April 17, 2009

A toast to good books!

guinnessA reminder: Tomorrow at 4:30, as the CityLit Festival winds down, we'll have the 1st Annual Read Street Meetup at Mick O'Shea's Pub, 328 N. Charles Street.

We'll toast our city's rich literary heritage, including the Baltimore woman who published the seminal work of a famous Irish author. Leave a comment with the name of the woman, the author and his work, and I'll buy you a Guinness.

If you can't make the meetup, say hello to me and Nancy during the festival. Nancy's moderating a panel on "First Books, New Authors" from 1:30 to 3 in the Office of School & Student Services; I'm moderating a panel on "What's Becoming of Our Book Culture?" from 1:30 to 2:30 in the Fine Arts Department.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:10 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: CityLit Festival

New authors CityLit panel: Eric D. Goodman


Baltimore has long been known as “The City that Reads,” but it seems to be more and more a city known for it’s lively literary scene.

I was introduced to the scene back in 2004, when I stumbled onto the Baltimore Book Festival. As a relative newcomer to the area, I was amazed at all of the literary buzz around me, and was especially happy to learn about the CityLit Project, whose tent was one of the most interesting at the festival.

Under the leadership of Gregg Wilhelm, the CityLit Project has sponsored many events for lovers of literatures during the years since my own introduction to the nonprofit — evenings with writers, writing conferences, literary readings, practical advice sessions on the publishing industry, book festival tents, writer association meetings.

But perhaps the crown jewel is the CityLit Festival, now in its sixth year.

If you love books and literature, you won’t want to miss the CityLit Festival at the Enoch Pratt Free Library at 400 Cathedral Street. You’ll have the chance to see last year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Literature, Junot Diaz, and last year’s National Book Award for Poetry winner Mark Doty. There are sessions on what’s becoming of our book culture, lifelong literature — too much to mention here!

Plus, exhibitors will be showing off their books, literary journals, services, and all things bookish in the exhibitors’ hall all day long.

I’ll be there for a session on first books, new authors, and my children’s book, Flightless Goose, will be in the exhibitor’s hall all day. Our gracious Read Street editors, Dave Rosenthal and Nancy Johnston will be present as moderators. There really is something for everyone!

Hope to see you there. If you love books, it’s a great way to “get lit” this Saturday.

Posted by Nancy Johnston at 10:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: CityLit Festival

April 16, 2009

New Authors CityLit panel: Jessica Anya Blau


Jessica Anya Blau's debut novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, is semiautobiographical and wholly entertaining. Here, she shares "The Good and Bad of Growing Up in the '70s." 

GOOD: You are not freaked out by the human body in all its shapes and forms — you have seen so many naked people that you understand that nudity is a normal human condition. This comes in handy when you have to help a sick hospitalized friend navigate some intimate part of her body with tubes and wires.

BAD: You know what your father’s penis looks like because he always swims naked, and when he shaves, he stands at the vanity in his bedroom, naked, with the bedroom door wide open.

GOOD: When you are 14, you aren’t embarrassed with confusion when someone hands you a bong because your mother has already shown you how to use a bong.

BAD: You’re smoking pot at 14.

GOOD: Pot has no rebellious thrill and you quickly lose interest in it and never really smoke it again in your life.

GOOD: You will not get pregnant in high school because your mother will make sure that you are using birth control.

BAD: You have to discuss birth control with your mother, who has no problem imagining you having sex.

GOOD: Your sense of the world goes beyond the physical as you are introduced to things like aura readings, séances and Ouija boards.

BAD: You lie in bed terrified of the spirit world invading your room. You fall asleep each night with your arms crossed over your stomach because your mother told you it would prevent spirits from entering your body.

GOOD: Your best friend, whose mother ran off to be the tambourine girl in a band and whose father is in graduate school, is invited to come live with your family for as long as she wants.

BAD: Your parents, who barely have time or energy for you, now dote on your best friend and will only give her the keys to the car because you failed your driver’s test three times and don’t drive as well as she.

Continue reading "New Authors CityLit panel: Jessica Anya Blau" »

Posted by Nancy Johnston at 1:30 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: CityLit Festival

Author, Author -- Junot Diaz

Junot%20diaz.jpg Fiction writer Junot Diaz comes to the CityLit Festival this Saturday to read from his 2008 novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He took a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk to Read Street about his lifelong obsession with the written word (a longer Baltimore Sun story is here).

