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29th Annual Miami Book Fair International, Nov. 11-18, 2012

2011 Book Fair poster illustrated by Rosa Naday Garmendia

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       We are continuing to post photos from the Book Fair. We're inserting them into the time line where they should appear. So please check back!

                  —FBR Editors

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 8:30 PM

       As I was leaving the Book Fair, the vendors were all tearing down the booths for another year. At the exit, a Book Fair volunteer was holding a box. "Can I take your badge to recycle?" She asked.
       I looked down at my media badge, "No," I answered, "you can't."
       I'm keeping it forever, and I am sleeping with it for the next three weeks.
                —Jan Becker
FBR Reporter Jan Becker & Badge. Photo, Matt Porcino.

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 8:30 PM

      I have been waiting all weekend to see the final panel I attended: a reading with Justin Torres, Nina Revoyr, Adam Johnson, and Scott Hutchins. Strangely, they all are related to California somehow, all three men directly tied to Stanford University. While it was an amazing lineup of intelligent authors, I had come specifically for Adam Johnson. I was eager to hear him read from his third novel, The Orphan Master's Son. During a gap year between high school and college, I had traveled to South Korea to work with orphans and North Korean refugees, and since then have had a special interest in humanity in this particular country. This is the first novel set in North Korea that I have come across. Johnson calls it an obsession he had; his research included gathering information on actual heartbreaking stories of human beings rather than political stances (although he read up on that too). His characters are composites of details from the few testimonies he was able to uncover. He is surprised more people haven't written about or aren't interested in the issues of North Korea.
       At the book-signing table, I asked him about his book's reception by Koreans and Korean-Americans. From what he can tell, they are interested in and supportive of the book. Apparently, one of his interviews was translated into Korean and somehow broadcast into North Korea. I wonder at the effects of that broadcast.
       Later, I overheard him say, "My wife reads all my reviews and then sums them up for me. I don't have anything to do with them." For such a dark subject matter, he manages to artfully maintain a wonderful sense of humor. I look forward to reading more work from Adam Johnson.
               —Marci Calabretta

Three Journeys Panel, l. to r.: Scott Wallace, Eric Weiner, Andrew McCarthy. Photo, Jan Becker.

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 8:00 PM

       The afternoon panel Three Journeys in the Chapman auditorium was a discussion of how moving far away from what is familiar can lead to self-discovery. The three writers on the panel were Andrew McCarthy (yes, that Andrew McCarthy), Eric Weiner, and Scott Wallace. All three men have recently published memoirs that draw on their strengths as travel writers and show that connection between travel and personal insight.
        The discussion began with McCarthy’s book, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down. It is important to note that McCarthy is not just a pretty face. For the last decade he has been writing for publications that include National Geographic, The Atlantic, and Bon Appetit. He has won numerous awards for his travel writing, including four North American Travel Journalist Awards. McCarthy says, "Traveling helped me grow up.”
        During his trek across the North of Spain on the pilgrimage of Santiago de Campostelo, McCarthy says he found himself having a hissy fit in a field, and found that in the midst of that rage, he had a moment without fear, and noted that in that moment when he was not longer afraid, he could see how fear had been dominating his life for many years. This led him to travel more and allowed him a perspective that the spotlight of acting never afforded him.
        After he and the mother of his children made a commitment to marry, he was confused at his continued feelings of wanderlust. Shortly after his engagement became finalized, McCarthy said he was surprised at the happiness he felt at the prospect of traveling to Patagonia. His memoir is an exploration of the journey he took, and how it led him to a more stable and satisfied home life.
      Eric Weiner’s memoir Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine began Weiner was hospitalized for severe abdominal pain. Weiner notes that he is a hypochondriac, but that even hypochondriacs become ill. During his hospital stay, a nurse asked him, “Have you found your god yet?” This led Weiner to explore eight different world religions in a quest that ultimately led to a better understanding of himself.
         The third member of the panel, Scott Wallace, took a three month journey into the Amazon River Basin to find a tribe he says does not want to be discovered.  The Unconquered is a chronicle of his journey into the rainforest with Sidney Possuelo, “an explosive, brooding, scary guy,”  whose mission is not to contact the tribe, but to gather information crucial to their survival in the face of environmental catastrophe. Avoiding the tribe was important Wallace pointed out, because they have not been exposed to the kinds of microbes that cling to most of the rest of the world, and contact could hasten their destruction through illnesses.
        The discussion was lively and interesting, especially when it turned its focus to American society. McCarthy says that anyone who gets off the couch has his admiration, because for the majority of Americans, foreign travel is not something we do. McCarthy pointed out that only 30% of Americans have a valid passport, and only half of those with passports ever travel. “Travel,” McCarthy says, “is optimism in action.”
        During the audience Q&A, a woman asked the men how their gender and ethnicity might play a role in their view of travel, when the experience  of a female traveler who is not white might lead to a different experience and therefore a very different opinion of travel.
        Their answer was that different cultures do not differentiate between ethnic differences as much as we do in America, and while it might be easier for a white man to travel in India, where they are treated as Bramans, for much of the world, questions of ethnic differences are blasé and if we got out a little more and walked around, we might see that more clearly.
        I asked Andrew McCarthy to sign his memoir for me, and by the time I reached the front of the long line waiting for signatures, he was tired. The inscription in my book reads, “Jan—Go far.”
       And yes, he is a well-respected travel writer, but when he wrapped his arm around me, and smiled for the camera, I wasn’t thinking about his writing.
              —Jan Becker

Andrew McCarthy signature. Photo, Jan Beaty.

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 5:30 PM

       Book Fair weekend is when I most wish I had Hermione Granger's "time turner" necklace and so could attend simultaneous sessions in sequence. Here are this year's "wish I were there but was double-booked" awards, by genre:
       Poetry—panel with Jesse Millner on Dispatches from the Department of Supernatural Explanation.
       Fiction—Kingston Noir panel.
       Non-fiction—panel including White Bread: A Social History.
               —Bob Morison

 Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 4:45 PM

       Given my own serio-comic Army tour, best part of the comic novels panel late on Sunday was the piece read by David Abrams about heading into a combat zone (Iraq) for the first time in a 17-year career as an Army journalist. To become a Fobbit, a soldier who never leaves the relative safety of the FOB (Forward Operating Base), assigned to write sanitized press releases. Equipped with much trepidation, a "duffel bag full of Dickens," and a determination to make something literary (and preferably comic) of the military experience.
               —Bob Morison (15E20, 3BN, 84FA)

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 4:01 PM

       Charles Burns' father bought him comics, a rare thing in the 1950s when public opinion of comics had begun to turn sour. His father had also tried his hand at it, copying a strip or two into his sketchbooks. Burns notes that these images, projected onto a screen for the audience, were obviously done by hand. "Some people," he said, "don't  know human beings made those. Where did those come from?" Now he keeps his own simple scrapbooks for both work and pleasure.
              —Marci Calabretta

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 3:39 PM

     Justin Torres prefaced the reading of his new book, We the Animals, with the following statement: "I'm going to read the chapter 'Big Dick Truck' because I never read it, but it was requested, so I feel a little bit like Beyonce."
               —Marci Calabretta

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 3:14 PM
       There are three kinds of war books, Castner says. The first are the kind that offer a top-level explanation of policy. The second are detailed descriptions of the events of a time and place, and the third kind of war story tries to get the feeling of war right. He tried to write the third kind, Castner says, because he wanted to convey how it feels to return from war, to be walking through the airport terminal and suddenly realize that you are thinking about who you are going to shoot.
       "I had trouble thinking about anything other than grief, than fear," Castner says. "Part of the grief is that you come home, but your friends go back and you're helpless." Caster left the Air Force after eight years and three combat tours. Many of his friends re-enlisted.
       "I tried to weave together the threads of war and of coming home," Castner says. Those woven threads come through in his reading, in which the narrative goes back and forth from a suburban landscape Castner jogs thorough (he's found running to be therapeutic since his return from war) and a war-torn battlefield.
               Ed Irvin
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 3:05 PM

       One of my favorite things about MBFI is the casual atmosphere. It's a place where you can loan Anne Lamott your blackberry and let her hold your infant, and where you can run into Edwidge Danticat buying books.  How great is that!
                 –Claire Ibarra
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 3:00 PM

       I heard from a confidential source that Andrew McCarthy would be here in the hospitality suite at 3 PM. Guess where I was at 2:45? He walked in right on time. The man walks like a cat. He doesn't walk. He saunters. I know he is a respected travel writer now, but when I saw him, I was in eighth grade all over again and the crush is as big now as it was for me back then. I made Ed Irvin's quivers from earlier look like catatonia, and those were no exaggeration.  
               —Jan Becker

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:55 PM

       Industry consolidation at the Book Fair: Toby's Concessions has apparently acquired Ricky's Arepas and pushed Arepa Queen out of the market. Defied my cholesterol coach and had my annual Book Fair arepa from the stand at 2nd and 3rd. Was okay, but it had been stacked on the griddle for some time. And no Book Fair arepa is ever as good as one's very first Book Fair arepa.
               —Bob Morison
Arepas on the griddle. Photo, Jan Becker
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:16 PM

       The editor of
Kingston Noir, Colin Channer ,and contributor Kwame Dawes are both amazing readers. They read their work like master storytellers. Their stories are a great mix of noir with humor, a comic of the dark side, as described by author Robert Arellano.
       The Noir panel has a small audience, so when Edwidge Danticat walks in and sits down, I definitely notice. I'm told by my friend sitting next to me that she thinks Danticat went to school with one of the authors. But my friend says, "Don't quote me on that."
        After the reading, Edwidge Danticat asks Kwame Dawes if he ever sees his detective in a novel. Dawes answers with an enthusiastic, "Yes, yes I do!"
                –Claire Ibarra

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:15 PM
       Dear Diary: Senator Bob Graham just told me I was the best audience member at the Florida Book Awards Panel! Attentive and responsive and smiling throughout. Given his role as champion of honesty and probity in politics, I was obligated to confess immediately my connection to one of his co-panelists—and that I'd received extensive training. Still worth a tweet, I think.
               —Bob Morison
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:15 PM

       Florida Book Awards was one of the best panels I've ever seen. Definitely had more harmonica than any other literary event I've attended.
               —Sammy Mack
Florida Book Award winners Stephen Kampa and Lynne Barrett smile for the camera, while Sen.Bob Graham is busy signing, with a long line in front of him. Photo, Bob Morison.

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:10 PM
       After introducing Sen. Bob Graham at the Florida Book Awards panel, the moderator invited him to say a few words about The Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. Founded in 2006, the Center's mission is renewing the values, knowledge, and skills of citizenship, and training the next generation to be public and private sector leaders. Its initiatives include direct education, engaging students in public life, and programs that extend far beyond the university community.
       Given what passes for political "dialogue" these days, the Graham Center is an organization well worth supporting.
               —Bob Morison
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:07 PM

        Edwidge Danticat is spotted buying books!
               Claire Ibarra
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:05 PM

       The Florida Book Awards (FBA) panel had it all—brilliant readings, thought-provoking discussion, and a harmonica solo. It featured four of the 2011 award winners. Leonard Nash, himself an FBA winner and then judge, introduced the writers with a combination of standard credentials and lesser known facts.
       Lynne Barrett (general fiction award) read from her story collection Magpies. In "One Hippopotamus," a story comes to light and a romance unfolds thanks to a so-Florida event—a thunderstorm-induced power outage.
       Stephen Kampa (poetry) read from Cracks in the Invisible. Whether about a solitary compliment or Lord Byron himself, each poem was a treat of language, connection, and clever rhythm and rhyme.
       Jessica Martinez (young adult) read from Virtuosity, whose protagonist is a teenage violin prodigy. The book's prelude showed how young adult fiction can be thoroughly haunting with nary a vampire or zombie in sight.
       Bob Graham (yes, Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham) talked about Keys to the Kingdom (popular fiction). He wrote the book "out of frustration" (and as fiction) because the story of Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11 has been so thoroughly censored.
       A few audience members tried to get Graham to comment on current politics, but he steered the discussion to books and writing and the panel at large, and they talked about how the personal and factual get fictionalized and poeticized. Funniest moment was when Graham estimated his novel as 40% true (with most names changed), 40% imagined, and 20% a mix—and an audience member was desperate to know which 40% was which.
       The lesser known fact about Stephen Kampa is that he is certifiably the first simultaneous holder of Florida's best poetry and best harmonica player titles. With just a smidgen of prodding, he closed an unforgettable session in the latter role.
               —Bob Morison
Florida Book Awards Panel: l. to r. Leonard Nash, Sen. Bob Graham, Jessica Martinez, Lynne Barrett, Stephen Kampa. Photo, Bob Morison.
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 2:00 PM
       Fans of Anne Lamott gathered outside the auditorium 30 minutes before her talk. If we were worried we might not get a chance to see her, it was unnecessary. She was sitting on a wooden bench with the rest of us, waiting and texting. She wore rolled up jeans, a white shirt, and a light blue scarf in her dreadlocks. A woman approached the line near her and said, "Is this the line for Anne Lamott? Oh my God, you are Anne Lamott!"
       Anne milled around a little, asked my friend Mary for help working her Blackberry, held someone's baby. I asked her if she had planned a talk, or would be reading from her new book, Help, Thanks, Wow.
       "Really," she said, "I have no idea."
       Inside she plopped her big handbag down next to the podium. She talked a little. She read a little. She answered some questions. The audience collectively fell in love with her. When a toddler in the room fussed, she pulled some crayons out of her bag and delivered them.
       When she talked about prayer, the subject of her book, she said, "I like simple and real."Which is, of course, the exact description of her.
               —Betty Jo Buro

