17 September 2012

My Brooklyn Book Festival Rules of Engagement

The Brooklyn Book Festival, one of my literary high holidays, is this Sunday the 23rd. After picking over the list of events I have once again decided that the best plan of attack is to clone myself so I can attend all the panels, so if anyone knows where I can get that done cheaply, let me know!

Over the past 5 years of attendance I have developed some tips (or as we say in corporate America, "learnings") that have helped me really attack the day and still go home feeling rosy about the state of arts and letters. These rules could probably apply to any litfest in your backyard, and honestly if there is one in your actual backyard, you should go -- but you don't need me to tell you that.

Get there early enough to take in a morning event -- not just because they are often excellent, but also the authors are so grateful that they aren't speaking to an empty room. I'm going to break my own rule and highlight a few from this year's offerings: at 10AM you can hear Thomas Frank and Eric Alterman talk about the election (Brooklyn Historical Society Library), Andrew Blum and Jessica Grose talk about the Internet as/in literature (St. Francis College/ McArdle Hall), or hear Amy Sohn defend herself (or not) on her controversial novel MOTHERLAND (Borough Hall Courtroom). An embarrassment of riches! And as long as you're up, you should treat yourself and
Bring snacks and water, and reading material (of course). Last year for the first time some food trucks either got wise to the goings-on, or were invited, and that was great, but it never hurts to stock up on your own provisions -- especially if you want to eat something besides a processed carb. (I know, why would you?) Don't eat the reading material, though! Use it to ease the waiting in line or lulls between panels. 
Keep your eyes open for authors sneaking into other authors' panels. Writers: they're just like us! (They are fans.)

Take at least one chance on a panel without any authors you know. Of course there are a ton of people you'll want to see, but leave a little room to serendipity. This is an especially good tip in case you...
Leave a panel that is boring, which you absolutely should do if you can do so without upsetting whole rows of people and interrupting the action. I used to never leave panels because I am too ungainly to make a decent exit without falling all over myself and whacking someone in the head probably felt that it was disrespectful, but it's also disrespectful to take a seat and find that you just can't pay attention. That's the time to say "it's not you, it's me." On that note,
The vaguer the description of a panel, the less likely there will be an exciting discussion. I enjoy the kinds of events where authors just read, but the most electrifying festival events I've been to have inspired debate or out-and-out arguments. Panel "chemistry" is hard to judge beforehand, but it isn't usually about everybody getting along.
Bring or buy books to get signed -- but if you're buying, try to buy as late as possible so you don't have to carry too much around (learned it the hard way). Unpopularly, I don't like to buy books on the spot, because I really like to dwell over my purchases -- but I will make a list and take it to my local indie bookstore later.

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