wordstock, pt.3

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Monday, May 01, 2006

wordstock pt. 1
wordstock pt. 2


I met BB down at the Convention Center (once again by the Korean heart-attack bell) at 10:30. We went inside and it was DEAD. There were no people anywhere, which made it difficult to sidle up to various wordstock tables and take the swag that was sitting there (it's not that they wouldn't just let us have it, but I didn't want to talk to anyone about it. I just wanted to take my bookmarks and go, you know?). It definitely filled up by the end of the day, but it was a little empty there at the beginning.

I didn't realize it until the day was over, but the Sunday readings I attended slotted very neatly into the categories of sex, death, or Gore Vidal.

11AM Maria Dahvana Headley: This is the woman who wrote The Year of Yes, about her year of going out with anyone (mostly) who asked her. (follow that second link for sure, because she blogs about wordstock!) I wasn't sure what to expect, but she was delightful and charming, and according to someone I overheard, "totally adorable." The first I knew of her book (I live in a cave, okay?) was around the new year when I blogged my resolutions, one of which was to overcome my inner nay-sayer (she is so annoying), and Say Yes more often. Someone asked if I meant like the Year of Yes woman, and I was all "whaaat? and then "god no!" when I realized what that entailed. In my case it was meant as more of a general purposes affirmation, but I like the specificity of MDH's version. She went on more than 150 dates during her Year of Yes -- this notion is so foreign to my temperament and experience that, to me, it is akin to saying "I'm going for a walk on the rings of Jupiter ." I had to hear her read! As she was talking to the audience before she started reading, she asked if people would rather hear a dirty story, or a story about mime. Trick question! Guess what people chose? (I think she links to a written version of the story at that second link. It's not really that dirty.) Anwyay, she was a very engaging reader and seemed to be having a good time. I spotted her several times at subsequent readings, which always makes me happy. I don't know why -- it is no surprise that writers are readers and therefore fans of other writers.

Noon Steve Almond: I haven't read any of his stuff, but BB was intrigued by the Candyfreak phenomenon (being a bit of a candyfreak himself). Almond's most recent book is an epistolary novel with fellow author Julianna Baggott, and I thought that sounded interesting as I've been seeing more books lately with this sort of "I write half you write half" thing going on. Of course, he didn't read from Candyfreak (he mentioned that it's sort of weird to be primarily known as a non-fiction author when fiction is his main deal), he didn't read from the new book, but he did start off by saying that the piece he was going to read was kind of raunchy and he swears a lot, so maybe any kids in the audience might want to not be there since he was the "proverbial bad man." (one woman and kid sitting in the front row left)

He read two pieces -- one was about how writers are ugly, sad, lonely, and pathetic people, and the other was about how his brilliant idea to have his girlfriend wax his chest ended in blood, tears, and disappointment. The phrase "lush chestal thicket" came up, and my notes (which are mostly useless but do have some lovely spiral doodling) say "lava = strangely funny." The pieces he read were funny and bracing, but he won me over when he was just talking. Unlike some readings where it is either automatic patter or just painfully awkward, Almond seemed to be talking to the people who were there. As people who have already read his books no doubt already know (I should be among their number some time this week), he seems to have the ability and willingness to be forthright about just about anything. Maybe I'm oblivious, but that kind of candor seems in short supply these days. Nobody says anything, let alone what is actually on their mind. So, not only was he pretty candid about his dashed expectations regarding the chest waxing experiment (how did that EVER seem like a good idea?), but he also called out our current "Era of Cleverness." Clever isn't enough, he said, and people need to take some moral responsibility. During the Q & A (he gave out candy to the first person to ask a question!), he said if you really like something (a book, music, art, whatever) you should spread the word because too many good things are experienced by too few people. He also said that a question writers should ask themselves is 'how emotionally dangerous will you get with your characters?", which as questions go, is a really good one. Anyway, his was one of the best readings I attended.

1PM BB and I went out for lunch and discussed the probability of a giant Sanrio store in NYC (conclusion: highly probable), and then my sister joined us for the rest of the afternoon.