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 1:57 PM

       Ellen Forney, author of Marvels, a graphic memoir revealing the author's struggle with Bipolar Disorder I, said that in writing this book, she had steeled herself against its reception and what others might think of her. "I had never run down the street naked, screaming that I was God, so I thought I had no story." She proved herself wrong. Whenever the conversation turned toward her latest book, Forney discovered that it was a powerful support for everyone dealing with any emotional issues. She reminded us that those who suffer from such disorders have so much company. There's not much room for these stories to be told, even though many are desperately hungry to hear them.
              —Marci Calabretta
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 1:50 PM
        Anne Lamott's book recommendations? Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin. She also recommends State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.
                —Claire Ibarra

Anne Lamott. Photo, Claire Ibarra
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 1:35 PM
      Anne Lamott was raised by atheists but says she grew up praying anyway. I came to know her as a writer's writer, when she wrote her writing masterpiece Bird by Bird. I'm not one of those religious types, but it seems Anne isn't either, despite the title and subject of her latest work. She is that rare author who can pull off Christianity without making readers feel like they are at a sermon. During the early part of her talk, where she was explaining how simple it is to pray, a baby interrupted to do what babies do. The baby's mother politely was exiting the auditorium when Lamott said: "If he's only medium fussy, he can stay. I have crayons. Does he eat crayons?" Turns out he's not on solid foods yet, but Lamott walked out into the audience to give another whiny kid a set of crayons and something to draw on a few minutes later. Lamott then went on to read a passage from her latest work, where she simplifies the act of praying down to just three words which formed the title : Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.
               —Deb Alberto

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 1:43 PM
       Dan Parent, cartoonist for the famous family-friendly comic, Archie, spoke of introducing Kevin, the strip's first gay character, into the mix. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. He said they had to make sure he wasn't too perfect a character, giving him specific issues to deal with. However, he also pointed out that "Archie is the way things should be, not the way things are." According to Parent, Kevin's character will get a little more dramatic in 2013.
               —Marci Calabretta

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 1:15 PM

      Conor McCreery is the tall, red-headed co-creator of Kill Shakespeare. As an avid reader of comics in any form, I decided to check out his "Craft Talk for Artists and Writers." I wasn't sure what to expect, but as soon as I saw his bright green shirt and black custom-made vest, I knew he had a sense of humor.
       Kill Shakespeare is the story of Prince Hamlet, who is lost overboard when pirates attack his ship. He washes ashore a strange island, where he is taken in by Richard III and Lady MacBeth. Commissioned to kill a man who Richard's underlings believe to be a god, he is again faced with the question of whether to pursue vengeance for his father. However, along this adventure, he meets the leader of the rebels: Juliet. She reveals that Hamlet's target is not a "god" but rather the Creator, whom the rebels call Shakespeare. "To kill or not to kill. That is the question."
       According to McCreery, the main points to any successful writing include rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. Storytelling is just getting from A to B both physically and emotionally. A series of "lies" can create truth, which creates stories driven by tension. This allows for parallel development between "outer" and "inner" stories. When developing characters, keep in mind their three masks: 1) the masks they show the world, 2) the mask they show themselves, and 3) their "true" selves. Joseph Campbell's hero's journey is useful not only for comics but for any story, whether graphic or textual only.
       McCreery says no medium beyond comics has a physical home for words. But regardless of textual context, what story does the art tell?
       After the craft talk, I ran down the stairs to buy a copy of Kill Shakespeare, and waited for him to come down to the signing area. He didn't come. So I wove my way through the press of people, looking for an author tent I was sure bore the same name as McCreery's comic. After some difficulty, I found it. I asked him about the king somehow embroidered on his beautiful black vest, and he told me he had commissioned a friend to make it for him. Then he signed my book!
       Watch this comic. I have a feeling it is going to explode very soon.
               —Marci Calabretta

Street performer asks for information. Photo, Marci Calabretta

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 1:10 PM       I'm sort of glad to learn that Anne Lamott is as technologically challenged as I am. She makes jokes about putting together a power point for her discussion of prayer. She says, "I love simple, I love real." As her discussion goes on, I learn that she also loves candy corn. She says as she ages, she cares more about candy corn than her thighs. Anne Lamott is a funny, wise lady.
                —Claire Ibarra

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 1:07 PM

       Jan Becker exaggerates.
               —Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 12:55 PM

        Outside in the line to come into the auditorium, Anne Lamott mingled, letting people take photos with her and holding babies. She asked if anyone had a blackberry she could use.
               —Claire Ibarra

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 12:44 PM

         Kaplan asks Patterson which of his characters he resembles most. "Alex Cross, because we're both African-American," the author, who is much funnier than I expected, says. Kaplan then asks, "If you could live inside one of your books for a week, which would it be?" Patterson says Maximum Ride, part of a kids' series he authors.
               Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 12:37 PM

       Patterson says that Amazon needs to take more responsibility for what is happening to books in this country, to which Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books and moderator of the fireside-style chat with Patterson, adds, "In France they are giving grants to endangered bookshops."
               Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 12:28 PM

       Patterson says that many parents approach him and say they are unable to get their kids to read, to which he replies "Can you get them to the dinner table?"
       He says that parents should make reading a household rule, but be careful not to make it a chore. Turn off the television one night and have family reading night. Parents should make sure their children see them reading, and should also have books themselves. Kids don't need another cellphone; they need more books, Patterson says.
               Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 12:26 PM

       "It's not the school's job to find books for your kids." This quote draws an enthusiastic round of applause.
               Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 12:25 PM

       "The reason I write books for kids is that, as adults, we can't solve global weirding or whatever is going on, but we can get our kids reading." I've never been a fan of Patterson myself, and I'm still not likely to run out and buy all his books, but his drive to make reading a family event has dramatically changed my opinion of him as a hack driven mostly by commercial success.
               Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 12:19 PM

       "I was poor, then middle-class, then poor again, then middle-class. Now I'm kinda rich. I like being rich much better," Patterson says jokingly.
               Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012,  12:13 PM

       "Hi, I'm Stephen King!" James Patterson says as he comes to the podium.
               Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 12:01 PM

       I moved to Miami to study with Dan Wakefield, and I had the pleasure of taking classes with him for a year before he retired from teaching and moved back to his hometown, Indianapolis. Dan is the kind of professor who comes to class and tells you how he went to Allen Ginsberg’s place one afternoon. Timothy O’Leary was there, with his psilocybin capsules. He was dosing people, and Jack Kerouac was there too, angry at Dan for some minor misunderstanding that, under the influence of hallucinogens, had escalated to the point that Kerouac was ready to toss him from the balcony of Ginsberg’s apartment.
       Dan is also the writer who went to Mississippi in the middle of some of the biggest social strife and injustice of the 20th Century and reported for The Nation on the Emmett Till murder. I have not seen Dan since he moved away, so I was thrilled to hear he was coming back to Miami for the Book Fair to discuss Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, a book Vonnegut’s son Mark says is a testament to the lasting friendship between the two men, and the genuine love they felt for one another. Wakefield’s role in the new book was to cull through Vonnegut’s correspondences, and edit them together into a collection representative of the man who wrote them.
        On the panel with Wakefield were Kurt Vonnegut’s son, Mark, a pediatrician and memoirist, and Donald Farber, Kurt Vonnegut’s close friend, agent, and his literary trustee.  The three men’s discussion of their relationships with Vonnegut and his role as a literary icon was so well-attended (despite the Molly Ringwald appearance at the same time in the Chapman auditorium) that the walls along both sides and the rear were standing room only. There were moments when it felt like Vonnegut was still alive and present in the room.
        The sense I got of Vonnegut is that he was a literary icon, who felt akin to Mark Twain in his use of the common language, and also in his acerbic wit. When Wakefield began attending church in 1985, he came home to find a message on his machine from Vonnegut who told him, “I forgive you.”  
        When Vonnegut published Breakfast of Champions Farber said he had to write Wheaties on behalf of Vonnegut to tell them, “You are not in the business of writing books, and Kurt will not be manufacturing any breakfast cereal,” over allegations that the title of the novel night be a problem for the company.
        Along with being witty, I also got the feeling that Vonnegut was sensitive. When the football coach gave him a gag gift of an Atlas bodybuilding manual as he was graduating high school, Vonnegut was hurt. So much so, he called his former coach years later to tell him, “Look, my body turned out just fine.” He was also genuinely hurt when his books were burned by a school superintendentnot just banned, but burned. As the panel pointed out, some of Vonnegut’s most ardent readers continue to be high school students.
        Mark Vonnegut said that reading the letters was emotionally difficult at times. That his father was the kind of man who wrote, “God dammit, you’ve got to be kind” on the walls at home. When asked about his father’s reputation as a lover of women, Dr. Vonnegut responded, “He truly loved, when and where he could.”
        Vonnegut’s trust is still publishing new material, some of it posthumously signed by the author, who used to sign several hundred blank pages at a time and set them aside to be sewn into limited edition copies of his work.  Mark Vonnegut noted that this might be “really creepy.”  It’s also exactly the sort of thing that Mark Twain did.
               —Jan Becker

Sunday, Nov. 18, 11:50 AM

       So, is it an elegantly written and character-rich story that happens to include a crime—or a crime story that also features 3D characters and memorable prose? The bottom line at the "Literary Crimes" panel was that publishers may be intent on categorizing books to help them sell, but that this often pigeonholes a book and its author. Smart readers enjoy it all—narrative drive, complex characters, language that is uncannily apt and smooth, and a caper or crime to center the plot.
       Edna Buchanan, mystery/crime writer extraordinaire, introduced the panel and moderator with telling details caught by her journalist's eye, rather than the standard bios.
       Joseph Olshan read from Cloudland. A week or so after finding a woman's body on her property, the narrator receives a phone call from the woman's husband. The passage is all about closure that can't be had and awkward pauses that tell half the story.
       Joy Castro read from Hell or High Water, whose protagonist is a reporter covering the story that 1,300 registered sex offenders have gone "off the grid" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Her lyrical passage was about why April isn't the cruelest month in New Orleans.
       Emily St. John Mandel read from The Lola Quartet, whose central character is a flamed-out New York journalist returned home to Florida to sell foreclosed real estate. The opening chapter finds an ex-girlfriend with a new baby and $118,000 in cash hidden under the stroller.
       Lynne Barrett, who was also the moderator, talked about the importance of place and read a scene from Magpies in which the main characters discover the scene of the crime-to-be in an old Florida sinkhole.
       The panelists discussed the arbitrariness of genre classifications. Raymond Chandler was a pulp writer promoted to the literary class. The Great Gatsby is in many respects a noir tale. And how do we classify John Le Carre? Best moment was when an audience member said that classifications matter less because she can sample books on her e-reader and decide what she likes. Barrett suggested that you can also do that in a bookstore.
               —Bob Morison

Literary Crimes: Joseph Olshan and Joy Castro. Photo, Marci Calabretta.

