Snapshots from Austin

It's impossible to capture even a significant portion of the Texas Book Festival, so here's a jumble of impressions and memorable moments:

Amy Sedaris on her book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence: "I tried to keep the recipes simple. You know, it's for ages 3 and up. Pretty much add salt for flavor, that's it. And making things out of panythose [she describes cutting off one leg, filling it with beans, tying it off and using it as a facial "burrito" for the eyes, draping it across them]. And for men, it can feel like a woman has her leg on your face. It's a simple book, as I said. It's all I know. And it'll save your marriage."

Stephen Graham Jones(Demon Theory: "I'm worried that people now think a novel is just the thing that comes before the movie."

Irish novelist Colm Toibin when told that I'd just read his earlier, excellent novel, The Story of the Night: "Ack, that sold so few copies I'd heard you were reading it."

Festival attendance has always been overwhelmingly white. In its early years, the festival itself was charged with favoring white authors, but its roster, on the many years I've attended, has actually been pretty democratic. But sadly, that hasn't affected attendance much, it seems. This year, the festival had two of the biggest, black, non-Hollywood, non-hip-hop speakers currently in the media: Senator Barrack Obama and radio host Tavis Smiley. Although the senator's huge audience was standing-room-only, it was estimated at 90 percent white. Mr. Smiley's audience was initially sparse, and grew appreciably as he spoke, but it was probably 80 percent white.

Colm Toibin, on discovering Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady: "In a country town, there are no secrets. Maybe that's why The Portrait of a Lady hit me so hard. It's a novel of secrets, and I didn't know anything about them. But I was a different person after I read it than I was before."

Christopher Cooper (Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security: "If the greatest fear of the administration is that some dark evil is going to bring a nuclear bomb into a city and set it off -- if that's their greatest fear -- then Katrina represented a perfect laboratory to study and learn how to deal [with all of the dangers and consequences.] And so far, they blew the evacuation and they're blowing the recovery."

The Katrina audience was visibly upset, angry and despairing with each new tale of incompetence and arrogance. But the real dismay, the Katrina panel agreed, is how little the Bush administration's complete botch-up with Katrina is mattering in this election.

Paul Steckler, host of the panel on the next session: "For those of you who were just at the sobering, depressing panel on Hurricane Katrina, I want you to know this is going to be a much more uplifting and happy panel -- on President Bush's advisors."

Clark Kent Ervin, inspector general for Homeland Security: "This administration's rhetoric has been very strong, very forceful. But are we any safer? No. The administration has no intention whatsoever in matching its rhetoric with action."

An audience member pointed out how the Bush administration had been grabbing increased presidential powers for itself, claiming wartime reasons. If the Democrats do win either or both houses in this election, is there any chance Congress might wrest some of our rights and powers back?

Awkward silence from the panel.

Finally, Sidney Blumenthal (How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime)said, "It'll require a new presidency."

Richard Ford (The Lay of the Land): "It's a political novel. And it's a comic novel but one that tackles serious topics. Abandonment. Cancer. Getting old. New Jersey."

Nicholas Lemann (Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War), speaking about organized white efforts in the South to demolish Reconstruction and frustrate voting rights for blacks: "When they would come to the polls, blacks found Civil War cannon pointed at them . . . This came to be known as the Mississippi Plan."

Mr. Toibin, once again, on waking up in the morning and going to breakfast at the Yaddo writer's colony: "The Americans would come in cheerful and washed. In the morning in Ireland, people would be one or the other, never both. And most often neither. And my wish was to get back to my room, get back to writing [and reading Leon Edel's biography of Henry James] and get away from all that good cheer as soon as possible."

October 30, 2006 8:44 AM | | Comments (2)



I enjoy reading your comments and your book news, but I have to tell you that your anti-Bush obsession is getting very tedious lately.

Thanks to the blog gods for making it possible to read you regularly. Gotta rush out and get some Colm Toibin -- might even have to BUY one if the Ventura Library System lets me down.


Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on October 30, 2006 8:44 AM.

My Beef with the TBF was the previous entry in this blog.

Striking real gold is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.