Leafing through the Book Festival

The eighth annual Festival of the Book seemed longer this year, perhaps because the opening ceremony was on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Some events we wanted never to end. Others we couldn’t get out of fast enough– though fortunately, those were few. And then there was… the hair.
    Four days of nonstop festivalling later, The Hook tells all.

A contrast in star power: Last year’s opening ceremony was packed, thanks to the draw of Lee Smith and David Baldacci. This year, Virginia’s poet laureate Grace Simpson headlined the opening, a sparsely attended affair in the cavernous atrium of the Omni made all the more uncomfortable by the lack of chairs and the ring of the elevator bell.

Things to know when seated in the Omni’s Siberia section: At the Festival luncheon, you can tell a lot by who gets choice tables in the middle of the Omni ballroom– and by who’s stuck in the nether reaches like we were. Hilda Ward became our hero when, rather than accepting her seat right in front of the kitchen door where she was in danger of having a loaded tray tumble on her head, Ward scouted out empty seats at another, better located, table and told her companion they were upgrading. Inspired by Ward’s maneuvering, two other women quickly abandoned our sinking ship of a table.

"Her hair is dyed”: An obviously knowledgeable source opined on keynote speaker Maria Arana’s jet-black tresses.

Oh, that great love: Arana, author of American Chica and editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, described her new book as the story of a great love that straddles a continent…”the love between a girl and her familia.”

Question no one dared ask Arana: So what was it like to fall in love with Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley, end two long-term marriages and be the scandal of the publishing world a few years ago? Was it good manners– or the presence of the dour Yardley in a WASPy turtleneck and blue blazer that made questioners refrain from grilling his American chica?

The best kind of hangover: Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, admitted she had a literary hangover from appearing at a John Steinbeck tribute the night before at the Lincoln Center. Impressive was how little material she seemed to recycle from that event, especially after reading every book Steinbeck wrote. Allison’s assessment of East of Eden: “What was he thinking?”

“Lesbians mostly give birth to boys”: Allison called it “the joke of God” that she and her partner had a son, adding, “The lesbian nation is raising its doom.”

One old adage debunked: “Work hard and get ahead is just not true,” said Barbara Ehrenreich, who researched her book, Nickel and Dimed, by working jobs such as house cleaner and Wal-Mart associate.

Perils of being the offspring of a literary lion: The incredibly self-deprecating Ben Cheever, an author, editor, and teacher, was not researching a book when he took a job at Borders on Park Avenue. He needed the money.

Scene you don’t usually see at the Book Festival: Kirk Read called gay teenaged sex the elephant in the room at “Out in Print.” To focus our attention on the elephant, he led attendees in clapping and chanting “teenage sex” in the UVA Bookstore.
Book we were most tempted to buy: How I Learned to Snap, Read’s account of growing up gay in Lexington, because we couldn’t resist this description of his college admissions tour: “UVA looked like a big, preppy acid trip, like a J. Crew catalog had exploded on Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn,” and the prestigious Lawn rooms “looked like they’d been retrofitted by Howard Johnson.”

Festival of the redheaded writers: There seemed to be an inordinate number of redheads at this year’s festival. Allison, Ronda Rich (What Southern Women Know), Caroline Preston (Jackie by Josie), M.J. Rose (Lip Service), and Sandra Gurvis (Pipe Dreams) had us wondering about a trend in literary hair color.
Event we hated leaving after 1 1/2 hours: “Writing Artists’ Lives” with biographers Peter Kurth (Isadora Duncan), Hazel Rowley (Richard Wright), and Washington Post music critic Tim Page (Dawn Powell).

Neglected writer who finally gets a decent biography: Page calls Powell “an equal opportunity satirist” of the ‘30s who managed to upset both the Left and the Right.

What we’d suspected about the rash of noted plagiarizing historians: “Those biographers are far too grand with their eight or 10 research assistants,” said Kurth.

New thing we learned about Charlottesville, part I. We love the trolley, riding it the first time ever from downtown to within a block of the UVA Bookstore, and feel giddy not having to deal with parking.

Event well-attended by local politicos: Mitch Van Yahres, George Loper, and Kay Peaslee took in “More Lies Ahead” with Center for Public Integrity director Charles Lewis and The Liar’s Tale author Jeremy Campbell. “Crossfire” host Bill Press was a no-show, but not missed. 

How to spin lying: Lewis pointed out the reluctance in Washington to accuse someone of lying, where the preferred terms are “You’ve been less than forthright,” or “You’ve obfuscated.”

New thing we learned about Charlottesville, part II: We hate the trolley. It’s 15 minutes late when we try to replicate that morning’s successful commute from downtown, leaving us starving and late for “Is Sex Really Necessary?” at the UVA Bookstore.

Most refreshing candor: Alexandra Ripley, who wrote Scarlett and other bestselling historical novels, admitted she’s in it for the money and that she plagiarizes sex scenes, which she finds unnecessary and boring and puts in her novels only because her publisher demands them.

Most heavy breathing during a reading: The Joy of Writing Sex author Elizabeth Benedict read a graphic sex scene from her new novel Almost while Ripley looked on uneasily. 

Most security at a Book Festival event: A uniformed and a plainclothes cop were vigilant at the Rotunda on Saturday when Craig Winn and Ken Power presented their side of the Value America debacle.

Evangelical hair: In the Company of Good and Evil author Winn’s hair seemed inspired by that of his pal Jerry Falwell, while co-author Ken Power sported a Jimmy Swaggart do.  
So that’s why it all crashed: Winn attributed Value America’s demise to “vipers” and “parasites”– the professional managers he hired to run the company– and to taking prayer out of public schools in the 1960s.

Question that needed to be asked: How much money did Winn walk away with? Winn accused questioner Stefan Bechtel of having an agenda– and refused to quote a dollar figure, saying “it’s in the book.”