Sunday Salon: A Book Geek’s Weekend

SundaySalonI don’t often use this space to write about my life activities, but I’m making an exception today because my weekend was filled with activities that I think Shelf Love readers would find interesting. It was truly a literature geek’s weekend.

The fun started on Friday night. Some of you may know that I’m a big theatre lover, so much so that I volunteer as an usher at two theatres here in Washington, DC. When I work as an usher, I get to stay and see the show for free. It’s a good deal, especially this weekend because the Shakespeare Theatre Company hosted the National Theatre in London’s production of Phedre with Helen Mirren. This show sold out in just a few hours, so I was very excited that I was able to get on the schedule to usher. Helen Mirren is just as wonderful on stage as she is on the screen, and the play by Jean Racine and translated by Ted Hughes is terrific. Probably not my favorite show I’ve seen at the Shakespeare Theatre (that honor goes to the wild and woolly production of King Learwith Stacy Keach they presented this summer), but still very, very good.

Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson

Yesterday was the National Book Festival on the Washington mall. Every year that I’ve been able to go there haven’t been any authors coming who seemed worth fighting the crowds for, but when I saw that Marilynne Robinson would be there this year, I knew I couldn’t miss it. (If you remember my reviews of Gilead and Home, you’ll know that my opinion of her writing couldn’t be any higher.) I started by waiting in the rain for the book signing. The line was very slow, so slow that those of us waiting speculated that she might be trying to help us experience the languid pace of her books. As it turns out, she just signs slowly, forming every letter as deliberately as she chooses her words in her books.

After the signing, I went to the tent where Robinson would be speaking and caught the tail end of the talk by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. I enjoyed Reading Lolita, so I was glad to hear her. She spoke about how every culture has things to be ashamed of and things to be proud of and about how literature and philosophy are invaluable to making a society one to be proud of. She was an impressive speaker, and I may just have to read her new book.

Next up was Robinson herself. She read from Home and then took questions. In the Q&A, she spoke about how pleased she was at how Gilead has been embraced by people around the world, including those who are not of the Reformed Christian tradition that undergirds the novel. (Honestly, the reception of her books puts the lie to the notion that people outside the church, particularly the cultural elite, don’t want to read about people of faith.) When asked about the long gap between Housekeeping and Gilead she said that she did not want to write another Housekeeping, and she needed to take the time to read and learn and bring her brain into a different place. Alas, she did not mention any upcoming book. Personally, I wish there had been more time for questions or for her to simply talk, rather than read.

The day ended with Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, an excellent collection of interlocking stories about the Vietnam War. O’Brien read from his upcoming book about becoming a father in his late 50s. The selection he read was a letter to his son lamenting the fact that their time together will be so short. A moving choice, and especially appropriate coming right after the author of Gilead, a book that is an extended letter on the same topic.

The capstone of the evening was dinner with a lovely group of book bloggers, many of whom are local to the DC area but some of whom had traveled to the area for the festival. As it happens, most were not regular Shelf Love readers, nor do I regularly read many of their blogs, but it was still a great night to bond over books and chat and laugh and have fun with others who know what it is to love books and to want to blog about them. Even if our book tastes and blogging styles and goals are different, we were able to come together over our passion for books. So warm regards to Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog, Cara at Ooh . . .  Books!, Swapna at S. Krishna’s Books, Amy at My Friend Amy, Jill at Rhapsody in Books, Deborah at Books, Movies, and Chinese Food, Michelle at GalleySmith, Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, Nicole at Linus’s Blanket, Jennifer at Literate Housewife, Meg at Write Meg, Anna at Diary of an Eccentric, and Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit. (I didn’t get to talk to everyone there, so I hope I’m not leaving anyone out! If so, my apologies!)

All in all, a good weekend for a literature lover like me!


Notes from a Bookish Life

Books Completed

  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Booker shortlister #2 for me. My first Waters novel and first of what I hope will be many joint reviews with Jenny!
  • Vanilla Beans and Brodoby Isabella Dusi. A memoir about life in Tuscany. A book club read. Review to come.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt on audio. Review to come

Currently Reading

  • The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Lessons in writing poetry. Still playing around with verse forms.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This seems to be the current favorite to win the Booker prize, and it will be my first Mantel. Just starting it today.

On Deck

  • Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl on audio. A foodie memoir from the library.
  • The rest of the Booker shortlist: The Glass Houseby Simon Mawer, Summertime by J.M. Coetzee, and The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt.
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. A companion novel to Oryx and Crake.

New Acquisitions

  • The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner. The sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen which Ann of Table Talk recommended. 
  • The Imposter’s Daughter by Laurie Sendell. Thanks to Frances of Nonsuch Book for passing her copy along to me. 
  • Love and Summerby William Trevor. Longlisted for the Booker prize. 
  • Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. I’m trying to get a copy of each of his books. This one I haven’t read, but I haven’t gone wrong yet with Hardy. 

Books to Remember

  • The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson. A character-driven Swedish novel recommended by Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book.
  • Her Fearful Symmetryby Audrey Niffeneger. I liked The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the general buzz about this one has been good. (It certainly has a more intriguing premise than TTW, so I’m optimistic.)
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19 Responses to Sunday Salon: A Book Geek’s Weekend

  1. Ann says:

    OK, so now I have to be really jealous! Not just Helen Mirren, but also Marilynne Robinson and Azar Nafisi. I am sitting at this end going completely green with envy. If it wasn’t all happenign to such a nice person I would be as sick as the proverbial parrot!