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 11:47 AM

       Sandra Cisneros' sweet, articulate voice piped up from the background in the "Literary Crimes" panel Q&A: "It seems to me that you're all writing about fear, and these books are medicine to heal that fear." She agrees that while publishers have to invest in selling a book they print, readers also have to invest to buy that same book. The issue of categorization is nobody's fault. Rather, it's inherent desire. "What about us demands labels?"
               —Marci Calabretta

Sunday, Nov. 18, 11:37 AM

       "I'm most interested in flawed characters. There is nothing at all interesting about perfection," Ringwald says.
               —Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 11:34 AM

       A young woman asks Ringwald about her writing process and how long her book, When It Happens to You, took to write. "This book took a couple years," Ringwald says, adding that, as a rule, she writes 500 words or two hours, whichever comes first, each day. She went on to say "I find my grammar is deplorable," and that "I am constantly working on different aspects of writing."
               —Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 11:27 AM
       The mother of a transgendered child with whom Ringwald spoke in Denver reads a passage from an essay her son wrote about the experience, which Ringwald remembers. After the short reading, the two women share a touching moment of embrace. There is nary a dry eye in the house.
               —Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 11:22 AM

       When asked if she will be reuniting with Andrew McCarthy, fellow Brat Pack member and her co-star in Pretty in Pink, who is appearing later on this afternoon, Ringwald says she must board a plane shortly after her reading.
               —Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 11:20 AM
       Although she says her novel-in-stories is about betrayal, the story Ringwald reads, about a young mother and her transgendered child, is lightheartedly funny, as well as touching.
               —Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 11:14 AM

     The panel for the discussion of Kurt Vonnegut includes his son, Mark Vonnegut, and retired FIU Writer-in-Residence Dan Wakefield, along with Don Farber. Mark Vonnegut talks honestly about his father's talents and weaknesses. He says writing saved his dad's life. He also remembers his dad muttering and crumpling pieces of paper trying to get it right. Mark Vonnegut describes his dad as a gateway drug to reading, and to  thinking.
      Dan Wakefield met Kurt Vonnegut at a dinner in Cambridge in 1963. He shares stories of their friendship, referring to Vonnegut as generous. He remembers Vonnegut saying that the greatest plague to civilization is loneliness.
      It is interesting to learn that the Drake School Board not just banned, but actually burned Vonnegut's books in the furnace. Mark Vonnegut says his dad was hurt by accusations that his books were bad for kids.
      Vonnegut was known for saying that evil deeds and lying damage kids, not coarse language. He also shares that his dad wrote on walls "Goddammit, you've got to be kind." 
      I look forward to reading Wakefield's book Kurt Vonnegut: Letters.

                —Claire Ibarra

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 11:05 AM

       The audience releases a collective groan when the presenter announces that Molly Ringwald will only be signing books following her reading. No DVDs, posters, or other memorabilia. 
               —Ed Irvin

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 10:58 AM

       My next two hours will be spent here in Chapman Hall. First up, Molly Ringwald, followed by James Patterson.
                —Ed Irvin
Sunday, Nov. 18, 10:48 AM

     Moderator Lynne Barrett says that it is easier to start in literary rather than in genre fiction, and then cross over to the other side. Apparently, the label of "literary" or "genre" fiction is generated primarily by marketers, but "definitions are made but always fall apart . . . you write for your own delight first."
          —Marci Calabretta
Sunday, Nov. 18, 10:45 AM

       In writing her crime novel, Hell or High Water, Joy Castro was constantly conscious of her intended audience: "Beach read for smart people." She has written literary memoirs, but in wanting to talk about race, class, and environment, she asked herself, "How do I make all of that go down sweetly, as in the spoonful of sugar kind of sweet?"
                   —Marci Calabretta
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 10:26 AM

       Got the opportunity to speak with Bryan Mealer in the hospitality suite. For his book Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football's Forgotten Town, Mealer actually took residence in Belle Glade, a town reluctant to trust the media thanks to decades of negative press. I asked him how long it took to earn the townspeople's trust, to which he replied "A couple of months."
       He jogged the streets in the mornings, ate in mom-and-pop restaurants, and went on local gospel radio to introduce himself. His determination to get to know the people of Belle Glade comes through in Muck City. He gave me a wonderful inscription, too.
               —Ed Irvin

 Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 10:38 AM
       Update: OH MY GOD. Molly Ringwald just sat down next to me. I need some selling salts.
                  —Jan Becker

Sunday, Nov. 18, 10:35 AM

       In the panel "Literary Crimes," Joseph Olshan was introduced as "Kate Winslet's favorite author."
            —Marci Calabretta
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 10:06 AM

       As a child of the eighties, I find it awesome that I an sitting across the room from Molly Ringwald in the Author Hospitality Suite. 
              —Ed Irvin
Across the high school cafeteria—aka Author Hospitality Suite—Molly Ringwald. Photo, Jan Becker.
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 10:02 AM

       I am sitting up here in the author hospitality suite with Ed Irvin, another FBR live blogger, when he starts quivering, like seriously quivering (ok, I admit it, I was quivering too). And then I look up, and there is MOLLY RINGWALD. She ate fruit, and texted on her telephone. Ed had it bad the whole time she was up here, shaking, and pacing the room. He followed her into the coffee line. I walked up to her and introduced myself and told her how much I admired her work. And to be honest, I haven't read her stuff. But I loved Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. Oh, and I snapped a photo from across the room, because Ed wanted one, but was too shy.
               —Jan Becker

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 9:52 AM

       Mental note: come back to the Dead Ink Books tent at the end of the day when, if they follow the trend of the past few years, they will be dropping the prices on inventory they wish not to transport home. I saw some Tim Dorsey and Bob Morris first editions that are missing from my collection.
               —Ed Irvin
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012,  9:00 AM
       I keep hearing from people who come to the Book Fair that their favorite street food to pick up is an arepa. They’re heating up the grills right now, come and get ‘em.
               —Jan Becker

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 5:50 PM

       Every year I swear off going to weekend sessions in Chapman, and every year at least one session makes me break my oath. This year it was the panel discussing the late Christopher Hitchens from three perspectives—wife (Carol Blue), best friend (Martin Amis), and publisher (Cary Goldstein).
       The public Hitchens was author, journalist, "anti-theist," contrarian, debater, and skewerer (of Mother Theresa and anyone less holy). We learned a bit about what was beneath the surface: "He made thought dramatic and always seemed to be conducting a deeper argument with himself." "He didn't want you to try to impress him, but just to make him laugh."
       The edgiest anecdotes came from Amis, several scenes ending with an abrasive bon mot from Hitchens. The panelists stopped themselves several times to remark that the man they were describing was probably unfamiliar to the public—uncompetitive, generous, really caring about the things he cared about. He seemed larger than life because he lived continuously—drinking and writing (faster than he let his editors know, lest they ask for more earlier) and barely sleeping.
       They described Hitchens' final days in a cancer ward in Houston, writing a book about the experience, as both sad and affirming because of his brutal honesty.
               —Bob Morison

Saturday, Nov. 18, 2012, 5:18 PM

       Ran into John Dufresne and Denise Duhamel on their way out of the SWEAT Broadsheet collaborative reading.
               —Jan Becker

Authors John Dufresne and Denise Duhamel, photo Jan Becker

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 4:35 PM

       When asked about the pressure of creating a graphic novel that would forever become part of the Batman canon, Kidd stated the pressure came entirely from him; DC Comics had approached him, and had been very supportive throughout the whole process. Despite the pressure, however, he obviously had fun, evidenced by his discussion of Batman: Death by Design. He read a few panels, effecting appropriate male and female voices to do so. The main starlette, Cyndia Syl, loosely created after an early Jackie Onassis saving Grand Central Station, "looks like Grace Kelly—because we can." His sense of humor was matched only by his swanky style: navy blazer with thick gold stripes, a blue shirt and salmon pants.
       Obviously good friends with the other two designers on the panel, Chris Ware and Charles Burns, he also seemed the most comfortable with public speaking. When Chris Ware stood at the podium, he towered above everyone else. A good friend of Kidd and an avid follower of Burns, he spoke of his latest feat, a multi-layered, interactive story set called Building Stories. Earlier career progress that led to this project include "Acme Library Commentary," which he described as "proof you should never name anything in your twenties."
       Ware had his own sense of humor. For him, reading is about learning empathy in one way or another. Writing directly and honestly is a step toward that. "Maybe we wouldn't be so mean to each other if we all wore pictures of ourselves as babies on our lapels at all times."
                —Marci Calabretta

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 4:10 PM

      Irvine Welsh gives the traditional English language a nod for being a nice language, but he explains that he uses the traditional Scottish language because it's funky, it has a beat to it. "I built the book like a DJ would build a track," Welsh, a former European Dance Music DJ, said of Trainspotting. He started with the beat of the Scottish language and added things on as the story grew.
                —Annik Adey-Babinski

Friends of the Library booth. Photo, Marci Calabretta

Saturday, Nov 17, 2012, 3:55 PM
       Les Standiford's new book Desperate Sons has a very long subtitle, so long, it worries the author that potential buyers might not feel the need to purchase the book, because the subtitle gives the whole story away. The full title is Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War. During the audience Q&A, I asked Standiford a question. If he could take one of the founding fathers to a bar, who would it be? "Not Sam Adams," Standiford said, "he was too much of a zealot. I'd probably want to go with Isaac Sears." I'd never heard of Sears, but Standiford says he was a buccaneer.
               —Jan Becker

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 3:50 PM

       Irvine Welsh is an incredibly animated reader, changing his voice to suit different characters, physically acting out certain charged moments and smiling with us when the audience roars at a hilarious section. 
          —Annik Adey-Babinski

Saturday, Nov 17, 2012, 3:45 PM

       One writer who just about everybody who comes to the book fair reads without realizing it is Nick Garnett, who does the copywriting for The Fairgoer's Guide. His job as copywriter starts in late July/early August and consists of culling through a mountain of press releases that he whittles through to create the author bios in the guide. There is a separate copy writer who coordinates the more than 100 Spanish writers who come to the fair, but Garnett still writes about 300 bios a year. This is his third year doing the copywriting for the Book Fair. Garnett says for him, the most enjoyable descriptions to write are for the authors who, like Junot Diaz, show a narrative arc. Diaz struggled for five years and had just about given up when his debut book, Drown, was published and won a PEN Award, so within a bio like that, Garnett can find a traditonal arc of struggle and eventual triumph over adversity. Nick says doing the copywriting also gives him a good feeling for publishing trends. Based on the bios he wrote, who did Nick want to see this year? Jeffrey Toobin. He missed that evening as he also works coordinating events during the week, sometimes even filling in to moderate a panel.  I should have had him sign my Fairgoer's Guide when I had the chance. 
               —Jan Becker



Nick Garnett, MBFI Fairgoer's Guide writer and ubiquitous moderator. Photo, Jan Becker

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 3:30 PM

       A mystery man has joined Irvine Welsh on stage as excited audience-members gather at the front of the room to take photographs and MBFI Volunteers usher in a few late stragglers. I am not sure who the man is, but he is wearing a hat, which he takes off and re-arranges at a jauntier angle as people snap pictures of both men. His confident demeanor and dark sunglasses suggest that I should know who he is. When a volunteer introduces Welsh and his new book, Skagboys, and fails to acknowledge the presence of this mysterious guest, the man walks off stage in a huff. When the volunteer approaches him, offering a seat in the front row as the audience applauds Welsh, the mysterious man puts his hand up to her face to stop the volunteer from speaking, and stalks out of the room.
              —Annik Adey-Babinski 

Saturday, November 17, 2012, 3:30 PM

       Chip Kidd, Charles Burns, and Chris Ware gave a presentation on graphic novels and building stories around images. The presentation was started off by Kidd, who talked about his growing up a fan of Batman and being a popular cover design artist before being approached by DC Comics to write his new work, Batman: Death by Design. Kidd showed a few slides of how the drawings in the book come to life, and also teased a few details of the main plot. The story centers on the architecture of Gotham City, where Bruce Wayne/Batman is drawn into a case revolving around the Wayne Central Station and a newly opened nightclub by a woman who Kidd based a bit off of Jackie Onassis. The only other plot detail he teased was the Joker would come in and cause trouble at the nightclub.
       Charles Burns talked about The Hive, and how a lot of his art was inspired by the comics he read in the ‘50s. One title that really inspired him was Tintin, and he showed the audience a few pages from his book that seems to resemble the kind of art from that comic book. A lot of the slides he showed were clipping from various photos and magazines that also contributed to his work. He included a personal one of a friend wearing a cardboard house on her head. This drew some laughter from the crowd, and Burns explained that he needed an idea of how it looked so he could draw it into his story.
       The session was concluded by Chris Ware, who talked a lot about how images or characters he drew eventually had a story built around them. Ware focused on an art student who lived on the top floor of an apartment. What caught my interest was that he had this character take creative writing classes and write stories that revealed more about her than she would have liked. Ware went on to talk about characters in different strips, and he also showed slides that pertained to them.
       Overall, it was a very interesting session. I was most intrigued by Kidd's Batman story, and wondered what some of those images he showed us would look like if they were ever made into a movie. That was something Kidd said he would loved to have seen as well.
               —Ignacio J. Fontan

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 3:17 PM

       Lots of Tommy Bahama shirts at the David Nasaw/Les Standiford Event.
               —Esther Martinez

Saturday, November 17, 2012, 3:15 p.m.

