RSS Feed

Category Archives: Readers on the Road

National Book Festival 2014 (part 2)

Hello again! I got to see and do so much at the Library of Congress National Book Festival this year, that I couldn’t possibly fit it all in one post! Today I’ll write more about the authors I saw.

E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow

I started by going to see E. L. Doctorow, who won the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction for his latest novel, Andrew’s Brain.  Instead of speaking alone, he answered questions in more of an interview format.  I was interested to learn about his inspiration for his books, specifically that he often imagines an image to begin his writing process.  (Sorry for the poor picture quality, the lighting in the conference center was a challenge.)

After that, I went to see Kai Bird, whose latest book is a biography of the CIA operative Robert Ames.  He talked about how he researched the book, which I appreciated, since a lot of the nonfiction authors just summarize their books.  This way I stay interested in reading it.  Besides, writing a biography about a spy poses some research challenges, since a lot of the information might still be confidential.  It made for an interesting talk.


Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

I headed back to the Fiction and Mystery room to see an author who was new to me, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.  She writes a mystery series set in Cherokee country.  As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to read it, so I bought her book and went to the signing.  (I might look for the other two books so I can read them in order though.)  Someone who got up to ask a question began with, “I haven’t read the series yet, but I like you, so I know I’m going to like your books,” and that’s exactly how I felt.  I think every year I found a great new book or series through hearing an author talk, and that’s probably one of my favorite things about going to the National Book Festival.

The last author talk I attended was by Lisa See.  I read one of her books, Peony in Love, in college.  Her new novel is set in California, and I enjoyed hearing about her family’s history and her research about the history of Chinese Americans in California.  I’d like to read one of her books set in my home state!

I started my Christmas shopping by going to two more book signings.  I got a book signed by Anne Hillerman, who is continuing her father’s mystery series.  (That was a nice surprise-we’ve got some big Tony Hillerman fans in the Of Print and Prose family.  I also went to Judith Viorst’s book signing and got two Alexander books signed, one for our nephew’s Christmas gift and an extra one to donate to our mom’s third grade class.  I was especially excited that the authors had time to personalize the books this year!  Although I didn’t see their talks, I plan on watching them on the Library of Congress website.  All the talks from the festival are posted here.

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders


National Book Festival 2014 (part 1)

my program from the festival

my program from the festival

Hello everyone!  It’s Elizabeth with your annual update from the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival in Washington, DC!  If it seems a little early for that, it is!  That’s just one of the big changes at the book festival this year.  In addition to moving to Labor Day weekend, the festival also changed locations to the Washington Convention Center.  And the festival is back down to one day, instead of two, but they added some new evening programs.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the changes.  The festival didn’t attract as many big name authors this year, and I suspect it’s because some of them didn’t want to give up their long weekend!  The Convention Center is huge, which allowed them to fit more people and have more programs happening at once, but it was hard to find my way around and took a lot longer to move between locations.  On the other hand, we didn’t have to worry about weather, which is definitely a plus.

Laura and Peter Zeranski, authors of Polish Classic Desserts

Laura and Peter Zeranski, authors of Polish Classic Desserts

There were some new categories added this year, and I got to check out two of them: Science and Culinary Arts.  I had mixed feelings about the Culinary Arts section, because I love cooking but don’t really read cookbooks.  However, all of the participants were really well-chosen.  They had a mix of author talks and demonstrations by chefs, and lots of different cuisines were represented.  I saw part of Laura and Peter Zeranski’s talk.  They write award-winning Polish cookbooks.  I’d love to try a few recipes, apparently they have a good collection of traditional holiday foods.

The science talk I saw was by Eric H. Cline, about his book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.  He started his talk by showing his book trailer, a great idea.  You can see the it here.  (More authors should make book trailers!)  Cline is a field archaeologist and a professor, and his book is about the end of the Bronze Age.

After complaining about the state of the book sales tent last year, I was happy to see that it is now being hosted by a local DC bookstore, Politics and Prose.  They also had a separate gift shop which sold t-shirts and other souvenirs.  I like this idea, but once again I was disappointed that only the author’s most recent book was for sale.  When I find a new author, especially one who has written a series, I want to start at the beginning!  I would be happy for more of my book money to go to a local bookstore or support the festival, but the poor selection means more than half of my booksale-related purchases will come from Amazon.

Overall, I had an excellent time at the book festival.  Although I missed being at the mall, it was great to have more space for this popular festival!  (Plus, I appreciated the air conditioning)  If you want to know more, check out Of Print and Prose’s Twitter page.  I tweeted live updates throughout the day.  I was able to see a lot of great authors this year!  I’ll write more about them tomorrow!


The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts

While visiting my in-laws over Thanksgiving, I had a chance to go to Salem, Massachusetts, where we saw the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The House of Seven Gables.  Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures inside the house.  The volunteers had just finished decorating it for Christmas, and the parlor in particular was really beautiful.

The real House of Seven Gables

The real House of Seven Gables

The house has an interesting history, and it has been added to and rebuilt several times.  During Nathaniel Hawthorne’s childhood, the house did not actually have seven gables.  (It had been remodeled/modernized, and there were only three gables.)  He would visit his cousin, Susannah Ingersoll,  the current owner of the house, and she would tell him stories of how the house used to look.  Her stories and his family’s history later served as the inspiration for his famous novel, The House of Seven Gables.

Later, the house was purchased by Caroline Emmerton, who restored it to the way it had looked in colonial times.  She also added some details to make the house more like the one in the novel: specifically, a small shop like the one the main character opens to keep the family finances afloat and a secret staircase, like the one used by Clifford in the book.  During the tour, we actually got to climb the secret staircase to get to the upper floor.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s childhood home has been moved to the same site, so we visited that as well.  (Really, this is the house where he was born-the family moved several times during his childhood.)  They had one of his writing desks and some other family memorabilia on display.

Hawthorne's childhood home

Hawthorne’s childhood home

I also enjoyed getting to see a little of Salem.  It is a very charming town, with lots of beautiful old houses.  I felt like I could easily recognize modern Salem after reading Brunonia Berry’s The Lace Reader-it really is just as she describes it in the book!

Visiting Massachusetts has been a great way to see places I have read about and learn more about famous authors who lived in the area.  I am hoping that I will be able to visit more places on the East Coast in 2014!



National Book Festival 2013 (part 2)

On Saturday afternoon, just before it started pouring rain, I went to the History & Biography tent to see Steve Vogel and David Nasaw.  Both men talked about their most recent books.  Vogel’s is about the War of 1812, and David Nasaw has written a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of JFK, etc.  The talks in the History & Biography tent are noticeably different from the ones in the Fiction and Mystery tent.  It is more like listening to a really good history lecture.  I enjoyed it, but I did miss hearing more information about the authors themselves, like their writing process and how they choose what to write about.

After that, I went to see Thomas Keneally, who is best known for his book Schindler’s Ark.  (The movie Schindler’s List is based on it.)  His latest book is about two sisters who worked as nurses during wartime.  I could tell from hearing him talk that he is passionate about history-it sounds as though he does just as much research as the nonfiction writers I had just heard.

On Sunday, I was back again.  Book Fest is always less crowded on Sundays, and I’m not sure why-especially this year when the weather was so much nicer than it had been on Saturday.

I went back to the History & Biography tent to see A. Scott Berg talk about his new biography of President Woodrow Wilson.  My mom had heard about his book and said it sounded good.  Listening to Berg, you could tell that he is fascinated by the subject.  He made a point of writing about Wilson as a human being, as opposed to a policy maker.  I enjoyed the talks I heard in the History & Biography tent, but I have to say, hearing a thirty minute talk on the topic of their books makes me less interested in reading them.  The topics are interesting, but hearing the authors speak made me feel like I had already learned about their subjects.

