The annual Brooklyn Book Festival took place this past Sunday, September 22nd in Downtown Brooklyn. With the grandiose backdrop of the Brooklyn court buildings, scores of publications and niche presses were set up along the sidewalks, mailing list sign-up sheets at the ready.
Joel Whitney moderated “Arts and Politics in Fiction” at the Brooklyn Historical Society. A panel of three authors, Alex Gilvarry, Rachel Kushner, and Nicholson Baker, read selection from their latest books. The readings were sprinkled with insights and anecdotes about mixing fiction and politics. The panel description read, “Art has always been a tool for political and social change. In these novels, it comes in the form of protest-pop songs, motorcycle photography and high-end fashion.” After the event, ideas circled my head as I people-watched and collected free bookmarks for the rest of the afternoon.
The author Nicholson Baker wrote a protest song for his book “Traveling Sprinkler.” Baker, known both for his essay writing and fiction, suggested there may be more truth in fiction than non-fiction. Baker said that writers need characters and a fictional landscape to grapple with their real life emotions. When Baker writes non-fiction he finds one main difficulty arises: the inconsistencies of his opinions and ideas. From one day to the next, his opinions are morphing and shaping. His answer to the complexity is to explore that inner conflict in fiction writing through characters who struggle with those same ideas.
When writing politically, authors face the challenge of finding the right prose. About words like “drone” Baker said, “You can almost hear the reader say, oh god!” Certain words have connotations that overshadow any other meaning. Alex Gilvarry in his novel “From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant” takes superficial characters and puts them in a serious and scary world. He had trouble using “Bush” and “Cheney” and ended up replacing “Guantanamo” with “no man’s land.”
Rachel Kushner, author of “The Flamethrowers,” spoke about watching political dramas unfold from the comfort of her living room. Kushner has read about Autonomia Operaia (a ’70s Italian political movement) and has friends and family connections to both Italy and Occupy Oakland. The people around us inspire our politics and our writing. Kushner’s novel developed through her friend’s literature and hearing countless stories about ’70s Italy.
Though many of the vendors at the Brooklyn Book Festival were also participating in the NY Art Book Fair, I felt a very different energy at each. The best aspect of the Brooklyn Book Festival were the families and diverse crowd drawn in by the wide range of book genres. I had a blast last weekend connecting with publishers and book lovers in general. Just for fun, here are some of my photographs from the festival. Read last Monday’s Post on the New York Art Book Fair too.
Passers-by filled a bulletin board writing their current reads on Post-it notes.
The eye-catching Penguin book truck was in attendance.
“Barf Manifesto” called out to me at the Ugly Duckling Presse table.