Either Bookfest was far better this year, or we made fewer bad choices about what to see. Still, bad choices were being made all around us. When the moderator of the "Here She Is, Myth America" panel (devoted to the idea that "America" is perpetuated by perfidious myths) allowed each of the four panelists to introduce themselves and talk at length about their books, American culture, and, oh, any other damn thought that occurred to them, well, that was a bad choice. And it was a bad choice, at the applauded conclusion of said panel—taped for C-Span Books—for the one panelist most afflicted with sound-of-my-own-voice syndrome (and bad hair) to exclaim, foppishly, "Thank you. God bless you all for loving books so much." Where is that sniper when you need him?
On Monday, the daily newspapers carried stories about the "funky" and "Bookfest-y" new venue—an abandoned airplane hangar at Sand Point—with newspaper-y puns aplenty about Bookfest "taking off." The Nightstand will not engage such fatuousness, but we'll pay credit where credit is due: to the folks in charge of programming, who this year exhibited a heightened sense of who should be on panels with whom. Putting University Book Store's Kim Ricketts on any panel will make it interesting, but pairing her with Rebecca Godfrey (The Torn Skirt), Emily White (Fast Girls), and the other female "Life in Limbo" panelists—well, that was a stroke of bright blue genius. She told the crowd she would interview the panel, field questions from the audience, "and then we'll all tell stories about being sluts in high school," Ricketts said. "And I'll start."
The panels devoted to writing formats—say, short stories—worked better than panels ostensibly devoted to themes: The only thing the "Life in Limbo" panelists seemed to have in common was that three of their four book titles contained the word "girl." And the "Two Jews, Three Opinions" panel charted a wilderness wildly unrelated to writing. The moderator (unnecessarily fond of the phrase "we'll get to that later") asked questions along the lines of: Do you believe in a single force of God? Do you believe God is sentient? Do you believe he has your best interest in mind? (Note to moderator: Do you?)
Our most cherished Bookfest memory—other than the Help for Irritable Bowel Syndrome booth, whose visuals will stay with us forever—occurred over lunch with Gina Ochsner, author of The Necessary Grace to Fall, when a boy no older than 12, with a red balloon attached to his head, approached. The child laborer had been dispatched into the crowd by his mother, author of The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days!, to hawk her books. (Another of Mom's books is a guide to writing a bestseller in under a month.)
Ochsner's book won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and is amazing. So we mentioned to the red balloon boy that Ochsner was not the best person to hit up, since she is already an acclaimed writer.
"How many books have you written?" the boy asked Ochsner, unimpressed.
"Just one," Ochsner said.
"My mom's written six," he said, waving her work.
"Well," Ochsner said, "she has me beat."
At which point the boy began pitching Ochsner on a $195 ticket to a one-day writing workshop next week.