The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

On the Scene: National Book Festival 2009

Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K

ImageCC2K's Tom Hardej attended the National Book Festival on Saturday, September 26 and discovered some interesting things about books, the writing process, and peanut butter balls.


“Hi.  I’m Dan Brown.” 

That’s how James Patterson started his talk in the “Mysteries & Thrillers” tent at the National Book Festival on Saturday.

“My writing career began in a mental institution.  I was an aid,” he said.  In the hospital he ran into James Taylor, Ray Charles, and Susanna Kaysen (who wrote the book Girl, Interrupted about her experience there); there were so many stories that he eventually thought, “I’ve got to start writing this shit down.”

Tens of thousands of people braved the rain and came upon the National Mall to see Patterson and over 70 other authors talk about writing and books, read stories, and sign copies.  Many of today's biggest writers were there, from John Grisham, to Nicholas Sparks, to Judy Blume, to Junot Diaz, to Jodi Picoult, to Paula Deen.  (But not the actual Dan Brown, who is probably busy promoting a little book you may have heard of somewhere.) 

The National Book Festival was started by Former First Lady Laura Bush eight years ago, and the tradition has been kept alive by the Library of Congress and the Obamas, who were honorary chairs for the event.

ImageWhen I got there in the morning, the entire Mall was packed with people.  They were lined up to get their books signed by Grisham and John Irving, or they were in packed tents (even the "Poetry & Prose" one) to see their favorite authors read from their latest books or answer burning questions.  Of the authors I was able to catch, no matter how big or small, they all had one thing in common: they were passionate about reading, which was pretty cool.  There were no egos.  Everyone truly wanted to be there to speak to the people who read their books.  You would expect something like this to be a real nerd-fest, but it wasn’t.  It was just a celebration of books by readers of all kinds and of all ages.


Here are my personal highlights:

-Most of the authors rode around in little golf carts to get where they were going, but I saw Junot Diaz just hanging out between tents talking with some people.  He seems like a really cool guy.

-James Patterson, who was more entertaining that I would have guessed told a story about starting out as a novelist (post-mental institution, I guess), when he would go to bookstores to count copies of his book to see how it was doing.  He remembered once seeing a woman pick up Along Came a Spider.  He followed her through the store to see if she was going to buy it, but instead she stuck it in her purse and stole it!

-James L. Swanson, who wrote Manhunt: The 12-Day for Lincoln’s Killer, talked about Lincoln, the hero of his story.  He called him “not just our greatest president, but also the greatest American ever.”  He said that the advice that Lincoln would give to anyone is to read as much you can get your hands on. 

Swanson also said that when adapting his book into the children’s version Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, he consulted his kids about what they would want out of a book.  They suggested more knives and blood, and also gave the note that henchman sounds better than accomplice.

-Mary Jane Clark, whose most recent thriller is Dying for Mercy, talked about wanting to write about different places across America to give her readers the thrill of seeing places they’ve never been to.

-Judy Blume sort of looks like Jessica Lange.  That’s not good or bad, but just an observation.


ImageThe most fun I had all day, though, was at the Paula Deen tent.  She walked out with her husband Michael and said, “Hey, y’all!  You didn’t think it was Paula Abdul, did you?”

She was funny and gracious and you really felt like she genuinely cared about every person she was talking to.  Probably the best part was when she took out one of her hair extensions and pinned it onto a man from the audience.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a great after-school snack, try her peanut butter balls (the recipe is on page 106 of her most recent cookbook.)