A Nation of Readers


On Labor Day weekend, I finally got to connect with the mother ship. I went to the United States’ National Book Fair sponsored by the Library of Congress, which is our national library (not just for congress!!). It was amazing. I can’t even fathom the number of authors who were there, let alone the number of readers. The whole bottom level of the venue was filled with sponsor exhibits, children’s spaces, but most interestingly, a parade of states, where representatives shared information about their local books and authors.

The wealth of choice for available events was over the top. I’m sorry to say I didn’t make it to many of the authors I had on my list, including Beth Macy, whose book, Truevine, I just read, Elaine Weiss, RJ Palacio, David McCullough, and Barbara Kingsolver. I also didn’t get in line early enough to see the headliner, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I was very excited to see that a history librarian enjoyed Step Up Books as much as I did when I was little.

I was very excited to see that a history librarian enjoyed Step Up Books as much as I did when I was little.

I did get to see John Scieszka (and learned how to pronounce his name, thank you), David Epstein, and Julia Alvarez. I also heard panels on immigrant literature, disability literature, and reading with children at home.

A hint I learned for next time is that the biggest name authors don’t always have the best presentations, so go ahead and slip into those smaller presentations. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the authors…the interviewers were a bit too starstruck in some cases, and also the venues just get too large. If I had a thousand or more people fawning over me, I wouldn’t know what to do or say either.

I really enjoyed visiting the parade of states and seeing the displays on different state books since regional writing is a big interest of mine. I wish that some of the foreign embassies had sent in displays as well…several embassies (Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, and Peru) helped sponsor the Festival, and of course several of them (obviously) publish original works in English. Over the years, I’ve learned that there are several countries that publish extensively in English even if it isn’t their main language…for example, India. I would love to see an Indian display!

The day was exhausting…my sister in law, a student librarian who I dragged along, and I were there from about 8:45 in the morning until 6 pm. I’m glad it was on the Saturday of a holiday weekend so that I had time to recover, but regardless, it was worth every minute. My only regret was that it wasn’t spread out over two days so that I could see more…but I think I would have just been too worn out anyway. There was just so much to take in that my head was spinning and I had trouble falling asleep that night.

The most amazing part of this whole event is that it is FREE! There is a book sale area (next to the author signing area), but the lines were ridiculously long, and anyway the books were full price. It is perfectly fine to bring in your own copies, purchased elsewhere, for author signing. The food was both overpriced and mediocre, as you normally find in these venues…in the future, I will pack my own food as well (bringing your own food was fine too). There were plenty of water fountains everywhere, so that wasn’t an issue.

I was worried that the whole thing would just be too insane to enjoy: too crowded, people too rude, etc., but the crowds were well managed by the mostly volunteer crew, and book people are pretty nice, even when they are swooning over their heroes! The only thing that got a little nuts was the exhibition/children’s area on the ground floor. I would have liked a parallel area for educators and librarians, but it is what it is. I was glad to see so many different families…and all kinds of families…bringing their kids to this, so I could cope!

This event is our country at its best. I saw all kinds of people: families, retired people, every ethnicity you could imagine…all hanging out together and enjoying this event.

My love for reading is a weird thing. My mom said I would lie in my crib and look at books before I could even sit up, so I know it has nothing to do with anything except something that seems to have been born inside me. I don’t know why. But what is awesome about reading is that as soon as one becomes literate, one can be a part of it. It has very little to do with anything else because unlike anything else, any country that has the means to do so provides its citizens with free reading material on some level. Take a look at your local library and consider how many tax dollars go into that institution. Then think about all the things we don’t spend money on…that’s how much we somehow inherently value reading.

Now, more than ever, our ability to read means that we can always have access to a world beyond ourselves. We are no longer limited by our locations like we once were because of the Internet, digital books and online shopping.

I used to worry that I was going to run out of things to read. Now I worry about dying before I finish reading (which is a lot more realistic).

No matter where you are, no matter who you are, if you dream of reading, please join me.

It was cool to get to see PBS and C-span Book TV broadcasting from the event.

It was cool to get to see PBS and C-span Book TV broadcasting from the event.

Some of the books I have read or are on my to-read list by authors mentioned above: