The Club Asks a Question: A Story of the Brooklyn Book Festival in Seven Parts

This past Sunday, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the literati were congregating out on Cadman Plaza. The Brooklyn Book Festival was back, ready to present some of the best works and brightest stars in literary fiction, and take all our money (3 paperbacks for $20? Be still my heart).

We (DD, DR, and later MV) arrived at Borough Hall bright and early to take in a full day of idol worshipping and fangirling over new books that will grow our TBR lists from unfeasible to preposterous. Literary tote bags dangled from the arms of everyone milling about the plaza. I’m surprised we got in at all without New Yorker tote bags, the identification of choice for NYC’s literarily inclined (I always want to ask if they actually read it, or skim the headlines and pretend like they do). As we panel hopped our way into the late afternoon, we gathered some useful tidbits that we happily share with you:

 

  • New York Times Critics and Editor Panel: We learned that we should all expand our literary taste buds and read more works that challenge us (I believe Dwight called the sixth and final addition to My Struggle “chewy”).
  • The Feminist Future of Fiction: We learned that it is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea to put an empanada truck in spitting distance from an outdoor panel. Because our stomachs will growl louder than the trucks rumbling down Court Street, and we will have to leave the panel early to acquire their doughy, savory goodness.
  • Is the Business Model Good for Politics: We learned that everything is fine, and that we could never imagine ourselves tracking the minutiae of someone else’s life like these biographers do. Their work is seriously impressive.
  • Dystopias of the Patriarchy: We learned that, for some, these events are perfect moments to bond as a couple. I’m talking about the two individuals sitting in the second row who canoodled for the entire 45-minute panel. We’re all very confused, and a little concerned.
  • Tayari Jones and Jennifer Egan In Conversation: The most obvious thing we learned was that these women are goddesses. But of the many gems they shared with the audience, one piece from Tayari stuck with me. It’s advice she give students who are nervous about the response their work might elicit: “Don’t worry what other people think. Nobody’s thinking anything.” And that is liberating.

 

Possibly the most important lesson we learned that day was having a suspicion of ours confirmed: old men can’t ask questions.

Some can. But many ramble. They explain the thought process behind their question to illustrate how intelligent they are. They ask their question. And then they start to answer it themselves. Or, even better: they use the Q&A at the end of a panel to pretend to be a panelist themselves, commanding the floor for five minutes to express their feelings on a particular issue.

Case(s) in point: During the NYT panel, two separate men in the audience asked how the critics balance their reviews between mainstream, corporate publishing, and smaller, independent presses. They asked this while disparaging massive publishing houses and sharing their dismay that their works had never been published by them (I can’t imagine why, but we wish them the best of luck). Later, a gentleman asked a seven-part question at the Dystopias panel on the role of the artist in our current political climate that said more about how smart he thought he was, than communicated an actual question. When the next person, an intelligent woman, asked the authors how they balance anger and empathy for their characters in their stories in ONE SENTENCE, they didn’t know how to answer. It was that much of a shock.

 

We, on the other hand, behaved like cultured women. Which is why, at the end of the day, I forced them to take pictures. Because if we didn’t Instagram it, did it actually happen?

Behold, the instas:

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–E

 

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