       Close to the entrance near 5th Street, there's a tent called Friends of the Library. They're selling all paperbacks for $1 and all hard cover books for $2. That's a deal too good to pass up.
               —Ignacio J. Fontan 

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 3:12 PM

        Whenever he gets bored, Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver, pictures two people who would never sleep together and imagines what their child would look like. His novel was inspired in the same fashion. He imagines it is the spawn of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Jaws
               Ed Irvin

Saturday, November 17, 2012, 3:06 PM

       This caught my attention immediately. Behind to Building 1, there’s a live performance going on. What caught my attention was the shouting in Spanish. The next thing I see is a guy dressed in a Nazi uniform (although it may not be) shouting at another dressed in rags. The soldier occasionally shoves the guy around and he remains silent throughout.
      These performers are with MDC’s Koubek Center, which is putting on different fifteen minute Microteatro plays throughout the weekend in English and Spanish. Microteatro is a concept that originated in Spain, adding to the fair’s international flavor. I see someone I know photographing the act on the street. The act is drawing a small crowd of onlookers, and they’re not even the main event which I think starts at 4 PM
                —Ignacio J. Fontan

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:59 PM

       Glen Duncan, author of Talulla Rising, wastes no time on small talk, launching straight into his reading. His accent brings a hypnotic, sleep-inducing serenity to his words, even as he describes a werewolf tearing the throat from a woman.
                Ed Irvin


Justin Cronin signing. Photo, Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:51 PM

       To write his trilogy, Cronin, a self-professed man of peace, had to learn a lot about guns. Conveniently, he lives in Texas.
                Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:45 PM

       Standing in line to get a bag from the C-SPAN people when a Narnian walks by. No, bounds by. He's a powerful centaur, about eight feet tall, and gracefully sweeps his long coffee-brown dreds away from his shoulder and looks a tiny girl directly in the face. Her mouth drops open and he leaps from the street to the curb and looks around. He's on a mission to find something. His long black coat reaches to his knees and flows elegantly behind him. The little girl's mother tugs her along, having seen nothing.
               —Sarah L. Mason

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:42 PM

       Books & Books, which sponsors much of the Book Fair, has one of the best book tents, dedicated solely to authors presenting this weekend. As I perused the tables laden with books, the corner of my eye caught a man in a navy blazer with thick gold stripes, wielding a Sharpie and signing (gasp!) a massive book by Chip Kidd. This man is Chip Kidd? Best book designer in the market, author of the new Batman: Death by Design. "Why don't you go talk to him?" my boyfriend suggested. As if. I could just go up and—hah! I wish I were braver. But I did manage to snag a copy of the new Batman book, the Sharpie ink still drying. The Books & Books representative hadn't even been able to put an "autographed" sticker on it yet. I bought it for a Christmas present, but who am I kidding? I hope my sense of Christmas-present morality wins out before December 25. Or I hope it doesn't. I don't know anymore. It's a beautiful book.
              —Marci Calabretta

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:41 PM

       Cronin says he has a much larger military readership than he ever would have imagined. One serviceman he spoke to told the author "Books are to deployment what cigarettes are to prison."
                 Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:36 PM

       Justin Cronin, author of The Passage trilogy, designed the series because his daughter said his other books are boring, which they are not, he insists.
       The Passage and The Twelve, the first two novels in the apocalyptic trilogy, are each a series of thank you notes to the authors Cronin read as a child.
       There is an entire chapter in The Passage that is an homage to Virginia Woolf.
                 Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:30 PM

       MDC’s Teatro Prometeo has a curious show going on between MDC Multicultural Programs tent and the Young Arts tent next to Building 2. There are four people dressed and standing like Ancient Greek statues. They tend to shift position every now and again. I can’t help but be amazed at how well they’re managing to hold their positions for so long. Like I’ve said beforethere are a lot of new things to see around the street fair.
                Ignacio J. Fontan

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 2:25 PM

       Every year, I hit upon a Book Fair session that delights in unexpected ways. This year it was discussion of Bunny Yeager's Darkroom. I knew it would be a revealing session—with the pioneering woman photographer who put Bettie Page, one of the most famous pin-ups of all time, on the map and in the centerfold.
       Extra fun began when I sat in the front row of Batten stage right, and the lady behind me turned out to be Miami's own Bunny Yeager. She'd come early and was awaiting the arrival of Petra Mason, who compiled and wrote the book, for the last-minute, pre-event briefing: "We'll show a bit of the clip of your appearance on What's My Line? and then the short promo video for the book, and then we'll talk a bit and take questions." When they got to detailed tactics—how much of the clip to show—I piped up: "Those segments only take 5-7 minutes, so show the whole thing, and just start it while people are settling it."
     Worked like a charm. Audience was (depending on age) intrigued or mesmerized as a glamorous young Bunny Yeager stumped Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, and the guy I can never remember with her occupation of "cheesecake photographer."
       Mason talked about creating the book—a compilation of Yeager's photographs, her writing about photography, and Mason's commentary. Then she'd pick a section of the book or a specific photograph and ask Yeager for some details. With straightforward charm and (you guessed it) photographic detail, Bunny talked about how she worked as a model and photographed herself, how she could advertise for models in the Miami Herald (until people started taking the ads the wrong way), how she had to shoot over in Naples where the beaches were deserted, how she took her classic photos of Ursula Andress on the set of Dr. No in the brief intervals when the film canisters were being reloaded, why it was a bad idea to have a pet leopard in Miami Shores, what a scrupulously honest businessman Hugh Hefner is, and why her photographs from the 1950s still look contemporary.
      Note for collectors: The May 1959 issue of Playboy is a trifecta of Yeager's work—cover, centerfold, and 12-page feature on the sights of Miami Beach.
       Audience questions: Did she consider herself a pioneer? No, she was a working girl in a male business, "one of the guys," except that she was more serious and commercial than they were. Is she still photographing? Of course, "I can't stop—there are too many interesting things in my mind."
       Facebook page: Bunny Yeager's Darkroom.
               —Bob Morison



Saturday, Nov 17, 2012, 2:15 PM

     At the Bookwise booth I scored big. For $1, Issue 21, 1959 Spring-Summer, The Paris Review with fiction by Terry Southern and Alexander Trocchi, poetry by, among others, Ted Hughes, and a Donald Hall interview with T.S. Eliot. I can't read it just yet, because everytime I open it, I see another name that makes me sound a barbaric yawpand that is just in the advertisements. Names like e.e. cummings, Carl Sandberg, Jack Kerouac and William Carlos Williams, who were all publishing in 1959, and those are just a few of the great writers. The cashier at Bookwise explained that they buy out estates. He says they have a store, and that it is big, and has an entire section devoted to rare books, and a cat.
       Also, from Bookwise, I found The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene and Shane by Jack Schaefer. Yes, THAT Shane, "The unforgettable novel of a boy's love and a gunman's struggle to escape his past." I tried to check out without purchasing the last book, but every time I tried to walk away, the book started yelling out, "Don't leave me, Jan!"
       I couldn't leave it there, crying and alone.
       I try to buy a boxed set each year from McSweeney's at their booth. This year, I picked up Issue No. 4, which has a red-breasted robin with wooden planks for feet and contains "14 discreet booklets." I opened the box briefly, but the yawps are frightening small children.
               —Jan Becker

Jan's purchases. Photo, Jan Becker

Saturday, November 17, 2012, 2:13 PM

       I’ve been going to the book fair for the past few years, and immediately as I walk in, I’m seeing a lot of new tents and vendors. Right in front of Building 1 next to the large Books & Books tent, there’s a tent that has all the works of authors who are presenting at this year’s book fair.  I’m looking forward to all the new things to check out.
                Ignacio J. Fontan

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 2:00 PM

     If you buy one of Terry Cronin's thrillers about a dermatologist turned detective from the Skinvestigator booth, it comes with a complimentary "tramp stamp." My friend Enzu picked up the first in the Cronin trilogy. He went for a more innocuous placement than is traditional. This is probably a good thing. Enzu's a little too furry for a traditional stamp.
               —Jan Becker

SkinvestigatorMBFI.jpg trampstampMBFI.jpg

The age of author self-marketing: Skinvestigator and "tramp stamp." Model, Enzu Castellanos. Photo, Jan Becker

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012,1:42 PM

       I wish I hadn't left my copy of Looking for the Gulf Motel at home. I just peeked over at the signing table and saw Blanco writing more than his name (personalized messages!) in a glorious black pen.
                —Marci Calabretta
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 1:40 PM
       I'm not going to buy any fully-priced books the first day. Oh. But there's Kevin Young's newly edited anthology about FOOD!!! The reading was so good! Young has this incredible cadence in his poems that comes through in his deep, even voice. OK, I admit I totally bought Kevin Young's The Hungry Ear. As he signed it, I asked him if he had researched all the food. He looked at me a moment, then he laughed. "Well," he said. "I've eaten just about everything in the book."
               —Marci Calabretta
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 1:38 PM

       I have taken classes with James W. Hall, and I was fully expecting him to erupt into orangutan calls once again (I have heard his orangutan impression on at least three separate occasions. It's fairly close to how I imagine an orangutan would sound). He did not make the ape calls. Instead, he suggested that those in the room who have never been to Miami should visit our local polling places, as they are infamous, and still taking ballots. On being asked, "why be a writer?" Hall's response is, "because you've failed at being a human. Most of us never had social skills."
       Hall's latest book Hit Lit grew from an experiment he started in a graduate course at FIU on "trashy books." He said about two weeks into the semester, he realized he was in trouble, that he had entered into the course with a, "snobby, idiotic, pretentious attitude." He'd fallen in love with Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind. And he loved the other books in the course too. Hall looked closer, and found twelve things all the biggest bestsellers have in common, but he is not telling what those are. You need to buy the book to find that out. You can read about 100 pages that the editors cut out of Hit Lit on his blog.
               —Jan Becker
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 1:33 PM
       Susan Isaacs hears the voices of her characters as she is preparing to write. "I hear voicesnot like Joan of Arc. Most of them say please, and ask nicely." Some it would seem may not be so nice, but as Isaacs put it, "Do you think Dostoevsky ever asked, ‘Gee, is that Raskalnikov a nice guy?' We just have to root for them to find a better path." 
               —Jan Becker
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012,1:29 PM

       Thank you, Campbell McGrath and Kevin Young, for reading elegies to Jack Gilbert. May he rest in peace.
                  —Marci Calabretta
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012,1:16 PM
       Kevin Young talks about how he recently got into an argument with someone about whether gumbo needs to include okra or not. "'Gumbo' just means 'okra.' Of course it needs to have okra. They were wrong." Young says he started writing his odes shortly after his father died. He couldn't write for a while, and then he just sat down and wrote an ode to something simple. "So that," he says, "is what these poems are really about. It's about hunger."
                —Marci Calabretta
Saturday, Nov. 17, 1:15 PM

      Dana Gioia, when asked why and how he memorized the poems in his new book, Pity the Beautiful, tells the audience that he composed the poems on walks, as a musician might compose a song. If Gioia could recite the poem from memory, he judged it ready for publication; if not, he continued his work. 
         —Annik Adey-Babinski
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 1:09 PM
       With an hour and a half of free time before my next panel, it's time to shop the street fair.
                Ed Irvin

Author Sessions During the Week

The full list of sessions during the week is here.

