Photo by Boston Book Festival via Flickr
It was hard not to feel cheerleaderish during Saturday's inaugural BOSTON BOOK FESTIVAL, which crammed 90 authors into 40 or so hour-long programs in and around Copley Square, and drew lines-around-the-block crowds for . . . well, people talking about and reading from books. "I can't believe how many of you are here," marvelled DENNIS LEHANE, taking the stage for the day's final event. After admitting that Boston's most famous gangster novelist actually spends most of my time with his wife in Florida these days, Lehane noted, "You would never see this type of group show up for a reading in Tampa. Maybe if it was a nudie bar."
Lehane's survey of Boston Noir -- featuring readers culled from the collection of the same name, just out on former Girls Against Boys bassist Johnny Temple's Akashic Books imprint -- came at the tale end (sorry, couldn't help it) of a day that saw, among many other wonders, Chris Lydon facing off against an occasional testy Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk; John Hodgman matching wits with Election author Tom Perrotta; NY Times celebugeek David Pogue serenading Steve Jobs and moderating a tense faceoff between Google Books and the Internet Archive; Tim Kring dishing on Heroes with Reif Larsen; and graphic novelist R. Sikoryak slideshowing his E.C. Comics-styled take on classic lit, while McSweeney's darling Jessica Anthony looked on.
In other words: the good shit.
It was sorta the antithesis of the old Boston Globe Book Festival, replacing stuffy institutional spinach with programming that celebrated Boston's best looks: the panels were as vibrant, energized, and intellectually playful as the audience that turned out to meet it. The Phlog was planted behind a video camera, for the duration, in the Boston Public Library's Rabb Lecture Hall, as part of an awesome, ad-hoc collaboration with the BBF. We teamed up
with tour new friends at the MIT Media Lab and the WGBH Forum Network to record about 90
percent of the festival, which we'll be rolling out -- in streaming video and
downloadable audio -- over the coming weeks. From my perch, there was very little not to like: in addition to the aforementioned Pogue, we got double helpings of Barack: an autopsy of Obama's peripatetic first year courtesy of David Gergen, Lani Guinier, and Atlantic editor Jack Beatty; and a panel on documentaries in which Ken Burns spent a significant portion of time raving about his smoking-hot co-panelist Scout Tufankjian's astonishing, two-years-in-the-making Obama-campaign photo essay.
Twitter and Facebook feedback is generally pretty bitchy, but looking at the #bbf09 tags -- and extrapolating from the jubilant crowds who jammed the halls waiting to get into these things -- you couldn't help but feel some new and vital force was asserting itself. We're already looking forward to next year, but first, we're going to start rolling out some of these fantastic panels.
We'll kick it off with Lehane's ode to Boston: an antitode, he suggested, to "the cliched idea of Boston -- which I'm unfortunately becoming the main purveyor of. The more successful my work gets, the more people think that Boston is just filled with Irish guys. Um, with guns." Lehane's selection for the evening? A decidedly un-Boston-Irish-dudes-with-guns excerpt about a lonely guy who gets a puppy. Don't worry: there's plenty of fucked-up dark-hearted shit here from Russ Aborn, Brendan DuBois, Dana Cameron, Lynne Heitman, and Wall Street Journal pop critic Jim Fusilli (who reads from a fantastic piece about a washed-up New York musician who moves to Beacon Hill). But the best story might have been one of the of the off-the-cuff tales Lehane told in between readers -- Irish guys, Boston, etc -- which answers the eternal question, "Why, when you're in Charlestown, should you never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, make eye contact with anyone?"
DOWNLOAD: Dennis Lehane and friends read from Boston Noir [mp3]Suggested reading:
COVER STORY: Peter Keough on Boston Noir
INTERVIEW: Peter Keough interviews Dennis Lehane [Part 2] [Part 3]BLOGS: From May 2009, Peter Keough on The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Boston NoirPODCAST: From 2008, Dennis Lehane reads from The Given Day