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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


The Sculpture Garden Cafe

The Sculpture Garden Cafe

The Sculpture Garden Cafe was originally recommended to me by one of my professors during my first semester of grad school.  She said she liked to go there to write, and I figured it would have all the right qualities for a place to read.  Now that I have gone there several times myself, I can definitely recommend it.

I had read in a guidebook that the Sculpture Garden Cafe has some of the best food on the mall, and I would have to agree.  I like their sandwiches and their pizza, but they also have smaller snacks available if you don’t want a meal.  Because it is in a touristy area, their prices are a little higher than what you might find elsewhere.  However, this place is definitely not a tourist trap.  It’s a good place to find tasty, reasonably healthy food.

Best seats in the house

If the weather is nice, I would definitely recommend sitting outside, so that you can enjoy more of the sculptures and the garden.  My favorite place to sit is to the left of the cafe, by this Parisian art deco metro sign.  But DC weather is unpredictable, so sometimes inside is better.  (You wouldn’t want your book to get wet.)

If you like a quiet environment to read in, you should definitely avoid the Sculpture Garden on Friday afternoons during the summer.  They host a very popular series of free jazz concerts.  I highly recommend the concerts if you enjoy music, but come prepared for a crowd!  In the winter, the fountain at the center of the garden is converted into an ice skating rink.  The best times to visit the gardens (and DC in general) are fall and winter.  You will find a very peaceful, green area in the heart of downtown, just perfect for relaxing with a good book!

From a reader’s perspective, I would give this cafe four stars (but it’s a five if you like music!)  The location and the atmosphere are excellent, and the food is good.  It’s also easy to find if you are unfamiliar with the city, so keep it in mind if you are visiting DC!  ★★★★