Last week, the inimitable John Hodgman (above, backstage) appeared at the Coolidge Corner Theatre to talk about his new book. (You can read my interview with him here.) It was epic. Ted Leo performed a mini concert, Hodgman orchestrated a script reading of an imaginary competitive hoarding reality show, and a young fella proposed to his girlfriend (she said yes!).
Joan Didion wore a purple scarf and her trademark oversized glasses last night at the sold-out Harvard Book Store-sponsored event at First Parish Church in Cambridge. She was in town to promote her new book, the heartbreaking “Blue Nights,” which concerns the death of her daughter and which can, and likely will, be read as a macabre follow-up to 2005’s deeply affecting “The Year of Magical Thinking,” about the death of her husband.
We're going to go out on a limb and bet that you'll never find yourself listening in on a conversation between these four people again. Thankfully, we've got it on tape. So here it is: this year's "Far Out Fiction" event from the 2011 BOSTON BOOK FESTIVAL.
Our own GENIE WILLIAMSON hosted Saturday's most talent-packed panel at Trinity Church.
There he was: DONNIE ANDREWS, whom most Wire-heads know as "the real Omar." (Even bigger Wire-heads will tell you that Omar is a composite, but Andrews is the biggest contributor to the aggregate.) He was explaining the irony of how, before his prison stint and conversion into a community activist, white women would clutch their handbags when he walked by.
"What an amazing building," says DAVID RAKOFF, gazing around at the historic Trinity Church in Copley Square. "I'm going to besmirch it with filth."
Thus began his reading from "Isn't It Romantic," one of the essays in his recent Half Empty. Perhaps you're not familiar with it, but you should be: an epic, bawdy, and dead-fucking-on takedown of the musical Rent, an "insidious middle class lie" that has somehow became more untouchable than 9/11.
NICK BILTON is one of the people we listen to most closely on tech. Now the Times' lead technology writer, he's a veteran of New York Press (during that publication's golden years) and of the Times's research-and-development lab. In his new book, I Live In the Future and Here's How It Works, he begins by checking in on an industry often credited with pushing digital innovation -- yep, porn -- and discovers that it has suffered a death just as ugly as any entrenched old-media vertical.
Every book festival needs legendary dudes like DENNIS LEHANE and TOM PERROTTA -- the kinds of authors whose stories are famous even to people who don't read books. The awesome thing about Lehane and Perrotta is that they've both given far more than their celebrity to the cause: last year Lehane used his star power to throw some shine on Boston's lesser-known mystery authors in Boston Noir, a compendium whose launch party headlined the inaugural Boston Book Festival.
Neil Gaiman presumably could not be torn away from his young goth bride, and Joyce Carol Oates had already been hired to give the keynote. But the two most famous contributors to My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: 40 New Fairy Tales -- an anthology of "new stories sewn from old skins" -- are not necessarily its best.
Inspiration is seldom as easy as it seems. One of the lessons of STEVEN JOHNSON's Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is that "Eureka!" moments -- sudden pinpoints of revelation -- are usually myths. Instead of coming like a flash of light, great ideas simmer. They benefit from intellectual incubation And this panel, also featuring one inventor, one surgeon, and one designer, is its own greenhouse of genius.
This program was titled, optimistically, "ISRAEL/PALESTINE: NOVEL APPROACHES." Alas, it turned into "Israel/Palestine: Same Old Shit." Well, what did you expect? Put human canonball Alan Dershowitz on a panel with the Palestinian novelist Susan Abulhawa, a daughter of 1967 refugees, and you've got a new version of the old saw: Boston went to an argument about the Israel/Palestine situation and a book reading nearly broke out.
As promised, the Boston Phoenix will be podcasting every panel from this year's second annual BOSTON BOOK FESTIVAL, yet another smashing success last weekend. (Don't take our word for it -- check the hashtag.) For those of you who were there, it's never too late to fill out your bingo card. And since it was impossible to catch everything, we're kicking things off with a panel we really wanted to see but didn't: a tribute to the late mystery legend Robert B.