  2. debnance says:

    I’m so envious I can hardly speak. Robinson came to Houston Monday. I’ve been to lots of author readings, so I did not feel any particular urgency about obtaining tickets. Bad decision. Sold out.

    I’ve always wanted to go to the National Book Fair. Next year.

  3. Gavin says:

    Mirren and Robinson on the same weekend? What a combination.

  4. I didn’t even know you had been to see Phedre! Sorry I didn’t get to ask you about it!

  5. rebeccareid says:

    saw so much on twitter about the Book Festival. How fun for you to go see your favorite authors!

  6. Lu says:

    I wish I’d known who all was going to be there, we could have said hi! I only saw the tail end of Robinson’s talk because I had never read her books. We managed to squeeze in to see Tim O’Brien by sitting on the grass in the aisle. Thankfully it wasn’t too wet! We sat on those wonderful bags they gave us. I loved it, it was a total blast!

  7. Lesley says:

    I was there, too! I got to meet Judy Blume which was quite a treat for the kid in me, and I also got a book signed by Marilynne Robinson. I just wish the rain had held off a bit longer!

  8. claire says:

    Sounds wonderful, Teresa! Lucky you! I so loved Gilead (but afraid to try Home) so I’m a little envious. But more that am happy for you. :)

  9. Teresa says:

    Ann: If it makes you feel any better, I was way in the back for Helen Mirren and got soaking wet listening to Nafisi :-)

    debnance: Robinson came to DC a few years ago and I was too sick to see her, so I was glad to go this time.

    Gavin: It was a great combination!

    rhapsodyinbooks/Jill: I didn’t even think to mention Phedre! It was a wonderful show.

    rebecca: It was a fun day.

    Lu: I wonder if I saw you–I was sitting near the aisle and saw people sitting on bags. It would have been nice to say hello.

    Lesley: Oh, wow–we were in line together. I wish I had known. I’ve been following your blog since I started, and it would have been nice to have a face to go with your name.

    claire: Oh, don’t be afraid to try Home. It’s gorgeous! I liked it almost as much as I did Gilead.

  10. Lu I can’t believe you were there and I didn’t meet you!!!! I would have given you a huge hug! :)

    It was super to meet you Teresa, even if I screwed up your blog name a few times…you’re a star! :)

  11. litlove says:

    Wow – what a fantastic line-up of bookish events. I would LOVE to see Helen Mirren in just about anything. Being an usher in a theatre must be a lot of fun. And I loved the account of the book festival. The few talks I attended at the festival in Cambridge made me wish for less reading and more chat and questions. But I guess the reading is part of the deal.

  12. JaneGS says:

    >It was truly a literature geek’s weekend.

    No kidding! I am also a big Helen Mirren fan–just love her in the old BBC Shakespeare videos, and her Queen is the best. I would love to see her on stage.

    I didn’t know Nafisi has a new book–I’ll have to look for it, as I really enjoyed Reading Lolita, and I love her perspective:
    >She spoke about how every culture has things to be ashamed of and things to be proud of and about how literature and philosophy are invaluable to making a society one to be proud of.

    I’ve never read The Things They Carried, but it’s required reading in our high school, and my kids have gotten a lot out of reading it. Again, his new book sounds interesting.

    Thanks for sharing your weekend with us.

  13. Teresa says:

    Amy: I was sooo happy to meet you! It was such fun to be able to match names to faces–and no worries on the blog name :-)

    litlove: I love live theatre almost as much as I like to read, so theatre ushering is great fun. And I get to see lots of good stuff I wouldn’t choose to see on my own steam.

    JaneGS: Nafisi’s new book sounds great. It’s about her mother, and she said that it’s (1) not Reading Lolita in Tehran II (2) not a book about Iran, although Iran figures into it, and (3) not a book to help daughters get closure in their relationships with their mothers. I liked her description, so I’m tempted.

  14. you missed Anna of Diary of an Eccentric. I wish I had more time to talk with everyone, but I was a bit disjointed this year in scheduling with my mom tagging along. She has different reading tastes than I do.

    I really think the festival was great and I’m sorry I missed O’Brien this year, but I’ve heard him speak before. I also wish Robinson actually spoke more rather than read from her book.

  15. gnoegnoe says:

    Sounds like you had a GREAT few days! :)) I absolutely love Helen Mirren so to see her on stage would have been enough to make it a five star weekend.

  16. Teresa says:

    Serena: Thanks! I knew I missed someone at the other table since I didn’t get to say hi to everyone there. It was too bad Robinson didn’t speak more because what she had to say was interesting.

    gnoegnoe: Mirren was wonderful. I had been looking forward to that for months.

  17. Dorothy W. says:

    Wow, WHAT an amazing day! I’d love to see Robinson. How interesting that her signing pace is slow just like her novels are (in a good way, I mean).

  18. adevotedreader says:

    I’m deeply envious nof your weekend Teresa, it sounds wonderful.

    I hope you enjoy Under The Greenwood Tree, it’s short, sweet and humorous which isn’t always guaranteed with Hardy!

  19. Teresa says:

    Dorothy: It was a great day! Robinson is one of my literary heroes, so it was worth the rain to see her.

    adevotedreader: That’s good to hear about the Hardy. He’s usually nbt cheerful–that’s for sure!

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