My last stop for this year was the Teens & Children tent.  I wanted to see Susan Cooper again, but I came early, so I was also able to hear Katherine Paterson.  I remember reading her book Jacob Have I Loved in junior high, and it was fun to hear her talk about it.  Susan Cooper’s talk this year was about how a sense of place has influenced her writing.  I am more familiar with her stories set in Britain, but her new books are set in New England, where she lives.  I have noticed that my favorite mystery series always have a strong sense of place as well, so maybe that is something that I look for in a good story.

I enjoyed Book Fest as always, and I am planning to catch some of the talks I missed here, on the Festival’s website.  There are only a few videos up so far, but hopefully more will be added soon.


National Book Festival 2013 (part 1)

Book Festival tents in front of the Smithsonian Castle

Book Festival tents in front of the Smithsonian Castle

The National Book Festival is my favorite thing about the DC area!  I look forward to it all year long.  I got to see a lot of authors again this year, although I only made it to one book signing (more on that later.)  I apologize for the quality of pictures this time-my camera battery died partway through the day, and I just didn’t have much luck with the lighting in the book tents.

After a quick trip to the book sales tent, I started the day in the fiction and mystery tent.  I was there to hear the multi-talented Margaret Atwood.  I haven’t read her books yet, although I was familiar with her name.  That’s actually a fun thing about book festival: I see these famous names whose books I’ve been meaning to read, and I go to hear them speak, and I leave determined to read some of their books.  This particular presentation was in the form of an interview, rather than the usual speech, and the discussion of some of the ideas in Atwood’s latest dystopian trilogy was fun to hear.  She is extremely knowledgeable about current scientific developments that relate to her books.  Moreover, I’m convinced that anyone who can write in so many genres must be brilliant-I look forward to reading a few of her books.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

The next speaker was Brad Meltzer.  I enjoy a good thriller, but I particularly liked that Mr. Meltzer’s autobiographical blurb in the Book Festival program included advice to aspiring writers.  His talk was very enjoyable.  It turns out he used to live in Washington, DC and got the idea for his latest book, The Fifth Assassin, at a local museum.  (Remind me to visit it sometime soon…)  After his talk was over, I went back to the book sales tent and got a signed copy.  A thriller set in DC with a protagonist who works at the National Archives?  I am looking forward to reading it.

Next, I went to Jon Klassen’s book signing.  I have read his picture book This Is Not My Hat to several of the kindergarten classes I taught, and they loved it.  It’s a really fun book to read out loud.  I decided it would make a great Christmas gift.  Unfortunately, I missed Klassen’s talk, but I plan on watching the recording when the Library of Congress posts it-I heard several people in line say how funny he was.  I did get his autograph and a picture, and he told me he liked my hat.  (You can bet I’ll mention that next time I teach kindergarten.)

Jon Klassen signing This Is Not My Hat

Jon Klassen signing This Is Not My Hat

After that, I took a stroll through the Library of Congress Pavilion and the Pavilion of the States.  They didn’t seem as interesting as last year, but I did find out that there is going to be a Steinbeck Festival in California next year.  We’ll have to look into that.

My next stop was the History and Biography tent, but it’s getting late, so I’ll have to write some more tomorrow.


Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott

Orchard House

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, the home of one of my favorite authors: Louisa May Alcott. You can find their website here.  This is the home where she wrote many of her books, including Little Women.  The house has been beautifully restored to look the way it would have towards the end of Miss Alcott’s life, when she was a famous and successful author.  I was able to take a guided tour of the house, but unfortunately they did not allow photography inside.

In addition to being the home of the Alcott family, this house is the setting for the fictional March family in Little Women.  The tour guide told us how the wedding scene in the book where the oldest sister Meg marries John Brooke is a very accurate representation of the wedding of Louisa Alcott’s oldest sister Anna.  The first floor windows on the right side belong to the parlor that she was married in.  The youngest sister, May Alcott, was an artist (the inspiration for the character Amy.)  The real May actually seems to have been more talented than the fictional version, and you can see several of her paintings and drawings if you visit the house.  The Alcott parents actively encouraged their daughters to use their talents, which included allowing May to actually draw on the walls of her bedroom and studio and having a writing desk built in Louisa’s room.  It is a little desk sitting between two windows, and apparently it was unusual if not unheard of for a woman to have her own writing desk in that time period.

