brooklyn book festival!


the brooklyn book festival is one of the highlights of autumn.  it's this wonderful gathering and celebration of books with tons of tents and publishers and magazines and authors and events, and i've been going every year since i moved to nyc after stumbling upon it by complete accident the first year i was here, a few weeks after i'd moved and started law school.

it was a beautiful day this year (last year was so muggy) with clear skies and a lovely breeze, and i ended up spending the whole day there, starting with a panel at 10 am and closing off with panels at 3 pm and 5 pm.  all in all, it was a great day.  (:

10 am:  guillotine and the politics of narrative
with sarah mccarry (moderator), jenny zhang, lola pellegrino, and sarah gerard

an event at 10 am means an 8 am wake-up call, which, after a sleepless night, is horribly early.  most of this event was reading -- each author read from her chapbook (published by guillotine), and there was a short discussion after.  the discussion was great -- all three women are very smart, very articulate women -- but, again, 10 am, plus everything was so dense that i wasn't sure how to take notes.

two things said by jenny zhang, though, whom i shamelessly fangirl bc she is fab:

  • i write about my emotions as a way of controlling them and [controlling] people's appetite for them.
  • the less privilege you have, the more you're seen as being influenced by your petty little life.

3 pm:  intimacy
with darin strauss (moderator), lauren groff, chinelo okparanta, and rebecca makkai

this was a little late starting, so okparanta read a bit from her short story collection before the discussion got rolling.

  • intimacy as things that might be hard to talk about
    • LG:  i think marriage is hard to talk about.
      • wanted to write a book that wasn't about a marriage that wasn't crumbling apart, which is harder
      • there's also a lot of sex [in the book], which is harder to write.
    • CO:  i write about the issues of women in nigeria, which is hard because a lot of people will say to me, "oh, it's so much better to be here in the US because these issues are only in africa."
      • once she starts asking questions, though, it comes out that women here face the same issues and pressures (like, say, to get married and have babies).
      • also difficult because she writes about LGBTQ issues, where she also gets similar sentiments
    • RM:  i think write about sex is always funny in some way.
      • brought her family into her collection, which angered her father
  • Q:  during the writing process, do you think about how your work will be received?
    • RM:  thought a lot about it when it came to family things
    • CO:  didn't think about how her collection would be received because she didn't think it would be published, so she just wrote about the issues that bothered her
      • is aware of audience now and finds it bothersome but doesn't let that stop her
      • in a social media culture, if you listen to everything, you'll end up in a bubble
      • got a website because her publisher made her (designed it herself)
    • LG:  in her collection, included elements from her mother's life that made her so angry, she wouldn't talk to her.  the mother-daughter stand-off ended when she had a baby.
  • LG:  in the beginning, husband would write BLEH on any pages with him in it, but now she's trained him to be dispassionate.
    • "he's like a great dane."
  • CO:  there are a lot of mothers in her stories, some terrible, abusive mothers.  her mom could recognize elements of herself in them and was like, "what?"
    • but reading my stories helped her learn things she liked and things she could improve
  • RM:  once named a character tuna and had a friend ask if she'd named the character after her daughter's imaginary friend
  • RM:  someone said you can put any man you know in your fiction as long as you give him a really small penis because no one will claim it's him.
  • LG:  tries to avoid writing goofy sex scenes
  • RM:  it's hard to avoid the cliches (when it comes to sex scenes)
  • CO:  i struggled with the word "nipple" [in her recent novel, under the udala trees]
    • it sounded funny; it sounded wrong.
  • CO:  i think it's good to write about sex.
    • it's part of life; it's a wonderful thing; and people shouldn't be shy about it.
  • CO:  what i set out to do is write a good, moving, emotional story.  and then the politics slip in.
  • LG:  deep down, at our core, all of us are very, very weird.

5 pm:  a celebration of elena ferrante
with michael reynolds (publisher, europa), ann goldstein (translator), lisa lucas (publisher, guernica), lauren groff (author, fates and furies)

this was a weird panel for me to go to because i haven't read elena ferrante, nor do i plan to.  i am fascinated by the cult of ferrante, though -- she's got some very, very fervent fans -- so i decided, hey, why not, let's go listen to people talk about her!

i started to take notes but stopped partway through because i haven't read the books, so much of what was said had no context to me.  ^^

  • MG:  the terrifying question to anyone in publishing is "what are you reading for pleasure?" because the answers is always "nothing."  (that said, he's currently reading groff's fates and furies.)
  • both LG and LL discovered ferrante via another writer friend at moments in their lives when they were looking for something immersive.
  • MG:  what is it about ferrante that appeals to other writers?
    • LL:  there's a boldness to her writing, a sort of "fuck it."
    • LG:  a lot of things she does that we respond to is that she risks everything.
  • when asked what drew her to ferrante, AG said that she wanted to spend time with that language.
    • she read the first paragraph of days of abandonment and knew she wanted to translate it.
  • MG:  essentially, [the neapolitan tetralogy] is a flashback, a 1600-page flashback.
  • LL didn't love the first book but liked it an appreciated it.  it wasn't until she was halfway through the second book and had to stop to tell her family to read it that she thought that, oh, this could be it, that it could appeal to everyone.
  • AG:  "the length is not a small thing."
  • AG:  the neapolitan books were more difficult to translate because they were more italian (lots of references to italian things and history, etcetera).
  • AG translated very literally, going word-for-word