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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!

-Elizabeth

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.

-Elizabeth

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.

-Elizabeth

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!  ★★★★

-Elizabeth