Some highlights of the Book Fair's "Evenings With..." appearances:

(Note that "Evenings With" require $10 tickets and a $2 handling fee for orders. For schedule of other events during the week, many free, and programs in Spanish, please check the Book Fair schedule.)

Sunday, Nov. 11: 6 PM Tom Wolfe; 7 PM Ruben and Isabel Toledo

Monday, Nov. 12:  6:30 PM Junot Diaz; 8 PM Chris Hayes

Tuesday, Nov. 13: 8 PM Sandra Cisneros

Wednesday, Nov. 14: 8 PM Jeffrey Toobin

Thursday, Nov. 15: 8 PM Adam Gopnik

Friday, Nov. 16:6:30 PM Emma Donoghue  8 PM Adam Ryan in conversation with Robert Weil

Writing, photo, Justin Bendell. Top banner: Book Fair Saturday morning, David Kasprzyk.

The FBR Blogging Team

Jan Becker
Marci Calabretta
Ed Irvin

Deb Alberto
Annik Adey-Babinksky
Ignacio J. Fontan
Claire Ibarra
Ashley M. Jones
Louis K. Lowy
Esther Martinez
Jennifer Maritza McCauley
Sarah L. Mason
Bob Morison
Guest: Sammy Mack, WLRN-Herald News

Editor and Blogging Coordinator: Lynne Barrett
Editor & Publisher: Susan Parsons

More blogging from the Book Fair coming soon!

-The FBR Editors


Selected items from this blog are being cross-posted by the WLRN-Herald News as part of their Book Fair Coverage.

Check out the Miami Book Fair International website, including Programs in Spanish and English, map of the Fair, etc.


Selected items from this blog are being cross-posted by the WLRN-Herald News as part of their Book Fair Coverage.

Check out the Miami Book Fair International website, including Programs in Spanish and English, map of the Fair, etc.


Street Fair color. Photo, Justin Bendell
WBPT Channel 2 is posting videotaped interviews with Book Fair authors on their website.
And interviews from MBFI 2011 are posted here.  A pre-fair 2012 interview with our editor, Lynne Barrett, is here.

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:48 PM

       Wow. Dana Gioia just performed all of his poems.What a rare sight. He doesn't just blandly recite them; he moves around, uses hand motions,intonations.He says that's how he writes his poems too, by walking around the house. He says, "If I can't remember them, they're not publishable. If I don't remember them, why should anyone else?
               —Marci Calabretta
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:48 PM

       At a reading featuring Richard Blanco (Looking for the Gulf Motel), Dana Gioia (Pity the Beautiful), Campbell McGrath (In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys) and Kevin Young (The Hungry Ear), the moderator said they would read in alphabetical order. Blanco stood up first and looked around. "At a time like this, I would have changed my name from Richard Blanco to Dick White," he said. This bespeaks the kind humility surrounding him as a poet.
       I had read his first book, City of a Hundred Fires, loved it, and had had the good fortune to review his latest book for the FBR. The night before, I had had the immense pleasure of meeting him in the flesh, and was so pleased at how open and comfortable he is in conversation. It made me so happy. During the reading today, I was able to hear his poems how he imagined them in his voice, his intonations, and it was fabulous. I get totally engulfed in his poems.
               Marci Calabretta

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:40

       Florida history panels are always fun—and popular. The 11:00 session in Room 8316 was SRO (in a smallish room with the door awkwardly in the front).
       Robert Kerstein (Inventing the Conch Republic) talked about the ups and downs of Key West on its way being dominated by the tourist industry. So much to say about Key West: once Florida's largest city and once among the country's wealthiest per capita, a town where the fire chief was also the leading drug smuggler, the republic that momentarily and symbolically seceded from the union in 1982 and asked for $1 billion in foreign aid. Unfortunately, Kerstein tried to cram a 60-minute PowerPoint presentation into his allotted 15 minutes, and the points seemed random.
       With Martin Dyckman (The Golden Age of Florida Politics), the pace and subject matter were more sober. Only old-timers will recall the days, largely under Reubin Askew as Governor, when Republicans and Democrats stood on principle and worked together to move the state forward with tax, education, environmental, and judicial reform. Dyckman discussed how the well got poisoned by lobbyists and other non-native species, and he offered some sensible steps toward returning to the spirit of yesteryear.
       James Clark (Presidents in Florida) returned us to the lighter side of politics. U.S. presidents have come to the Sunshine state as tourists, sportsmen, invaders, vote seekers, and election manipulators. George Washington failed to enlist Florida as the 14th and 15th colonies. Warren Harding played golf in Miami Beach with an elephant as caddy. Herbert Hoover held a fishing record and complained about Al Capone's noisy parties. Richard Nixon was the world's worst fisherman, but his "Southern White House" was on Key Biscayne, and he did us the big favor of blocking plans for moving MIA into the Everglades.
               —Bob Morison

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:30 PM

       This was the event to end all events. A beautiful poetry reading by Campbell McGrath, Kevin Young, Richard Blanco, and Dana Gloia. Young dealt us pork and pain. McGrath bathed us in banana and creatures from the bay. Blanco showed us the shame in Legos, and Gioa recited his classic verse with effortless style.
       I was in poetry heaven. These guys wove such beautiful pieces out of everyday objects, unthinkable pain, and all the usual poetry stuff. But the coolest part, I thinkand this is the case with each reading I attendwas that these guys, as talented and amazing as they are, are just regular human beings. It's nice to be reminded that these demigods of language aren't demigods at all. With hard work and dedication to the craft, even a young poet from Alabama can spread beautiful language throughout the world one day.
               Ashley M. Jones

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:28 PM

       A non-contentious debate over being labeled a genre writer ensues between Smith and Han. "You're looking at YA as an age level, whereas I look at it as a genre," says Smith. "I have a problem with people calling me a Young Adult author simply because my protagonist is sixteen. I think my books belong in the S-section, for Smith."
                  —Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:20 PM

       The first place I headed to once I got into the Book Fair was to the Mystery Writers of America Panel with Joseph Kanon, Susan Isaacs and James Hall. On my way up to Room 8302, I rode the elevator. There were at least twelve people crammed in there. I offered to take the next ride up, but people moved aside to let me in. Campbell McGrath was pressed hard against the wall, next to Dana Gioia, but the mood in the lift was convivial despite the compressed poets. I would have liked to have gone to that poetry reading, but until cloning technology improves, I'm stuck doing one event at a time.
               —Jan Becker


Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian discuss their book Burn for Burn. Photo, Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:23 PM

       Jenny Han, Co-author of Burn for Burn, on being labeled a YA author: "I don't mind the YA label. YA is about firsts and experiencing things for the first time and that's what I like to write about."
                   —Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:15 PM

       Singer-guitarist at the crossroads of the Fair2nd Ave. and 4th St.has a marvelous voice and wide repertoire. Traded a good seat at my next-destination author session for the chance to stop and listen.
               —Bob Morison

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:12 PM

       With a title like Vagina: A New Biography, I expected Naomi Wolf's talk to be a lot more exciting. Like, the vagina throughout history. Where did this thing come from? Who invented it? Instead, it's more like a how-to course for men covering tips like dim lighting, light stroking and seduction. I'm disappointed. Vagina, the book, sounds dry.
                  —Esther Martinez

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:12 PM

       I usually take the Tri-rail to the Book Fair from Broward County. The trip takes me about three hours by train (or did last year). This year, in an attempt to get over my fear of parking near MDC, I drove. The traffic was not bad, and I arrived in under an hour. I found a spot right away, even though I got in around noon when it was starting to get busy. There is a free garage, but I just grabbed the first spot I could find. If you do come to the Book Fair and park in a pay lot, make sure the person who takes your money is legitimate and more importantly, gives you a receipt. I heard from a friend that someone parked in a paid lot and gave money to a person he thought was a lot attendant. Whoever took the money was a scam artist and when the car owner returned to his car, there was a boot attached to the tire, and a $90 removal fee attached to the boot.
               Jan Becker

Saturday, Nov. 17, 11:56 AM

      "If you want a woman to have sex with you for the rest of your life, you have to be nice to her...Female Viagra is good conversation and help with the dishes... If you want a woman to love you for the rest of your life, you have to seduce her again and again." Naomi Wolf dishes out relationship advice that we've all heard before, but she's got the science to back it up.
                —Annik Adey-Babinski

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 11:55 AM

       Sold myself as advertising space. The friendly folks at the booth promoting the Key West Literary Seminar gave me a tasteful and sturdy KWLS hat on condition that I wear it around (in place of my trusty Doc Ford's hat procured while at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference). 2013 KWLS sessions are Jan. 10-13 and 17-20, the theme "Writers on Writers." Probably chosen for hat duty because I'm tall, but I drew the line at getting on stilts.
                —Bob Morison

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:50 AM

       In Vagina: A New Biography, Naomi Wolf shares a new discovery in human sexuality that found a profound connection between the vagina and the brain. Although the public has long accepted that other parts of the body have a symbiotic relationship with brain function, such as the digestive system and the heart, Wolf explains that she has received backlash over her popularization of this fact, because it challenges our current perception of sexuality. When a woman's sexuality is actively, healthfully functioning, Wolf reports, her dopamine rises. Dopamine controls confidence, and the drive to achieve. She attributes the targeting, mutilation and mocking of female sexuality which has occurred over the last five thousand years to this phenomenon; it was understood by society, however subconsciously, that an attack on female sexuality was an attack on the female brain. Wolf suggests that validating women's sexuality and desire will raise women's power and effectiveness in the world.
                —Annik Adey-Babinski

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:46 AM

       I'm in the Friends of the Fair hospitality room in Bulding 3, where generous Book Fair donors can watch the CSPAN live-feed from Chapman while eating lunch.  Sitting at little round tables, couples are munching their sandwiches and listening impassively to Naomi Wolf's description of scientific studies of what arouses a woman. At my table, two men are grinning.
               —Lynne Barrett

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:45 AM
       Naomi Wolf expresses her delight at saying 'vagina,' 'penis' and 'clitoris' on CSPAN, which is broadcasting her lecture.
               —Annik Adey-Babinski

Naomi Wolf presenting in Chapman. Photo, Annik Adey-Babinski

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:36 PM

       Andrew Smith opens the Darker Worlds panel with a discussion on the pitfalls of being labeled as a YA author. "I have a problem with people saying this book is for a certain group of people. I write for people who like to read novels. My readership is readers."
               —Ed Irvin


Author Andrew Smith discussing his work during the Darker Worlds panel. Photo, Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012  11:35 AM

       Building Three, Chapman Auditorium: Naomi Wolf begins by telling the audience that she wrote Vagina: A New Biography because she found that western society's understanding of female sexuality was 40 years out of date.
               —Annik Adey-Babinsky
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:30 AM editor John Hogan discussed Michael Goodwin's graphic novel, Economix, in a panel called "Show me the Money, Comics." While Goodwin diplomatically avoided offending any one side of the economic situation, he answered Hogan straightforwardly when asked why he chose the graphic novel format to speak about the American economy. Did Goodwin worry about whether the tone could convey the gravitas of the situation? "Actually, the format kept me from saying, 'Oh God, everything sucks.'"
               —Marci Calabretta
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:24 AM

      Siobhan Vivian, co-author of Burn for Burn, comparing stories of name butcherings, says her college writing professor took to calling her Soybean because that's what Microsoft Word auto-corrected her name to.
                —Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:20 AM

       Wolfson's Latin Jazz Band was swingin. Sweet, sweet, swingin. 
               —Ashley M. Jones

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:06 AM

       Building One Auditorium. Martin Amis begins his reading with a satirical reflection on Mitt Romney's recent Presidential campaign. Amis expresses his regret that Clint Eastwood "mumbled on" for so long during the Republican National Convention, which meant that Romney was unable to answer what Amis claims "We've all been wondering: is Mitt Romney the kind of guy you want to have a glass of water with? And the answer to that question is no." Amis goes on to suggest that Romney resembles a religious porn star.
               Annik Adey-Babinski

