  Unlike in the past, I wasn’t paying any attention to the monuments and buildings.  I was looking for the Book Festival tents.

When we got there, we were a little after Neil Gaiman‘s talk began in the Children and Teens’ tent.  The crowd was so huge that we could barely hear what he was saying.  While I was trying to figure out what to do, Danny was trying to point out to me that Laura and Jenna Bush were about 50 yards from us signing books, but I wasn’t paying attention to him.  I was single-minded.  I now regret not taking peak at them when I had been so close.  Next time I’ll have to remind myself to try to absorb it all in.  Anyway, since Salman Rushdie and Philippa Gregory were speaking at the other end of the event, we decided to head in that direction in hopes of getting a good spot.  When I saw the Fiction and Mystery tent, it was starting to sink in to me that I was finally there.

Marisa de los Santos was speaking when we arrived and she was delightful.  She stood at the podium and was glowing.  I have not read Love Walked In or Belong to Me, but I certainly wish that I had now. She discussed her writing methods, how her characters develop, and her relationship as an author with poetry and novels.  Listening to her seemed like listening to a long lost friend.

After de los Santos, Salman Rushdie was scheduled to speak.  I was hoping to find a seat between authors, but no such luck.  Very few people who were seated moved.  I was able to move up to stand behind the last row of chairs.  As soon as Salman entered the tent, you could feel the air charge with electricity.  We were packed in the tent like sardines and, looking behind me, there were several rows of people lined up outside of the tent.  It took a few moments to get started because someone who kept shouting “Sit Down!” She finally  figuring out either that she was in the back of the standing room only section or went away.  There was a sign language interpreter for each of the authors, so everything was translated.  When people starting shhing this woman, it was hilarious.

Unlike de los Santos, Salman was interviewed.  Marie Arana, the editor in chief of the Washington Post’s  Book Review led the discussion.  We found out that Friday had been the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses and everyone cheered.  He discussed his time under the fatwa set down by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and how over time he became able to be in public without fear of his life.  The discussion then turned to The Enchantress of Florentine, which couldn’t sound more symbolic and beautiful.  TBR edition number three of the day.  The discussion wrapped up with very long question from the audience and then Salman was thanked with a huge round of applause.  He was intelligent and witty.  It was a great experience getting to listen to him.

There was a change in the audience between Rushdie and Philippa Gregory – enough so that I got a seat in the second to last row.  It was like sitting in a book club because there was instant discussion all around about Philippa and her work. Even in the muggy atmosphere, I got goosebumps when Philippa walked on stage.

She gave a wonderful speech.  She discussed writing The Other Queen and looking at history knowing that it was written by men who held prejudices about who and what a woman was.  She gave a little incite into her life as a writer.  While she joked about her husband living with someone she thinks is the greatest living author of British historical fiction, her husband’s take on her profession keeps her humble.  For him, it’s just something to keep her occupied during the British football season.  She read a couple of sections from The Other Queen and it was a treat to hear her read.  She answered several questions about The Other Boleyn Girl, what it really meant to be the historical consultant for her recent motion picture, and The Other Queen.  One of my favorite questions was about how royal women lived with the weight of producing an heir on their heads.  Did they ever resort to swapping a newborn princess for a commoner’s son?  With the exception of the rumors about Mary of Modena, Queen Consort of James II, it wasn’t believed that this happened.  Then she noted that even today that there is a modern prince who may have cause to question his paternity.  The lively way in which she answered that question was delightful.

As soon as Philippa’s talk was over, Danny and I headed over to the book signing pavilions.  I had mapped out our book signing schedule for the afternoon.  First Neil Gaiman, then Philippa Gregory, then Salman Rushdie, and finally James McBride.  My plans and the reality of the situation were vastly different.  There was the line leading up to Neil Gaiman and then SEVEN feeder lines!  There was already a huge line for Salman Rushdie and it was two hours before he was scheduled to get there.  Long story short, I decided that I was really there for Philippa Gregory first and Neil Gaiman second.  In order to get both autographs, we decided to have Danny wait in Gaiman’s line while I waited in Philippa’s.  I might not get a picture with her, but I was on a mission for Jena, Alyce and Jill.  In the end, it didn’t even work out to get Neil Gaiman’s autograph (I am SO sorry, Jena!).  The lines were just too long.  If you want more than one author’s signature, you almost have to make a choice between listening to the talk and waiting in line.

I waited in Philippa’s line for about an hour and 45 minutes, but it was a pleasure.  I met Karrie, a lobbyist for Second Harvest Food Bank/Feeding America, which is a wonderful non-profit organization that is located across the country.  If you are looking for a charity that helps people in your area, Feeding America is a wonderful organization.  Karrie and I had a wonderful time getting to know each other.  She wanted both Philippa’s autograph and Cokie Roberts’.  She picked Philippa’s because it’s more likely that she can attend another book signing for Cokie Roberts than getting to meet Philippa again.  Karrie is a wonderful person and getting to know her made the time fly.  There was some concern that we wouldn’t even get to Philippa, but we got through within the first half hour.  Since Danny didn’t make it through Neil’s line, he waited with us so that I could get Alyce’s book autographed.  With the one book per person limit, that was it (sorry, Jill!).

I wanted to ask her what her opinion was of the rape scene in movie but, as I recall, I pretty much gushed about how much I’ve enjoyed her novels and how they’ve shaped my reading habits.  She thanked me and agreed to take a picture with me:

She is holding my copy of the book and I am in heaven!  What is most funny about this picture is that I made sure to get my hair colored and cut on Thursday so that it would look nice in the picture.  Since it was so muggy, I’m dripping in sweat.  Oh well…  what’s that they say about pride coming before the fall? 🙂  Despite my hair, I will treasure this picture for the rest of my life.  Thank you, Philippa for being so gracious!

After Danny got Alyce’s book signed, we waited for Karrie to come back down the line.  Are we happy campers or what?

The National Book Festival was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  Danny and I got to spend the day together in a huge crowd of book lovers.  It was extremely organized for such a huge event.  The volunteers kept those of us waiting in line for book signings aware of what was going on, had the books ready for the authors so that the lines ran smoothly.  They also regularly walked up and down the lines with the bottled water donated by Target.  Assuming this continues on into the next administration, I will be making plans to attend again next year and in the years to come.  There is plenty of activities for children and it would be a great way to help foster the love of reading in my daughter’s lives.

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