If you happen to be in Concord, this house is a great place to visit.  The volunteer docents were very knowledgeable, both about the architecture and history of the house and also about the Alcott family.  Concord is a great destination for travelling readers, since there have been quite a few other authors from the area (e.g. Emerson and Thoreau).


National Book Festival, Day Two

I enjoyed spending today at the Book Festival even more than yesterday.  For one thing, it was much less crowded and the weather was nicer.  Sunday was less crowded last year as well.  I stopped off at the book sales tent first and was able to get a head start on my Christmas shopping.  Although they had restocked, I was a little disappointed to see that they still had a much smaller selection than what I remember from past years.  Still, I am excited about the gifts I was able to get!

Charlaine Harris at the National Book Festival

As I was walking out of the book sales tent, I passed the Fiction and Mystery tent and noticed that Charlaine Harris was talking.  I decided to go in and listen, since I’ve heard so much about her Sookie Stackhouse series.  Her avid fans had a lot of questions about the end of the Sookie Stackhouse series and the first book of her new series, which will be released in 2014.

The next author was the highlight of the festival for me: Patricia Polacco.  I have been a Patricia Polacco fan since at least the first grade.  As a college student, I enjoyed re-reading some of her books that were inspired by East European folklore as I studied Russian.  It is a real privilege to get to see an author in person when you’ve admired them for most of your life, so this was the talk I looked forward to the most for this year’s book festival.  Despite my high expectations, the talk did not disappoint.  Patricia Polacco is an absolutely wonderful speaker.  Her latest book is about an art teacher that she had growing up and hearing her talk about it moved many of her adult audience members (including quite a few teachers) to tears.  I am hoping that the Library of Congress will post their video of her talk, because I would love to share it with the teachers in my life!

Naturally, I wanted to go to Mrs. Polacco’s book signing as well.  I already have a signed copy of one of her books, Thunder Cake, which was given to me by a friend about twenty years ago.  Today, I asked her to sign a book that Becca and I will give as a Christmas present.  I love getting to introduce new readers to authors that we loved growing up!

Patricia Polacco signing her book, Christmas Tapestry

After the book signing, I stopped into the Contemporary Life tent for part of Eric Weiner’s talk.  Then I went back to the Fiction and Mystery tent to see Eloisa James.

I’ll be honest: it was a toss-up between going to see Eloisa James and Junot Diaz, but I was getting tired at that point, and I thought Ms. James would be more entertaining to listen to.  (I haven’t read either author, although I was familiar with both names.)  I’m very happy with my choice though, because it made it possible for me to witness a historic event for the Book Festival-it turns out that Eloisa James is the first romance author to ever be invited there!

Now, I am happy to get to see such a first in person, and I commend whoever invited Eloisa James to be the first romance author-it was an excellent choice.  However, I am shocked that this is the twelfth annual book festival and they are only just now getting around to inviting a romance author!  I know some people look down on romance novels-some people look down on genre fiction in general, but there is plenty of it at the National Book Festival.  I couldn’t believe that for the past several years the organizers had devoted an entire tent to Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Graphic novels, without inviting one romance author!  I can’t imagine why they would want to ignore a genre with so many readers.

Eloisa James, the first romance novelist to be at the National Book Festival

That said, Eloisa James was a very good speaker.  She writes historical romance and also happens to be a Shakespeare professor.  Her latest novels are retellings of fairy tales.  I don’t read much romance, but when I do, it is usually historical romance, and I love retellings of fairy tales, so I may have to try out one of her books soon!  I figure any author that is also a Shakespeare expert is probably worth a try.

Overall, it was another great Book Festival!  I still can’t believe I finally got to meet Patricia Polacco in person!  Stay tuned for one last post tomorrow-I want to show you the books I bought!