His Literary Baptism: Mrs. Crowell, the librarian of the Parlin Elementary School in New Jersey, encouraged my love of reading. When I found the library, I felt as though I'd stumbled onto Ali Baba's cave. I'd walk four miles to take out books. She's even let me photocopy lists of books in print, so I could find new titles by my favorite authors.

Favorite Childhood Book: John Christopher's Tripod Series. In the books, the earth is ruled by aliens in giant tripods. When kids get to be about 14, a strange little cap is put on their heads, and then they're considered adults. It's a form of mind control, and it's a metaphor that taps into the fears and anxieties of a lot of young people.

Famous Author Who He Just Doesn't Get: I never badmouth authors, because I don't want to do anything to discourage reading. But if I had to pick a writer whose reputation won't be dented by my poor opinion, I'd have to say Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. My friends and I joke that white people love those books, but we just don't get them.

Guilty Pleasure Book: I make my guilty pleasures my central pleasures. I was reading this horror book by John Skipp and Craig Spector, The Light at the End. My ex-girlfriend picked it up from my nightstand and said, "This is just ridiculous." I have no shame when it comes to reading.

Audio books -- cheating or reading? I don't have an opinion because I haven't really listened to very many audio books, except for The Iliad and The Odyssey. That was amazing, because they were originally written to be heard and not read. Books on tape replicates that aural tradition.

Posted by Mary McCauley at 5:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: CityLit Festival, Meet the Author

April 15, 2009

New authors CityLit panel: Ben Shaberman


Essayist Ben Shaberman gives us a sneak peek at the funny I expect him to bring on Saturday.

I'm excited to have my collection of essays, The Vegan Monologues, debut at CityLit.

Surprisingly, I'm already getting fan mail, and one note came from none other than North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. He wrote:

Dear Mr. Shabbyman.

Like new book so far. Love story about girlfriend's dying cat. Grasshopper porn story great, too. LMAO. Now that missile launch done, can catch up on reading. (Don't worry, we aim for West Coast -- not Baltimore.) Come visit. Cook you great tofu-kimchee dish. (And no fish sauce! No worries vegan man!). You in West funny, but way too nervous. Ha ha,

Love, KJ.

I hope my fellow Baltimoreans will also enjoy my rants and reflections on vegan life.

Please share a story, a recipe, or just complain.

Posted by Nancy Johnston at 1:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: CityLit Festival

What's becoming of our book culture?

book cultureSaturday afternoon, I'll be leading a panel at the CityLit Festival on "What's becoming of our book culture?" and the loss of Vertigo Books in College Park brings that topic into sharp focus.

Vertigo, scheduled to close April 24 or 25, isn’t the first or biggest independent bookstore to close; it certainly won’t be the last. And such stores wouldn’t register a blip in bailout-crazy Washington. But they matter, and the "store closing" signs are another sign of danger for our book culture.

These days, more people are buying books at online stores. More people are downloading books to e-book readers such as the Kindle. Some people have moved even further from books, watching the video version of Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do? That means fewer people browsing book stores and fewer people at the library.

Author Barbara Kingsolver has said we’re living in a period that could be described as "Isolation and Efficiency, and How They Came Around to Bite Us in the Backside." She was addressing larger issues – war and pollution – but her thoughts also apply to our book culture, which has been tilting toward the quick sale, the hurried read.

There are some signs of hope. Book groups remain popular, giving a communal value to the reading experience. Blockbusters such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series have made millions of kids excited about books – and given cache to reading. And bookstores are developing strategies to reach readers – Powell’s Books, for example, plans to set up a booth at the Portland, Ore., farmers market.

Do you think our book culture is endangered – or thriving? What are other signs of hope -- or of the apocalyse? Let me know your thoughts; I'll incorporate them into Saturday's panel discussion. And stop by to say hello; the Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Enoch Pratt, 400 Cathedral Street.

(p.s. Nancy's moderating a CityLit panel that starts at 1:30 and features new authors. We'll also be at Mick O'Shea's pub -- just around the corner on Charles St. -- at 4:30 p.m. for the First Annual Read Street Meetup.)

