YOU CAN GO to an author reading at Elliott Bay or the U Book Store for free every night of the week. Jonathan Raban, David Guterson, and company are practically standing on the street corners to hawk their new novels. Sherman Alexie does children's birthday parties. ("More balloon animals, Mr. Funny Clown Man!") Having revamped itself and shed some (paid) staff last December, the extremely nonprofit Northwest Bookfest now finds itself in the awkward position of charging for what most of us expect to receivelike the Internet, like file sharing, like hot-wired cablegratis. So are you willing to pay to browse table displays from the American Society of Indexers, the East West Bookshop, and Kvetch Press? What are the draws? Here's a selective overview and some picks for the weekend event, which runs Saturday, Oct. 18-Sunday, Oct. 19, at Hangar 27 at Magnuson Park (206-378-1883 and www.nwbookfest.org).
With his Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, Boeing-engineer-turned-wildlife-photographer Subhankar Banerjee became a cause c鬨bre this summer, when his photos were relegated to the basement of the Smithsonian and his descriptions of them censored because of Republican eagerness to open ANWR to oil drilling. Banerjee will discuss the controversy with P-I art critic Regina Hackett, who wrote an interesting article herself recently about Seattle's own inability to get exercised about art (10:15 a.m., Carver Stage).
Gail Collins, the first female editor of The New York Times editorial page, has somehow also found time to write America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, which looks at women's ambivalence about home life. She and two other authors will be interviewed by KUOW's Marcie Sillman (11 a.m., Stafford Stage).
Then it's a logjam of top local writers: If you haven't heard enough from Jonathan Raban, he'll talk more about his boom-and-bust novel Waxwings (1:30 p.m., Hugo Stage) with David Shields (Remote). Simultaneously, cantankerous longtime SW staffer Fred Moody (Seattle and the Demons of Ambition) will square off on Seattle history and characters (1:30 p.m., Stafford Stage) with J. Kingston Pierce (Eccentric Seattle) and Gary Atkins (Gay Seattle). Meanwhile and most promisingly, there's some kind of a hip-lit smackdown among three novelists: Matt McIntosh, whom we recently praised as "downright heroic" for his depiction of sad Federal Way ne'er-do-wells in Well; Matt Ruff (Set This House in Order), whom our Tim Appelo called "the hottest, coolest new Seattle writer"; and D.B. Weiss of L.A., whose Lucky Wander Boy is all about video-game culture (2 p.m., Hall Stage).
Later, famed naturalist David Quammen, whose Monster of God is reviewed on p. 134, will discuss the impending extinction of Earth's great predators (3 p.m., Hugo Stage). In another bizarre Bookfest logjam, Quammen conflicts with a panel on environmental activism led by Seattle Times investigative honcho Duff Wilson (3:30 p.m., Stafford Stage).
Ivan Doig has a new novel, Prairie Nocturne, which we'll review Nov. 5 before his Nov. 12 reading at UW Kane Hall. He'll appear with John Findlay (11 a.m., Hugo Stage).
Fantagraphics fans will unquestionably want to show up for a panel featuring Peter Bagge, Gary Groth, Ted Jouflas, and Jim Woodring (11:30 a.m., Carver Stage).
Tim Appelo tells us that Ethan Watters' light-sociology study Urban Tribes is "witty, serious, insightful, and scattershot" in its analysis of why the Friends-watching generation seems intent on ducking marriage in favor of an alterna-family of friends and roommates (11:45 a.m., McCarthy Stage).
David Guterson is such a big shot he doesn't have to share the stage with anyone, even a moderator. Our Appelo liked Our Lady of the Forest, saying it "blends some of the appeal of Stephen King's uncanny tales set in white-trash rural blue-collarville and John Updike's fables of small-town spiritual yearning among the ineffably sensitive and the effing horny" (12:30 p.m., Hugo Stage).
For a discussion on "The Meaning of Everest," Outside contributing editor Bruce Barcott (an SW alumnus who did both our jobs so much better that it's positively painful) interviews climbing legend Dr. Tom Hornbein, a member of the 1963 team that made the first ascent of Everest's West Ridge; the occasion is the 50th anniversary of that mountain's original ascent by the comparatively easy South Col (1 p.m., Stafford Stage).
Get up-to-date with some of the most progressive Northwest writers at the Clear Cut Press showcase, which features a dozen authors published by Matthew Stadler's new Astoria, Ore.-based publishing outfit (2:15 p.m., McCarthey Stage). With mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq, the timely "Writing War" panel presents Anthony Swofford (Jarhead) and Dr. Khassan Baiev, whose The Oath is a first-person account of living in occupied Chechnya, among others (2:15 p.m., Stafford Stage).
Finally, Sherman Alexie (Ten Little Indians): charming, funny, talented, excellent ball-handling skills . . . what more do we need to tell you? (3:30 p.m., Hugo Stage).