Let's start cramming for Wordstock
It's coming. Portland's Godzilla-size book event, Wordstock, is approaching. Over 100 authors, 70 vendors, and eight partner venues make Wordstock the Pacific Northwest's largest celebration of books.
This amazing monster unfolds on one single autumn day that's sure to be overwhelming. The Park Blocks and its surrounding venues will be abuzz with obsessed readers jockeying for a seat — or even a line of sight — at readings, workshops, and signings of their favorite writers from Oregon and beyond.
Stay focused, stay hydrated. Make a plan and keep track of what's happening, unless that just adds to your stress. There's Adam Gopnik, there's Jeffrey Eugenides. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's a lot to take in.
Begin with the roll call, for starters. The 2017 author lineup includes Eugenides, Gopnik, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lidia Yuknavitch, Claire Messud, Jenny Han, Lemony Snicket, Tom Perrotta, Danez Smith, Kaveh Akbar, Gabrielle Bell, Javaka Steptoe, Mac Barnett, Carson Ellis, Omar El Akkad and David Grann.
Four National Book Award nominees in four categories will be in town: For nonfiction, it's David Grann ("Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI"); for fiction, it's Elliot Ackerman ("Dark at the Crossing"); for young adult category, it's Erica L. Sánchez ("I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter"); and Grann will appear 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. at First Congregational Church in a conversation moderated by OPB's Geoff Norcross.
There's a new assist this year with journalists from the New York Times coming to Wordstock to moderate panels and interview authors. As in past years, Oregon Public Broadcasting will record many of the interviews, panels and readings for later broadcast on "Think Out Loud" hosted by Dave Miller. I deeply appreciate this service as I do most of my best listening alone, in my kitchen. Portland's "Live Wire Radio" will perform, as usual, at the Alberta Rose Theatre at 7:30 p.m. with the creators of "Night Vale," and the writers Gopnik and Elena Passarello, both of whom will appear at Wordstock earlier in the day.
I'm most interested in a panel of writers dissecting the war in Syria called "Home Front/Front Lines," also moderated by Geoff Norcross from 1:15-2:15 p.m. at the Winningstad Theatre. Three visiting Wordstock writers have new books on Syria: Ackerman's second novel is called "Dark at the Crossing," and its set on the Turkish border with Syria. It's a nominee for the National Book Award, which will be announced Nov. 15.
I had the pleasure of talking to Ackerman when his first book, "Green on Blue," came out, soon after my nephew had joined the Marines. He predicted then that Syria will define our times.
Writing from Istanbul then, he said, "The war in Syria and the war in Iraq are inextricably linked at this point. They are basically one and the same. Though I am critical of President Bush's policies, I am also critical of President Obama's. One might say that the great strategic mistake of the Bush administration was putting the troops into Iraq. One could just as easily say that the great strategic mistake of the Obama administration was pulling the troops out of Iraq. "
These wars are not over. They have never been over. And they will continue as long as we allow them to go on. I don't know how this all ends, but I think that question is one which will define our age."
The second book about Syria is "A Word for Love," a novel by Emily Robbins about a family living in an apartment building amid the mounting war in Syria. Choice blurb: "Prose so clear and clean you could drink it." The third book about Syria is "The Home that Was Our Country," a memoir by Alia Malek. Another choice blurb: "Takes you straight to the heart of Syria's agony."
Swerving in a completely different direction, there will be an all-day children's stage hosted by Portland's Emily Arrow, and a Spanish storytime for the littlest book lovers.
Eugenides will read from his recent short story collection, "Fresh Complaint." I loved the beginning story in this collection, one called "Complainers," about Della and Cathy. "You're young old, and I'm just plain old, old," Della said.
And don't miss the New Yorker's Gopnik. He returns to 1980s New York City with his most recent book, "At the Strangers' Gate: Arrivals in New York," to show us how it all began when he and his wife arrived in Manhattan and crammed themselves into a tiny studio. The book's title, if you're curious, comes from the name of the gate located at 106th and Central Park West in Central Park.
A poetry panel called "Border Crossing: Poetry and Place" will be held at the Brunish Theatre from 10-11 a.m., featuring the blistering prose of Erika L. Sánchez, who is also nominated for best young adult book with her young adult novel "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter."
Reading by its nature is a solitary act. This doesn't mean readers must be hermits holed up in dim hovels. It's good to get out there from time to time to rub shoulders with other readers, and to salute those who write books.
Hence, Wordstock is coming. So, get out and enjoy it!
What: Portland's book festival
When: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11
Where: Portland Art Museum and nearby venues
Cost: $15 in advance, $18 at the door, 17-and-under free.