2PM Christopher Moore: Christopher Moore had to know that by wearing that loud hawaiian shirt he would be called the Jimmy Buffett of Wordstock. I think it is even fair to say that there were a number of Christopher Moore brand parrot heads on hand. This reading was not as full as Dave Eggers, but more full than any others we attended up to this point. Christopher Moore is funny -- I've seen him read at Powell's before, and usually he just stands up front and talks about what he did to research his latest book and is generally charming as he bullshits with the crowd. But this time (since he had just been in town a month or so ago) he read some piece about how he doesn't "read," and it was amusing (less so as it went on and on and on), but you'd think his were the most hilarious utterances in the history of comedy if you went by the crowd. They laughed at everything (with scary regularity -- it was like a sitcom laugh track), which made me find it less and less funny. When that piece was finally over, things got more interesting as he started talking about his new book, which is about Death and the poor schlub who gets the job. He also talked movingly (and funnily -- go figure) about terminal cancer. Best insight into his writerly process was when he said that the answer to any question that starts "why did he...." is "because I thought it would be funny." I can't argue with that kind of reasoning, even if I don't always agree.

3PM Marilyn Johnson: Marilyn Johnson was great! She seemed so glad to be at wordstock and was so full of enthusiasm -- not only for her book The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries -- but also for the whole obituary culture (those who write them, collect them, inspire them, and so on). Johnson said her book couldn't have been written in any other time because most of the major newspapers have now gone online (which includes the obit. page, of course). I think it would be difficult not to like her. What I liked best was that she was chatty and joyful about a subject that many people find grim -- but let's face it, it's the one subject we all come up against sooner or later. Why not face it with a little levity? The Q & A session was really good with fellow obituary hounds and obituary writers making up the bulk of people stepping up to the microphone. Johnson said the art of a good obituary is to find the spark of what made that particular person unique -- to mark what will be missing from the world now that they're dead. About half way through her allotted time, the chairs were all full (aprox 500). She was very cheerful and graceful about it, even though most of them were there for Gore Vidal who was speaking next on the same stage. I am looking forward to reading her book very much.

4PM Gore Vidal: Before Gore Vidal came to the stage, the Borders Stage Minder came on and gave instructions about no flash photography and keeping the fire-lanes clear. Not only was every seat taken, but there were people at least 5 deep all along the edges and who knows how far back behind the rows of chairs. This was the most attended reading that I went to, and I think it might have been the most attended reading at the whole book fair. Once that business was taken care of, Gore Vidal was announced and made his way to the stage with the assistance of two young men. The set up for this event was different than any of the others -- there were two soft-looking chairs up on the stage with microphones situated in front. A man sitting next to Vidal introduced himself as Matthew Stadler and said that since Mr. Vidal wasn't going to be reading, he (Stadler) was there to get things going by asking some questions, and then questions would be open to the audience. This was SO SMART! They got to set the tone for what sort of questions should be asked which I'm sure helped cut down on the crackpot factor (which was present, but less than I anticipated). Vidal ranged all over US history (George Washington's pissy letters to his mother, Huey Long, etc.) but talked a great deal about the Culture of Empire and how we have lost the republic. By his estimation it will take three or four generations to "undo what has been done in the last twelve years." He also made special note of William Appleman Williams (he taught history at Oregon State) whom he called "the century's greatest historian." I really admire the way that Vidal is able to be so cranky (he is magnificently cranky), but still whip smart and focused like a laser on the topic at hand. No matter how far afield it seemed like he was going, he'd always bring it back around. Political discussion has become so heated and about nothing (I blame cable news), it was refreshing to hear someone who could not only articulate, but had a firm idea of what it was he was articulating.

So (finally) endeth Wordstock 2! I can't wait to see what they come up with for next year.
2 comments on "wordstock, pt.3"
  1. You really have a way with the words JGW. Someday I will unravel the mystery that is the middle name but until then...I will find something else to do. Maybe next year you should be paid to write a "Wordstock" commentary. Seriously. No sarcasm. It would be the bomb, or "da bomb" if you prefer.

  2. ha ha! You are sweet.


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