An Embarrassment of Literature

This was quite a landmark weekend for anyone in the greater Boston area interested in books, writing, and authors (it’s part of the reason I am fortunate to live where I do). The very first Boston Book Festival was held in Copley Square on Saturday and the great Margaret Atwood came to Cambridge to promote her book, “The Year of the Flood” and also, it seemed, to promote environmental awareness. I was lucky enough to attend both of these events.

Sadly, I did not get to as much of the Boston Book Fest as I could or probably should have, but I did attend a great workshop called “Jumpstart Your Writing!” put on by Grub Street and hosted by Grub Street instructor, writer, and professor Stace Budzko. I really liked that the workshop focused on character. We were asked to really delve into our characters’ likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, favorite foods, scars, tattoos, the works. It made me think of the way I’m told “Method” actors get into character. It was just nice to be around other folks trying to write and to all be focused on that as a group. Stace was very encouraging and it was over too soon, but I did feel I came away with strategies on how to learn more about my character(s) and how to move forward a bit. I am hoping to be reporting on my attendance at Grub Street workshops in a year when I’m finally out of grad school (w00t!). Aside from the workshop I got to wander around a bit on what was a strangely warm and blustery day. There were some hearty-souled book people outside under tents hawking their book-wares. 826 Boston was there selling Bigfoot and cryptozoology paraphernalia and, oh yeah, also talking about their tutoring and writing center. It was great to just wander around inside Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library and check out all the book fans. Two of the events I wish I had gotten to were actually centered around 2.0 social media and digital books, especially because I’m planning a blog post on digital books and digital reading in the future once I sort out my thoughts and feelings on them (it’s surprisingly complicated). If any of my readers got to those sessions, I’d love to know how they were.

Then of course, tonight, there was Margaret Atwood. We all gathered at the First Parish Church Meetinghouse in Harvard Square to hear about “The Year of the Flood”, which is a parallel story to “Oryx and Crake” (beware of spoilers in that second link!). As she said, it’s not a sequel or prequel—she called it something like a “simultaneous-quel”. There’s a sort of communal, ecologically-minded, religious group in the book called “God’s Gardeners” who raise bees and gardens on urban rooftops and are on the lookout for the impending ecological apocalypse. And where there’s religion, there are hymns. Margaret Atwood wrote several hymns in the book that her agent’s partner put to music. She played some of these hymns for us and even SANG one of them for us—I believe it was the Mole hymn, or Mole song, I can’t quite remember the name. I wasn’t expecting Ms. Atwood to sing, though I had hoped we would get one of the full-on choral and dramatic performances that she and others have been staging in the U.S. and abroad (we didn’t, but you can see one of the dramatic readings staged in London in this Art Beat broadcast from PBS). At any rate, she was intelligent and funny. And though I don’t need much convincing on the point of doing what we can to turn things around (or at least slow things down) for our warming planet, she and her books make an excellent case for doing so. Ms. Atwood said something interesting when asked by an audience member if she herself held the dystopian vision of the world that her books portray. I can’t remember what she said word-for-word, but she basically said that she feels her books are very optimistic in the sense that, well, they are books. It’s all in the book in hopes that it will STAY in the book and that we’ll do something so that what’s in the book doesn’t happen to us. She also said that, though she bases many of her futuristic novels on what could actually happen in the world, there’s no way anyone can predict the future. There are too many variables. I can certainly say I enjoyed “Oryx and Crake” for its characters, story, and cutting-yet-whimsical wordplay, though it was a supremely chilling vision of the future. I expect “The Year of the Flood” will be similar though, full disclosure, I haven’t yet read it. Here’s a good review/essay I read on the book from The Nation for a bit more about the book.

Well, that was my weekend, saturated with rain and literature. And that was fine by me.

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