(Even though it's over, and a new one has already begun. Stupid off-kilter unemployed sleep cycle.)
The Brooklyn Book Festival was pretty neat! I guess I was expecting something like a trade show or a convention, what with Brooklyn having a huge and storied literary scene, but it turns out it was both bigger and more laid-back than I expected. (And free! And almost completely outdoor!) I've never been to an event this big and this crowded with this chill of an atmosphere. Lots of tents set up over folding tables in the plaza outside the courthouse, which is pretty small by New York standards, with a couple eight-wheeler trucks opening up into stages for invited authors to talk about their books, and maybe half a dozen hot dog stands patrolling the perimeter. It felt like a county fair crossed with a library.
Hello, sir! Would you like a copy of our new self-printed alternative literary magazine? (Watch the staples, they're sharp.) Our editor is sitting right over there, next to that little lady with the ice cream cone and the baby carriage...
It was kind of reassuring to discover that novelists can be pretty boring people. I got there late so I missed all of the big-name panels (Jonathan Lethem! Jonathan Safran Foer! Paul Auster! The guest list reads like my bookshelf!), but the rest of the writers would bore you to death if you hadn't read their books. One of them was responding to a question on why so many of her books took place in New York with a long, rambling monologue about brownstones and pizza parlors and how she felt about living in the city, and another three were talking to each other about how the iPod takes something away from the experience of listening to music because unlike a boom box it doesn't project a sense of space. It felt like the International Blogger Symposium on the Deliciousness of Cheese Sandwiches. Perhaps these details would please their fans, and reveal insights about the context of their novels, but I always thought the purpose of a panel was to come away enlightened about a subject, or take away a new perspective, and I don't see how these panels achieved that. I'm sure these people could have come up with something witty, intelligent, and interesting if they had prepared something ahead of time, but I guess that just because people are eloquent on the page doesn't mean they're eloquent in real life. I mean...look at me. :(
(p.s. i would totally write an entry about how cheese sandwiches are delicious)
Otherwise, the festival pretty much belonged to industry folks. Big publishers, little publishers, workshops, fledgling trade associations (I didn't know poets had a union!), bookstores...The Strand was there, as was Forbidden Planet, but most of their catalog looked like discount inventory they were just trying to get rid of...
Incongruously set in the meadow of bookstores, literary magazines, and independent publishers was a small section devoted to the New York Comic-Con, at which TopatoCo had a table. I confess that despite my literary aspirations this was the main reason why I went. I got to meet Jonathan Rosenberg, who draws Goats, and Jeffrey Rowland, who draws Wigu and Overcompensating. As these three webcomics have been part of my daily routine for quite a few years now, it was a pleasure to meet the people who make them. Jon is pretty much what you'd expect--he looks like any random New York barfly, which makes sense considering how much of Goats takes place in bars--and, well, I've read Overcompensating and I used to hang out on Dumbrella, so I kind of knew what to expect from Jeff the Cowboy Poet. Jeff recognized my nick from the Dumbrella forums! And he gave me a random high-five on the way back to the subway. I did not think J. Rowland could get any more awesome but oh snap he totally did. And I think Chris Hastings was there, too, but I'd never recognize him without the ninja mask and the doctor's coat.
There is always a profound awkwardness to first meeting someone you know online, but have never met.
Halfway through my time at the fair, I heard a snatch of song I thought was a little familiar, and naturally I brushed it away as a coincidence. But as I got closer to the courtroom--wait! Is that--no--it can't be--yes! It was Jonathan Coulton! Performing "IKEA!" It turns out he lives in Brooklyn! It's funny, I've been listening to his stuff for so long (before he did that ending song to Portal) and I never even knew that he lived around here, much less gone to a live show. It was a lot like the live performances I've seen of him on YouTube, except...three-dimensional.
...Yeah, I need to get out of the house more often.
Considering that I was there with maybe a thousand people who like the same books, read the same webcomics, and listen to Jonathan Coulton, some of whom looked like they were in the same cohort, it's kind of sad that I didn't meet anyone besides a handful of minor web celebrities. Then again, I guess the thing about people like me is that they're...like me. That dude, curled up with a book in the corner, or surfing the web, invisible.
also, i held a picnic for most of my neighborhood friends in prospect park and no one came.