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:29 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: CityLit Festival

April 14, 2009

Meet my CityLit panel: Elissa Brent Weissman


On Saturday, I'm moderating a CityLit Festival panle that I'm pretty excited about: new authors. It's a very diverse group of men and women, who've just begun making their marks on the world with short stories, essays, a novel, a children's book and a Young Adult book.

You can join me and the authors — Jessica Anya Blau (The Summer of Naked Swim Parties); Eric D. Goodman (Flightless Goose); Susan McCallum-Smith (Slipping the Moorings); Ben Shaberman (The Vegan Monologues); and Elissa Brent Weissman (Standing for Socks) — at 1:30 Saturday at the Central Library.

And to whet your appetite, I've invited the authors to introduce themselves to all of you, which they have been gracious enough to agree to do. So first up: Elissa Brent Weissman.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions since the publication of my first novel, Standing for Socks.

How did you get into writing for children? Where did you get the idea for this book? How long did it take you to write it? But there is one question that I have gotten, hands down, more than any other.

So when Nancy so kindly invited me to guest-blog for Read Street, I decided to use this wonderful opportunity to address this crazy question once and for all. It’s a question that I never saw coming but have been asked by nearly everyone I know or meet: Are those your legs on the cover?

The answer, and the reason I find the question so strange, is no, they’re not my legs.

At first I was totally thrown off guard when people asked. But now that I’ve been asked so frequently, I’ve convinced myself to put aside the creepiness factor — Why have all of these people been checking out my legs? — and take it as a compliment. I mean, they are pretty nice legs.

But the cover model is probably about 14 years old, and the character she’s portraying is only 11. (Do my 25-year-old legs look like a pre-teen’s? This is part of the creepiness that I have decided to ignore.) Oftentimes when friends ask if they’re my legs and I disappoint them with the answer, they then say, “But those look like your shorts!”

Continue reading "Meet my CityLit panel: Elissa Brent Weissman" »

Posted by Nancy Johnston at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: CityLit Festival

April 12, 2009

See you at the CityLit Festival

junot diaz at the citylit festivalLast spring, as I was preparing to launch Read Street, I stopped by the Enoch Pratt central library on a warm Saturday for the annual CityLit Festival. The lobby -- filled with local writers and poets, as well as representatives of journals, publishing houses and literary organizations -- had an amazing energy.

Amazing because on most days, the Baltimore area’s literary community is split into bits and pieces: lectures, books clubs, poetry readings and author appearances (as noted on Read Street's calendar). But the CityLit Festival, like the fall Baltimore Book Festival, brings lots of those pieces together to create a critical literary mass. It was an inspiring sight -- and a good omen for the blog.

You don’t have to wait long for the 2009 festival — it runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Pratt, and features Junot Diaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Other writers include Mark Doty, whose poetry won a 2008 National Book Award; Liza Mundy, author of a Michelle Obama biography; Jennifer Baszile, author of The Black Girl Next Door; and poets Michael Collier and Elizabeth Spires.

There also is a full slate of panels, on topics ranging from publishing to cooking to youth sports. At 1:30 p.m., I’ll lead a discussion of book reviews, blogging and other issues related to "What’s Becoming of Our Book Culture?" Also at 1:30 p.m., Read Street partner Nancy Johnston will moderate a panel of new authors, including Jessica Anya Blau and Elissa Brent Weissman.

So drop by the festival and say hello. Even better: Come to Mick O'Shea's (just around the corner on Charles St.) at 4:30 p.m. for the First Annual Read Street Meetup. It's our version of high tea -- a chance for Nancy and me to meet the folks who visit Read Street.

Other literary events: The Bethesda Literary Festival runs from Friday to Sunday, and featured authors include Mary Higgins Clark, Daniel Schorr, Gwen Ifill and Kimberly Dozier.

The West Virginia Book Faire is Friday and Saturday in Martinsburg. Among the featured authors are mystery writers Harlan Coben and Lisa Scottoline. 

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: CityLit Festival
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About the bloggers
While she always preferred The Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew, Nancy Johnston grew up reading nearly everything she could get her hands on, including a probably unhealthy amount of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, with the obligatory Jane Austen thrown in. She'll still read just about anything you put in front of her, especially the funny or weird. She lives in the city with her books, cat and drum set.

Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is an assistant managing editor and Sunday editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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