Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writing be silent talking

Kudos to Boston for putting on a fantastic Boston Book Festival yesterday. Compared to last year, it was grander, the weather was better, the venues were larger, and the list of sessions more numerous.

I left NH around 10:30, got to Wellington Station (now lovingly referred to as Beef Wellington Station), and boarded the orange line. On the train, a loud, confident guy holding American and don't-tread-on-me flags was lecturing a sweet group of Canadian 20somethings. "I'm paht of the Nohth Shoha Tea Pahty blah blah blah." By the time we got to my stop, North Station, he had talked about taxes, the price of gas, how all our freedoms are about to be ripped from us, and that FOX News is the ONLY reputable news source. I managed to bite my tongue the whole way. Asshat.

The first session my friend and I attended was Time and Place, at the Old South Church on Boylston. The first two readers felt restrained and too serious. But I was there for Gish Jen. And she delivered. What a feisty little minx! Here's a Harvard graduate who's been published in all the hot spots (New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly...), and she was personable. She laughed, she was smart, but never stuffy.

Her latest book, World and Town, was released this month. I'm looking forward to reading this and delving into the depiction of voice: the old Vermont farmers, whose dialect is terrifically informal and probably unsettling to an outsider; a long-settled immigrant, whose English is textbook perfection; and a teenager girl who has seen Cambodian refugee camps, the mean streets of a city akin to Lowell, and finally a rural landscape.

The next session we hit was Fiction: Reality Bites, at the Church of the Covenant on Newbury Street. A perfect day for stepping on fallen leaves, looking at beautiful people, and ducking into echo-y chambers of stained glass--the way the afternoon sun shines on the dust in the air and each movement in each pew sets off a creak.

Readers for this session included Brando Skyhorse--fascinating life story, of which he shared only a little. He spoke with the kind of humor one develops when the truth is too embarrassing to take seriously. Great speaker; not so hot a reader. He read too fast--and his words were all description, so there was no time to picture what he was offering the listener.

Second was Allegra Goodman, who read from The Cookbook Collector. I'm not sure I care for the subject matter; I just wasn't drawn in. She is an interesting character, however. Very quirky personality. My friend called her "cute." I warmed up to her as she spoke, but she was goofy as hell. I would totally be that nervous and goofy in front of a crowd too, however, so who am I to judge?
The third writer in this session was Marlon James. Now, ladies, I admit the first thought I had was, in the words of Jada, "He is foine!" And then he spoke. With a Jamaican accent. And told us he's an Austen fan. And quoted Pride and Prejudice. Are you fucking kidding me? Deep breath.

Looks and voice aside, what an incredible writer! He read from The Book of Night Women, a story about 18th century Jamaican slavery, written in, according to Bookmarks Magazine, a "lilting Jamaican patois."

Asked to read a "dangerous" passage, James chose to read a passage in which a slave learns to read. Afterward, he spoke about his passage choice. In sum: There's danger in love and in giving one's heart. But the danger of knowledge, of critical thought, can be the most deadly. Considering the amount of violence in this book, I was touched by his choice.

His writing is beautiful. From the passage he read,

So Homer commence teaching Lilith how to read. Lilith don't know why her, but glad to have the new feeling rise in her when she see a letter shape into something when they in front of her. A cup was something that she could hold and pour tea into, but a cup was also a c-u-p.


Writing be silent talking

Simple but smart. Really clever and thoughtful. My friend and I felt fortunate to have gone to the session and come across this writer we might otherwise not have encountered.

Full up on the written word, my friend and I hit the bars. First stop was Top of the Hub. Hella expensive drinks; but, really, the charge is for the phenomenal views of Boston. And the drinks deliver an ass-kick pretty quickly. I had a beer later but was mostly on water for the rest of the evening so I could drive home.

From there we joined a pub crawl through Faneuil Hall. The initial reaction was a wrinkled nose because FH tends to be where college kids learn to drink. Loud bars jam packed with young people who aren't interesting yet. But we were early and didn't encounter any of that business until we were heading out of the city. Watching it all, however, made me realize it's been a long time since I was that young. Even then, out in Amherst, I just didn't aspire to that. I absolutely did stupid things, but decidedly different stupid things. I'm so glad to be an adult. To be unique and on my own track. I have no desire to travel back and do it again. Onward!

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