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:03 AM

       The Mystery Writers of America panel were all business. At least, they were until they became mystery writers. The panel, held in what the moderator called "the recovery room," featured three members from the association: James Grippando, Jeffrey Siger, and Sharon Potts. All three members were "over-educated lawyers and business people who have fallen upon hard times as writers."
       That seemed to be the theme of the discussion, which started with Grippando who "fell off the wagon" when he quit being a lawyer, but then wrote 20 novels. His bestseller, Need You Now, is a story of "greed on a Wall Street scale," which he revealed was inspired by his work on one of the first cases filed against Bernie Madoff.
       Jeff Siger, who also decided to "make no money" by becoming a novelist after having been a lawyer, was validated in his decision with his first book, for which a reviewer lauded him because he "would not write fluff." From this experience, he learned two rules about writing: 1. Tell the story how it needs to be told, and 2. Don't take cheap shots. His second book, he told us, got him labeled "prophetic" because it predicted the economic problems in Greece.
       "Countess" Sharon Potts was the "token CPA" of the panel who recently became the Florida chapter president of the Mystery Writers of America "much to her surprise." On switching from her profession as a CPA to that of being a writer: "Obviously you're not wondering why I gave it up," she said. "No one was ever looking for a CPA to write a novel," a truth proven by her troubles getting her first book published. Potts stuck with it, though, and after eight years, eight manuscripts, and 64 rejections, got In Their Blood in print. "There's a big difference in telling a story and writing one a publisher wants to pick up," she said. Then she explained the birth of her latest, The Devil's Madonna, which was inspired by her mother-in-law's acting career in Nazi Germany. From the knowledge of that career came several "what if" questions for Potts, which grew into a mystery novel that many loved but many hated (due to its "very disturbing plot twist and ending").
     The panelists were asked whether they get bored with serial characters, which meshed with a discussion of big time novelists who have teams of writers and the idea of writers as a brand. (Grippando is going to give a talk at an IP law convention soon about the topic.) All of this discussion about the business of writing mystery novels highlighted the mystery of what makes a good mystery at all, until Grippando shared the question that his readers were most concerned about: "Is [the main character of his series] ever going to meet the right woman or not?"
       They were also asked whether they wished they'd gotten an MFA. Grippando said that becoming a writer was a dream, not a goal. Potts explained that had she had an MFA, she could have done what she did in six years in two: find out what goes in a novel. Siger said that he used to want to be a forest ranger, so being a novelist did not immediately occur to him. When it did, he saw his high school classmate, John Edgar Wideman, read something he had written and thought, "I can never write like that," and gave up. That is, until now.
               —Sarah L. Mason

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 11:00 AM

       I really was going to start Book Fair weekend on a highbrow note, but the session on Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars was moved from 10:00 to noon. So I took a 180-degree turn and joined the Chapman hoi polloi for Dave Barry and The Onion guys (good name for a rock band, btw). Organizers long ago learned to schedule Dave to draw an early crowd to the Fair. Actually, I hoi polloi'd from a safe distance, watching the proceedings on closed circuit in the Friends of the Fair lounge on the first floor of Bldg 3.
       Seth Reiss and Will Tracy went first, reading and discussing entries from The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia Of Existing Information (hereafter "The Book"). Important corollary is that anything not in The Book by definition does not exist. For example, there is no entry for "Dave Barry." Ergo, Dave Barry does not exist—he is a figment of our imaginations or some sort of holographic thingamabob. Entries were selected at random by the audience, though I suspect the first, "Millard Fillmore," was a plant. Turns out The Book is meticulous in including all U.S. Presidents, no matter how obscure, except that they forgot Dwight Eisenhower. Ike, therefore, didn't exist.
       "Miami" is a North American city that is clean and sober for going on six weeks now, but its formerly drug-addled condition leaves it unable to recall most of its important events.
       "Economics" is the science of explaining where all the money went.
       "Sexual reproduction" is the process whereby men create smaller men with the help of an intermediary.
       "Donald Trump" does not exist, so they read the entry for "A**hole."
        Dave opened by paying The Book his highest compliment—he keeps it near his lone remaining non-low-flow toilet (he's got to put this toilet business behind him). He took us through a deja vu all over again rendition of Florida's recent election follies. You can't say "Florida" without a "duh." Then he offered exegesis of his recent book, Lunatics, about soccer parents, and his forthcoming novel, Insane City, about the dark side of Miami as a wedding venue. And for the benefit of those who are newly clean and sober, he gave a refresher course on recent South Florida history: the homeless guy who gnawed another guy's face, the phony cosmetic surgeon who over-inflated derrieres with Tire Fix-It, and the contestant who died following his victory in a cockroach eating contest.
       I'd worry that Dave is giving the region a bad name, except of course that he doesn't exist.
               —Bob Morison

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 10:30 AM

       Kill Shakespeare! Those are the first words to which my engineer boyfriend Adam was attracted when we arrived at the Book Fair (other than "ham and cheese croissant"). He beelined to the colorful table and picked up a book with a quill pen drawn on the cover, and we were greeted by Conor McCreery's friendly, "Hello! Do you like graphic novels?" Both Adam and I are fairly indifferent, and I think Conor could tell, but he didn't miss a beat. He launched into a description of the graphic novel series he co-created with Anthony Del Col, Kill Shakespeare, stories in which Shakespeare's characters come to life and hunt an evil wizard, Shakespeare himself. The story all sounds very interesting and seems like a fun way to experience time-honored characters in a new light.
       Conor and co. are entrepreneurial Canadian folks making a small empire out of their controversial idea and seeming to have fun along the way. Apparently some Shakespearian scholars and thespians were not pleased with the novel's existence and have been pretty vocal about it. Regardless, the guys kept the ball rolling and have moved their story into other creative venues. One of the most intriguing (to me) is the radio-style reading that they organized with a group of actors during which video of the story line plays behind them while they say the lines. They incorporate theatrical sounds (Monty Python style, with coconuts for the horse-trot sound!) and sometimes even include the audience in the noisemaking. They give the audience silverware (and waivers, of course) and tell them to clack it together during battle scenes so the sound surrounds them.
       Kill Shakespeare are working on a cell phone app and the third novel in the series. They're building a following that includes people who were never into graphic novels before, and some of those new fans ask, "Why did the book end on a cliffhanger?" Those newbs to the genre (I might be in that category...) were unaware of the tendency of graphic novels and comics to be part of a series, but since they were attracted to reading about Shakespeare, they learned that about the genre. The multi-dimensional project is in the process of being tranposed into a tablet app that could be used in schools "to help students see that Shakespeare made up some pretty cool characters, and hopefully convince the students to like the characters first and then tackle the language."
       I saw Kill Shakespeare as a happy meeting of two very different genres and hope Conor and his cohorts continue to develop creative ways to get classic characters into a larger audience's knowledge base.
               —Sarah L. Mason

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 10:30 AM

       So Spoke the Earth: Giving Haiti Voice with Joanne Hyppolite, Edwidge Danticat, Lillane Nerette-Louis, Mahalia Solages, Chantelle Francesca Verna, and Marie Ketsia Theodore-Pharel. Moderated by M.J. Fievre. What I learned about Haitian women writers from attending this panel discussion:  They are proud of their heritage and culture. If your family owns a goat, don't grow attached to it—especially if they're about to prepare dinner. They have a great sense of humor. They are concerned about the future of their people and country. They are charming and appreciative of their audience. They are story writers and story tellers. They are cross generational, ages ranged from mid-twenties to mid-eighties. Their writing is sometimes nostalgic, sometimes amusing, sometimes despairing, sometimes hopeful, but always powerful.
                —Louis K. Lowy

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012,10:20 AM

        My sister and I were up early and ready to see some flamenco dancing, courtesy of Ballet Flamenco La Rosa at the World Stage. Although it took a while for the group to assemble, we were happy just listening to the Michael Jackson tracks they played while we waited. Speaking of we—we were the only people in the audience for quite a while. It was almost 10:30 by the time the emcee annoucned the dancers, and the crowd was pretty sparse until about halfway through the performance. But it was worth the wait, for sure. I love flamenco music, but I'd never heard it live. The sound of the guitar was just zesty enough to compliment the singers raspy, round voice. And, although I would have gladly sat there just listening to the music, the dancers made the performance even better! A chorus of dancers kept the beat with perfectly timed claps as the featured dancers stomped and swayed to the guitar's steady rhythm. One dancer in particular amazed us allas evidenced by our woops and loud applauseI guess I should have known she'd break the house down by her shoe choice alone. Folks who wear red shoes are usually just a little bit spicier than those who choose black. Her passion was evident by her facial expression, posture, and meaningful stomps and skirt twirls. By the end of her performance, the whole audience was clapping in time, imagining themselves on stage with that glorious guitar and singer, stepping and throwing flowing skirts to the wind.
                —Ashley M. Jones

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 10:03 AM

       Seeing that my biggest peeve the last two years at the book fair has been people coming into sessions late, I've decided to forgo the Dave Barry panel. Wouldn't want to make a hypocrite out of myself.
               —Ed Irvin

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 9:30 AM

       Preliminary walk around the Book Fair grounds:

       New Building 8 houses the Paraguay (this year's featured country) exhibit and a bunch of session venues, eliminating the need for those tents with the deafening air conditioningbig improvement!
       The Antiquarian Annex list is down to three booksellers in the program (but a couple more were in the row in Area C). Having lost its inside location several years ago, the AA has almost lost its identity as a feature of the Fair. With Leedy's a no-show, my serious book browsing opportunities are curtailed.
       Things are hopping already in Children's Alley.
       Joining arepas and lemonade in the ranks of umbrella'd carts are Target (major Book Fair sponsor) "beauty" stations. Fairgoers are beautiful to begin with.
       Miami Culinary Institute seems to have taken over some of the catering, and they now run the only beer-and-wine station (in the Food Court). Food in the Friends room has been upgraded a notch.
               —Bob Morison

Friday, Nov. 16, 2:30 PM

       Looking for a friend who wandered off. Stopped to watch a percussion troop in traditional African garb crescendo to the end of their song. Their drumming got louder and more intricate. It sounded like they were in front of me, beside me, and behind me. Children with painted faces danced around in the audience and people stopped to see. Realized they were all women. Very, very cool.
       UPDATE: The all-female percussion group is Nimbaya! from Guinea.
                  -Sarah L. Mason

Friday, Nov. 16, 12:10 PM
       Greek Flame Foods is serving dangerously delicious lamb gyros. They are worth the entire $8. The man behind the four-foot bowl of shaved lamb handed me a big fat gyro smothered in tzatziki and said, "Yes, enjoy," nodding his head because he knew he had handed me exactly what I needed.
While I scarfed down my gyro, I watched the four-piece Wolfson Jazz Ensemble on the World Stage tucked in the corner of the food area. They played smooth versions of popular covers and some songs that I did not recognize. We were told that one of the musicians had a baby on the way.
                    Sarah L. Mason


Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 11:00 AM

       So I didn't make it far. I walked into the book fair and the first thing I saw was a sign that read, "Hardcover books $2, All others $1," a great deal from the Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library. In a well-organized tent, they had books lined up and classified as "Hardcover," "Classics," "Popular," and "Spanish." I expected to see a lot of names of authors I didn't know, names of authors I did know and might not like, or perhaps some obscure gardening books, but the Friends of the MDPC did a really great job getting their hands on some legitimately covetable used books. They had literature like Faulkner, Gogol, and Marquez, popular novels that had been made into movies in the past few years, like Savages and the Other Boleyn Girl, as well as popular books from series-novelists like James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell. They only had three shelving units, but an industrious volunteer re-stocked the shelves as soon as a customer stepped into the check-out line.
While there, after getting shoved out of the way (twice) by another eager peruser's humongous purse, I overheard a conversation between two women about some other used books tables. One, the woman reported, had poetry books and a larger selection of fiction. All of the books there were $1, even the hardcovers. Another had more hardcovers but were more expensive. Another had signed books. Apparently the Book Fair is the place to stock up.
       I watched a charming older man stand in the corner and read a book, leaning all of his weight on one foot and pointing the toes of his other foot toward the ground. He stood that way for a while and finally made the decision to purchase the book that had so engulfed him. After seeing him move toward the line, I gave into my fear that all the good ones would be gone and snagged five new books (one's a Christmas present!), even though I plan to be here for the majority of the day.
                 -Sarah L. Mason

Friday, Nov. 11, 10:11 AM

       I'd like to comment on the awesomeness of free parking. We all know driving in Miami isn't very fun and parking is a pain in the patoot, so after making it off the Biscayne exit (off 95) to the tune of three different angry 18-wheeler honks, remembering that I can park for free was a relief. If you didn't notice it on the program, there is free parking in the MDC Wolfson campus parking garage off 5th and 6th Streets. I told the guy standing in the middle of the entry lane that I was there for the book fair and he handed me a piece of paper for my dashboard and said, "Anywhere parking, free parking." Great words to start the day. It's gonna be like that 'til the end of the event!
             -Sarah L. Mason

Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 10:05 PM
       From the title of his new book, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, you probably wouldn't peg Adam Gopnik for a numbers guy. But one of his two favorite genres to read is sports statistics (the other is philosophy, which seems to me a natural companion in forlorn sports towns). And he spent much of Thursday's "Evenings With ..." session enumerating.
       Four ways fiction writers use food: 1) mentioned as detail but not really tasted, 2) served to reveal a character's taste, 3) served so the author can dine vicariously, and 4) cooked for the character but served to the reader.
       Three keys to a lasting relationship, or the three L's: lust, laughter, and loyalty. Be sure to get them in the right order.
       Two things never to do when writing about food: 1) write too much about the food, and 2) use the word "gustatory," "gastronomy," or "gourmet."
       One main message from his book—mouth taste and moral taste are intimately and inextricably linked. We really are and believe in what we eat and serve.
       Instead of reading from the book, Gopnik told part of its story, with charming tangents along the way. The theme was compromise. You adamantly prefer your meat rare, I prefer mine well done, but we can both can begin our orders with the preface "medium"—and eventually agree on braising.
       Good questions from the audience took him in many directions. The real difference between France and the U.S.? "France has a culture of pleasure without guilt. Americans feel guilty about everything, especially pleasure." Abraham Lincoln was defined less by compromise or coopting the competition (as per Team of Rivals) than by selective confrontation—Obama, take notice. And Manhattan's marvelous Asian-Jewish-fusion deli is at 77th and 2nd.
       This was my first taste of this year's Book Fair, and my mouth is watering for more.
               —Bob Morison
Thursday, Nov. 15, 8:35 PM
       Gopnik told the story of his grandfather, who entered Ellis Island at 12 and has continued to live in "this country" eating his wife's cooking. He always told Adam that his name in the old country translated as "Lucy," and an official changed it to Ellis after the island. "Why he didn't change Gopnik too while he was at it, I'l never know." Adam's daughter visited Ellis Island many years later, and discovered the manifest for the ship her great-grandfather had been on. Sure enough, there he was: Ana Gopnik. He had forgotten his own name in the old country.
       This same grandfather wanted to ask Adam a question because "you're a literary guy." He waited for the question in trepidation. Was this going to be a dark health question? An awkward sexual one?
       "I have never understood what people mean by 'You can't have your cake and eat it too.' What else would you do with your cake?"
       Gopnik realized what a "waspy" idiom that was because to Americans, the idea of ingesting something means losing it, rather than taking pleasure in it. This was something his grandfather, having derived his morality of food from the old country and his wife's cooking, could never really understand.
               —Marci Calabretta
Thursday, Nov. 15, 8:14 PM
       Adam Gopnik illuminates the evening with stories rather than excerpts: "I feel writers are often poor representatives of their book and the most fun is in the Q & A anyway."
               —Marci Calabretta
Thursday, Nov. 15, 8:11 PM
       The author T.D. Allman, introducing Adam Gopnik, noted an interesting fact to whet our appetites: Gopnik sprinkled recipes throughout his book. Allman recalled that his first encounter with a recipe in fiction was in The Iliad, in which Homer had written a recipe for barbecue. My Homer is rusty. Somebody look that up.
                —Marci Calabretta

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 8:45 PM
       Jeffrey Toobin’s discussion of his latest book, The Oath: The Obama White House vs the Supreme Court, began right after the crowd for the Evening with Drs. Brian and Amy Weiss let out. Toobin is a legal analyst and reporter for CNN and The New Yorker. The room was filled with attendees, many who stayed in their seats during the intermission between events. Antonio Mora, CBS 4 Miami’s evening news anchor and a personal friend of Toobin, led the discussion, which, when focused, covered the recent history of the Supreme Court and where the court is headed in the near future.
       Like Roberts and Obama, Toobin attended Harvard Law School. One of his study partners was Elena Kagan, who later became the 112th Supreme Court Justice and fourth female to serve on the high court. Toobin spoke highly of Kagan, though he noted her interest in hunting was a bit odd given what he knows of her, “Who knew she liked to shoot small animals?” He laughed. Mora and Toobin discussed some of the famous people they knew before moving the discussion to more serious matters, “Oprah is the best,” said Toobin, “when she walks into a room, things just stop.And, “The problem with Wolf is that he loves to see himself on television more than anyone else does.”
        “Oprah used to work out in the same gym I went to in Chicago with Barack, I mean President Obama,” Mora answered, “she didn’t exactly look her best then.”
        “Yes, but that was never her most successful endeavor,” Toobin answered.
       The relationship between Obama and Roberts, Toobin claims, has been contentious since before either man held their current office. It all began back when George HW Bush nominated Roberts for the Supreme Court position, and Obama, then a senator from Illinois, voted against his confirmation. It wasn’t an easy decision for Obama, Toobin claims. Obama actually agonized about it, unlike the majority of Democrats who automatically voted against Roberts based solely on party politics.
        While researching for the book, Toobin says he was surprised to discover that when looking at the two men, one an agent of change, one an agent of tradition, he found that the country’s perceptions of the two men are quite different than the reality. Roberts, not Obama, is the more progressive of the two men, because his conservative agenda is at odds with an establishment that is liberal dating back to the court appointments of the 1970s.
        Toobin also noted, and I found this most troubling, that party politics is inextricable from constitutional law. Our justices, he said, were initially granted life terms by the US Constitution, because most people only lived to be around 50 years old. Right now, Toobin says, there are four justices in their 70s who are measuring when to retire not on their ability to perform the job, but on who might be nominated to fill a vacancy and whether they are conservative or liberal. Because of these political considerations, the court has been a 5-4 liberal/conservative court for over 25 years.
        Toobin thinks the next few cases the court hears will be big ones. Two concern the issue of gay marriage. Even deciding which of these to hear may be a political matter. The Defense of Marriage Act, which is on appeal to the court, concerns the Federal Government’s recognition of gay marriages in states where it is already legal. Toobin thinks this will be overthrown, and the court will rule in favor of forcing the government to recognize state law in regard to marriage. The more interesting case may be California’s Proposition 8 case. In the case of Prop 8, at stake is whether homosexuals have the fundamental civil right to marry. In this case, Toobin thinks the court may back away from a decision, because they would have to then tell, “a bunch of people in Alabama and Utah” that they have to recognize gay marriage in places where it is currently not a legal option for same sex couples.
        Just when things got serious, the event was opened to audience questions. The woman who had her mike cut off during the Weiss Q&A asked Toobin what he planned to do to stop the coming global war. She was close to having her mike cut off again, when Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books, who co-sponsors the event and is, in my opinion, an omnipresent übermensch, stepped in and ushered her back so Toobin could say his peace.
        “You seem to have an exaggerated sense of my ability to do anything, Ma’am,” Toobin responded. The audience applauded with vigor.
               —Jan Becker
Drs. Brian and Amy Weiss. Photo, Jan Becker
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 7:45 PM
       The volunteers at the Book Fair have a rough job herding the audience into their seats before each event. As I entered Chapman Auditorium for the Evening with Drs. Brian and Amy Weiss, I asked one of the volunteers where I should sit. He answered, "I don't care where you sit, as long as you don't run nobody over." Looking around, I could see this might be a bit of a concern. The room was packed and the volunteers were very busy, trying to make sure all of the seats filled in an orderly fashion.
       The two speakers for the evening, Drs. Brian and Amy Weiss, are clinical psychiatrists who practice past-life regression, but judging from the tenor of the crowd, one might believe they were in the presence of a mystic guru with magical properties. People were excited. It felt a little like a tent-revival with all the discussions around me of life-altering revelations and epiphanies. The father and daughter pair came to the Book Fair to discuss their latest book, Miracles Happen, a compilation of case studies taken from 32 years of practicing past-life regression therapy. Brian Weiss came into the past-life regression business by accident, when he was treating a patient, “Catherine”  who had an anxiety condition. He was using regressive hypnosis to find the source of her fears when,  woops, she slipped into a past life. After describing details of that past life, Catherine’s symptoms began to improve, and Weiss found the source of anxiety was not rooted in her present incarnation. Weiss, who describes himself as a left-brained academic, and who studied at Columbia and Yale Medical School, was stunned when, after further regression, the patient slipped into a space between lives and began to tell him details from his own present life that she could not possibly know, troubling specific details about his young son who died in a drowning accident. Even stranger, his daughter, Amy, who co-edited Miracles Happen, and was a toddler at the time, came running up to him one afternoon when he came home from work, wrapped her arms around his legs and exclaimed, “Daddy, I’ve loved you for over 40,000 years!”
       Brian Weiss says the experiences his patients have are “not magic. It’s therapy.” I am not sure the audience agreed completely. During the Q&A session, the first question came from a woman who wanted to know what Dr. Brian Weiss thought about the conflict between Western religions’ views of death and how it conflicted with the more Eastern notion of reincarnation. The woman then claimed that what the Weisses were teaching was dangerous, because there is a global war coming and we have to be prepared. That the “finite cannot define the infinite.” The woman was getting pretty upset and the fair volunteers had to cut off her microphone after a certain point, so that Dr. Weiss could answer.
       Brian Weiss’ answer was that this conflict she was speaking of is a misconception, that reincarnation appears in all religions, globally, that it is not limited to Eastern thought, and that he doesn’t so much proselytize a gospel of past-life therapy as observe and facilitate an exploration for his patients. He went on to explain that in the study of quantum physics, scientists are finding that our universe contains an infinite number of parallel universes and dimensions that are connected, that we never really die, because we are never really born.
       When asked about the idea of hell, Weiss explained that he had only ever run into hell during a regression once, in a patient who was a Catholic lawyer (this was met with laughter from the audience) who went into the space between lives and it was filled with the classical devil and pitchfork imagery, but nothing happened to him. He wasn’t tortured. After waiting there for some time, a figure, who the patient took to be Jesus, walked up to the man and said it was all an illusion, that everything, except love was an illusion. The audience responded with cheers.
       Dr. Brian Weiss has a website,, where anyone interested can go and try a past life regression for themselves online. He will also be holding a workshop in Fort Lauderdale in February with Hay House. More information about the workshops is available on his website.
                  —Jan Becker

Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 9:22 PM
        Because today has not been a good day, I considered not attending the Evening With Sandra Cisneros, but I am so glad I did. When she walked on stage, I knew right away this was not my typical author-visits-college-to-impart-literary-wisdom-to-aspiring-writers sort of reading. This was a cozy, exciting conversation. Cisneros brought a green Frida Kahlo tote bag on stage, which oddly complimented her sea-green dress with an under-ruffle of maroon and then green again, black stockings, beige suede shoes. Swanky. She got the audience comfortable and then said she was going to read a story about her deceased mother to whom she had built an altar of "Dumbo statues next to French plates and political pins." This story was part of her altar-building: "Ofrenda for My Mother."
       She prefaced the story with a warning: "Now, when I read my story, I don't want to hear you call it magic realism...I don't call your religion magic realism. This is my religion." I was immediately struck by two things: her voicewhich can only be described as cute but self-assured with rounded, precise articulations and firmness—and her rich language. She described art as flags fluttering on the corner of a rooftop, "mangoes sliced like roses and served on a stick," "wife kills husband and serves his head in tacos" (a true headline, she said). But beneath this language is both lamentation and respect for a mother who creeps into her writing, she said, because she died without reaching her full potential, remembering only what she had not accomplished rather than what she had. A professedly difficult relationship with her mother seems to be reconciled in Cisneros' prose.
       Cisneros read Have You Seen Marie? in its entirety, which took only about twenty minutes. This was written for adults she said (OK, but why are there pictures?) although children seem to really like it (Why wouldn't they? The pictures are beautiful). So instead of reverting back to my child-self, I tried to stay an adult as I listened to her read, although the very act of listening to someone read a story is childlike in itself.
       The book follows the narrator, a fifty-three-year-old woman who helps her friend Roz search the neighborhood for her black-and-white cat. The book is comprised of a series of questions and responses. "'We haven't seen nothin',' they said. But I knew they had seen a lot." Indeed, the story is layered with a sense of loss: loved ones, lifetimes, pets. 
       "'I'm so sorry, honey,' Beverly said and hugged Roslin. I felt like asking for a hug too." About halfway through the story, so did I. At one point, I stopped taking notes. I had put my fourteen-year-old dog down earlier this afternoon, after having spent the more memorable twelve years with her. Listening to a story about searching for a lost pet was almost too much for me in certain moments. Coupling the day's event with Cisneros' reading, I felt like terrible understanding had bloomed in my body, the human weightiness of living and losing something precious, the agonizing search for peace. "I'm afraid. I'm alone. I have never lived on this earth without you," the narrator says when addressing her mother vicariously through the missing cat, Marie. "Here I am, mija," say the river and trees and clouds and birds. "Here I am, mija," say both mother and cat.
               —Marci Calabretta
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 7:52 PM 
      I've been hearing about Sandra Cisneros and her House on Mango Street since moving down to Miami. OK, she's highly influential for Latin-American writers, but I've never heard of her in my small Asian-dominated hometown in New York. OK, she's got a new book out, Have You Seen Marie? Sounds like a children's book.
       This year, I've been so excited to represent FBR with my very first Media pass that I got to the auditorium an hour early to check in. Not even the bookseller had set up yet, but already there were Friends of the Book Fair lining up and talking to the security guard. Security guard. Whoa. I don't remember those being so noticeably there last year.
       I wandered around the Miami Dade College campus, telling myself I would remember the layout of the Book Fair for the weekend (uh-huh), and finally circled back to poke at the books being laid out. I'm not sure if booksellers like their merchandise being perused before they've made their beautifully stacked displays, but there I was, the only Media person not pressing against the auditorium door.
       (Aha. House on Mango Street. Hm. What a thin book. Oh—what's this? Chapters that look like—poetry? Boundary-crosser! How exciting! OK, calm yourself. You're a profesional this week. New book: Have You Seen Marie? Illustrated by Ester this a children's book? Definitely. Has to be. How prolific and daring for Ms. Cisneros to venture from poetic prose to children's books. Not to belittle them—I love them, read them, am still hunting for an uncrayoned version of Drummer Hoff—but I'm thinking of the intellectual difference between text-only and illustrated books: Gaston asking Belle, "How can you read this? There's no pictures in it?" I did my research. Amazon called this new book a "deeply moving tale of loss, grief, and healing." But how believable is that?)
       I stood at the book table, perplexed, until I felt I could politely relinquish this new little navy book with pictures and scurry into the safety of the auditorium. What sort of author am I in for? No serious, brow-furrowing stern woman, for sure.
               —Marci Calabretta

Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 9:00 PM
       Everybody knows Junot Diaz is a cool cat. A slick dude, a sharp-talker. He’s also a literary superstar. Mix brilliance with sly wit and you’ve got a fantastic reading.
       Tonight, Junot Diaz made an evening stop at the Miami Book Fair. At 6:45 pm, the Dominican-American writer sauntered up to stage wearing a faded red t-shirt and glasses. Diaz casually leaned on the podium, scanned the crowd and said, “It’s great you all came out here. It’s Monday…and you’ve got plenty of shit to do on Monday.” Diaz is the sort of writer you can listen to for hours. He breezily chatted about everything from the election, fans who take too long posing for pictures (guilty), the Latinos in Miami and his alma mater Rutgers University. Diaz riffed, cussed and scored numerous laughs from his adorers. He even gave the crowd a run-down of the night. “Here’s how we do it,” He said. “I read, you ask questions, I read. That's it. Let’s go, yeah?” Junot Diaz, genius writer and homeboy, didn’t bring a copy of his own book. He prepared to read his first story from a cellphone, but an audience member donated a copy. (Who wouldn’t?) Somehow, Junot Diaz’s forgetfulness made him seem that much cooler.
       Diaz read "Wildwood," a story published in the New Yorker in 2007. The heartwrenching piece is about cancer, a young girl coming into her own as a woman, and it's about huge mom-breasts. The boob parts got the heartiest laughs. Understandably. After the boobs, Junot moved into a thought provoking and entertaining Q and A.  An audience member behind me whispered, “Man, he’s like a comedian.” Indeed. Junot drew laughs from his swooning crowd, but he also threw out frequent nuggets of profundity. He explained why he would not be doing the Gangnam style dance on YouTube (“I’ve filled my quota of ridiculo this week”) and why his books are peppered with hip Spanish slang.  “Unintelligibility is important.” Diaz said, “You can’t understand everything in life. Life is largely unintelligible. We mostly don’t understand anything, and we understand less than we think we understand. The techniques we find in books remind us that in the real world anything that is realistic is also unintelligible.” That’s Diaz for you. He treats his audience like they are scholars and just a pal down the block. Diaz went on to address how men never see women as full human beings, and how female authors are superior at writing in the male voice. After a few more questions, Diaz finished off the event with "Alma," a story from his newest collection This Is How You Lose Her.
       You can’t go wrong with a Junot Diaz reading. He reads like talks, he stimulates your mind, he’s just a rad guy. The last time I met Diaz, at the Coral Gables reading in September, I reverted into creepy groupie mode. I introduced myself as “Bleh-nifer-Mc-bleh”, to which he responded, “Are you all right sweetheart? Calm down. It’s just me.”  Diaz has an effect on people. (And not just me when I freak out.) The crowd loved him, laughed with him, connected with him like he was an old buddy. My feelings about tonight’s reading are similar to that of my seatmate, a girl who snuck in a Dasani bottle full of vodka. Halfway through the reading she cried, “Junot, Junot! You…are… so good….so great, sooo…soo good...” He is. He really is just that good.
                —Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 5:30 PM
       I'm standing in a line dominated by tousle-headed kids, grandparents with tousle-headed kids, and soccer moms with tousle-headed kids. The antsy kids range in age from seven to fifteen years old. There are about three hundred of us in total. We're waiting to see Lemony Snicket, the elusive author of the multi-volume An Unfortunate Series of Events books, which to date have sold over sixty milllion copies.
       Forty-five minutes later, I'm sitting in the auditorium waiting for the mysterious Mr. Snicket to at last reveal himself to his excited audience when out of the wings a man who resembles a younger (say 40ish) Alfred Hitchcock-type character emerges and informs us that Mr. Snicket cannot attend due to an accident.
      This man goes on to tell a hilariously macabre tale—told mostly deadpan—of how Snicket fell victim to a bat-like creature who bit him in the armpit and Snicket was thus rendered paralyzed from the armpit down.
      According to our narrator, luckily Mr. Snicket declared him the official surrogate for tonight's reading, which our narrator tells us isn't really a reading but a secret meeting. At this secret meeting a group of kids are called on stage to read a note relating to Snicket's new book, Who Could That Be At This Hour. He prompts them through farcical pronunciations that have the crowd in stitches.
      In his droll manner, our substitute refers to a low rumbling sound from his mic as coming from "all those plaintains I ate."
      He perambulates through the aisles reading from the new book and ends the evening by singing "a dreadful song, but a song nonetheless," to his own accompaniment on "an instrument that's been around a thousand years and despised by thousands of people." It's the accordion. He's right; the song is dreadful, though funny. He sings about Snicket's latest release.
      Before the evening comes to an end, Lemony Snicket's proxy informs us that while the author can't make it, he will be happy to sign the book.
      I'm disappointed, but I wait in line anyway to have my first volume of Unfortunate Events signed. The man is very genial. He writes his signature: Daniel Handler. Hmm, I'm going to have to see if he ever wrote anything.
                —Louis K. Lowy

Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, 7:45 PM
       Things are a little different when Tom Wolfe comes to the Book Fair. For example, the stand-by line in the back alley, where they take the people who think they can just walk in without securing a ticket first, fills up.  I know, because I ducked down that alley to have a private moment with my press pass. As soon as the Book Fair employees walked away, a shadowy man appeared and began to scalp tickets to the event. Think about that for a secondscalpers at a book fair. Who could have imagined?
       When Tom Wolfe comes to the Book Fair, the folks with media passes lose their cushy seats and stand in long lines with everyone else.  People fly in from across the country and bring big stacks of books for him to sign. Women wear giant necklaces, and the line hums with discussions about the latest Wolfe Novel, Back to Blood.
       “I heard this book has the filthiest sex yet.”
       “How is that possible? Did you read…”
       When Tom Wolfe comes to the Book Fair, they announce he will sign as many copies of his new book as you buy, but only one of his other books—and he won’t personalize any of them.
       This is not entirely true. When Tom Wolfe signs a book, it’s a work of art. The ‘F’ in Wolfe morphs into a vortex, a swirl, like the cyclone that carried Dorothy away from a bleak landscape, and into a Technicolor world. This is exactly what his books do. The book I asked Wolfe to sign was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the non-fiction account of the time he spent embedded as a journalist with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they drove across America, spreading the gospel of LSD at church basement parties.  For me, reading that account was like opening the front door to Auntie Em’s farmhouse and seeing Oz for the first time. I couldn’t close the door back up after catching a glimpse of the psychedelic landscape Wolfe rendered. I skipped right down his Yellow Brick Road, hand-in-hand with Tom Wolfe’s words.
       The candy-colored land in Tom Wolfe’s latest book is Miami, and not just South Beach and Little Havana. Wolfe went deep into Miami, into the Santeria shops in Hialeah, into Little Haiti and into Overtown.  In doing his research, Wolfe went out with the harbor patrol on an inflatable pontoon boat he describes as like riding a foamy pancake out into the ocean at 45 miles an hour.
       Wolfe came here because he wanted to look at immigration, and Miami, he says, is unique in that in one generation, the entire voting demographic shifted to reflect migration. It also helped that two of his friends, former Miami mayor Manny Diaz and former Miami Chief of Police John Timoney, both emigrated to the United States in 1961. Diaz led the conversation with Wolfe, and they covered a variety of topics, from the plight of working mothers to great country music song titles.
       The idea for the title of this new book Back to Blood is a theory Wolfe has, that the more secular we become as a society, the more we seek to cling to something inalterable to replace the religiosity we are losing. We naturally find groups we can belong to, whether it is a social group, or an ethnic background.  “People think a lot of what they wear,” Wolfe explained, “they need to stay in line.”  Wolfe explained that his own choice of dresshe is known for wearing white suitssets him apart from most people. At this point I laughed to myself. I had calculated my own outfit for the event precisely to impress. I was wearing a brown skirt, orange and brown top, but then, to increase the flair, I donned a purple cardigan. Not the usual color combination, I know. I also knew that I would be standing in line to get my book signed, and I wanted to catch Wolfe’s eye, if only for a second, while I told him how greatly The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test had shaped my own writing.
       Standing there, watching Tom Wolfe sign my book, it was pretty evident he wasn’t paying attention to my outfit at all. I was noting his though. It must have been a long day. The lapels of his white suit were beginning to wrinkle, and his left hand was in a brace. His shirt was sky blue, and he was wearing a white tie with black polka dots. His right hand was busy signing. It made me think of all the books those hands had written and signed over the course of his career.  He was completely engrossed in the process of drawing that vortex in his signature. It was a little like watching one of the witches from MacBeth stirring the cauldron.
       “Wow! “ I finally interjected, pointing at the signed page, “that’s really beautiful.”
       “Yes,” he answered, “it is.” And then Tom Wolfe grinned at me.
               —Jan Becker
(Photos: Tom Wolfe signing, and his signature, Jan Becker)
Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, 4:30 PM
       Last year at the Book Fair, I heard a talk with Pete Hamill, the legendary reporter, who said when he received his first press pass, he slept with it every night for a month. To Hamill, getting his first press pass was the equivalent of going into the trenches. It meant getting out from behind a typewriter and really being wherever things were happening. I understood exactly what Hamill was talking about. When I played Superman with the other kids, I was never interested in donning a cape. I wanted a smart cap with a white card that said PRESS, a notebook, and a retractable pen with medium point black ink.  After listening to Hamill last year, I vowed that if I ever got my first press pass, I too would sleep with it every night for a month.
       I GOT MY FIRST PRESS PASS— for The Florida Book Review, to the Miami Book Fair!
       For the next month, I have a new bedmate. The cat can sleep on the floor.  I’ve been advised that this is a dangerous course to take, that the press pass comes on a lanyard and I might be strangled in my sleep. Don’t worry.  I’ll tuck it in my pillow.  Zzzzzzzzzzzz
                 —Jan Becker
Photo, Jan Becker

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