What authors teach beyond their pages

So… I’ve been remiss in blogging in recent weeks due to the computer issues, but I’ve been remiss in recent months in blogging about some cool readings. Time to fix. (Still working on computer stuff, though.)

1. Gary Shteyngart.

Saw him speak this spring at the Folger and he was very funny. I had forgotten how artists were allowed to be so funny. He did the voices of his characters. He made lots of jokes about his writing technique. He referenced Web amusement, and when I searches, his funny trailer for Super Sad True Love Story turned up. We fall in love with idea of artist as tortured master, Picasso and Brian Wilson (if now with broadband Internet), and we begin to separate a sense of humor from success. It was nice to receive a reminder the two can be meshed without issue.

2. Adam Ross.

He was at the Folger with Shteyngart. He was serious — friendly, had his fun moments, but mostly serious. He was wound tightly on stage, focused on explaining his book the right way. But then the interviewer asked about bookstores in his city, Nashville. The last one died, and Ann Patchett had taken it upon herself to open a replacement. Ross was happy about the new one but angry about what the town had lost. He nearly came to ranting. Yet, knowing where he was, he kept some dignified reserve. I had forgotten artists could be passionate about the world around them and not just the world in their pages.

3. Giada De Laurentiis.

Sometimes you need that one last, clear look to end a crush. If you’ve read this blog for a long time, you know I’ve been a fan of Giada. Even when she said Georgetown was just outside of Washington, I’d never given up on her. Until when I saw her at Sixth and I, and she was an automaton. Responding to crowd questions positively but guardedly and with good words for her corporate tie-ins. Caveat: The interviewer was a print editor, uncomfortable on stage and in directly addressing an odd subject. But a machine is a machine is a machine is a lesson.

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4. Jennifer Egan.

Openness. She answered questions for almost as long as she read, taking each one at length and being disappointed when organizers cut her off. And consider where she was! At the main Arlington library, in front of an audience of several hundred, none who had paid anything to get in. They all just wanted to be there, and so did she. To see one of the country’s greatest authors in such a place was a testament of Egan, to libraries and to everyone who loved them. She wanted to be there and so did we, and such friendly expectations are rare, so rare.

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5. Colin Powell.

A few weeks ago at Sixth and I. There were some protesters outside. Inside, the crowd seemed mixed, half fans, half withholding judgment as the NPR interviewer talked to him. There was long discussion of his boyhood, and the educational goals he pushes for now, and the Iraq war. When he answered the war questions, those in the pews were attentive and gave little response. There were moments when cheers broke out but they were few. Were they politely negative? No. Were they skeptical? No. Were they human? Yes. Here was a man answering seemingly as best he could and an audience that knew it did not have to answer to anyone. However your politics ran, you could grasp the person speaking for himself and going to bed with the consequences.

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