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November 21, 2012

The Miami Book Fair 2012: Our Reader Report

Posted by carol

We have two perspectives on the Miami Book Fair. One is from David Abrams, the debut author of FOBBIT, a comedy about the Iraq War, who was attending the Fair for the first time as both a presenter and an attendee. FOBBIT was published by Grove/Atlantic in September and was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program. And Miriam Klein Kassenoff, one of our readers who I love spending time with at the Fair, is a longtime attendee, so I was looking forward to her feedback. We’ll start with comments from David and then move to Miriam's feedback. How many years have you attended the Miami Book Fair?  What do you most look forward to about the event each year? 

David Abrams: This was my first Miami Book Fair, but I'd been hearing about it for years.

BRC: Tell us about the panel that you presented on.

DA: My panel was "Reading From New Comic Novels" and I was joined by Mark Leyner (THE SUGAR FROSTED NUTSACK) and Antoine Wilson (PANORAMA CITY).  Each of us read for about 15 minutes (including Mark's hilarious recitation of a dirty joke involving Dick van Dyke) and then we took questions from the audience.  We made some attempts to define comedy in literature ("It's one odd word juxtaposed against another odd word and when the two grind against each other, that's where you'll find the humor"), but really it all came down to us agreeing that comedy is a tough, tricky skill to master and that it's a totally subjective experience between the reader and the book.

BRC: What authors were you personally most looking forward to seeing?

DA: As soon as I saw the list of participating authors, I started gasping and giggling like a kid on Christmas morning.  The Miami Book Fair took the phrase "All-Star Lineup" to a new level.  Here is just a partial list of those authors I was excited to see: Justin Cronin, Glen Duncan, Victor LaValle, Robert Olen Butler, Robert Goolrick, Adam Braver, Chip Kidd, and Chris Ware.  Those I had to, regrettably, miss: Martin Amis, Tom Wolfe, Junot Diaz, Lauren Groff, Jamie Attenberg, Adam Johnson, Etgar Keret, and Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler.  Like I said, All-Star.

BRC: How many panels or events did you attend? And were you able to get into everything that you wanted to see?

DA: I was able to sit in on excellent presentations by Justin Cronin, Glen Duncan and Victor LaValle ("Striking Fear: New Novels"); a panel on the state of erotica with M. J. Rose and Susie Bright; readings by Margot Livesey, Susanna Moore, J. R. Moehringer, Michael Sledge, Adam Braver, Robert Goolrick, Christopher Tilghman and Robert Olen Butler; "On Comics" with Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Chip Kidd; and "Literary Crimes" with Lynn Barrett, Emily St. John Mandel, Joseph Olshan, and Joy Castro.

BRC: Did you have a favorite panel or event, and since I know this can be an impossible question tell us about up to three. 

DA: All of the panels and readings were outstanding, but two really stuck out: Robert Olen Butler describing how a World War I-era postcard eventually led him to write his latest novel The Hot Country; and Glen Duncan reading a particularly gruesome passage from Tallulah Rising.  Duncan, who is British, reads in a smooth-as-butterscotch voice which is in direct contrast to the words he's reading.  Imagine Kenneth Branagh narrating a scene in which the novel's protagonist-monster kills a victim and then, face splashed with warm blood, starts to eat him.  It was beautifully horrifying.

BRC: Any great author stories that you can share with us here that you heard on panels over the weekend?

DA: Margot Livesey on her new novel THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY: "When I read JANE EYRE --- at age nine --- it spoke to me because it was told by a girl who was only one year older than me...But I never thought I'd write a reimagining of the novel.  Writing a novel is hard enough without writing in the shadow of a masterpiece."  I don't know about you, but the thing that strikes me the most out of that statement is that she read JANE EYRE when she was nine!

BRC: Since there is always so much programming are there any panels you wish you could have cloned yourself to see? 

DA: Good Lord, yes!  I would have given anything just to have a David Abrams v.2 and v.3 this weekend just so I could take in more of the Fair.  Due to scheduling conflicts, I had to miss the events with Jo Nesbo, Emma Donoghue, Andre Dubus III, and Justin Torres.  And Molly Ringwald!  Oh, I would have loved to see Molly R., but alas...too much Fair and not enough Me.

BRC: Did you buy books? Do you buy them there just so you can have authors autograph them? 

DA: Yes, I did buy books--a collection of short stories by Sheila Heti at the McSweeney's tent; and books by Ellis Avery (THE LAST NUDE) and Michael Sledge (THE MORE I OWE YOU) after I heard them read.

BRC: How were the crowds?

I've been to two other book festivals this year (Texas and Montana) and, by comparison, Miami was on steroids.  I can't remember the last time I saw so many book lovers all together in the same place at the same time.  It was--and I don't use this term too often--mind-blowing.

BRC: Anything you would want to see at the Fair in the future?

DA: I honestly can't think of anything they could do to make the Fair better.  Except maybe work on that Cloning Machine.

BRC: And do you have the dates booked on your calendar for next year? 

DA: It's a long way from Montana (where I live) to Miami, but if I'm able to afford it, I will definitely be returning to the book fair.

Miriam and I have spent a lot of time together at the Book Fair, thus I loved this chance to see things through her eyes this year. I missed spending time with her in the Author Room where authors gather before their events. How many years have you attended the Miami Book Fair?  What do you most look forward to about the event each year?

Miriam Klein Kassenoff: I have been attending for 10 years. As I usually am introducing panels II love access to the Author Room for casual conversations with the author as well as spending time in Chapman all day hearing the authors and meeting other “literary groupies.” The Fair is scheduled around the time of my birthday and every year my brother Hank Klein and sister in law Lisa Sloat who are Friends of the Fair and devotees of Books & Books, our fabulous local bookstore buy me a First Class Pass for my birthday!

BRC: What authors were you personally most looking forward to seeing this year?

MKK: I introduced the book that Jews of the New York. It was an excellent panel and a great discussion with huge crowd.

BRC: How many panels or events did you attend? And were you able to get into everything that you wanted to see?

MKK: I attended ten events and did get into everything I wanted to see.

BRC: Was anything different this year?

MKK: In Chapman Hall  the Saturday events were excellent! It was abit different this year as the authors I heard were very much engaged in interactive dialogue with the audience. For example, Naomi Wolfe  author of "Vagina" not only gave an excellent lecture/presentation but then literally jumped down from the stage (OUCH!) --- high heels and all --- and personally handed the microphone to each speaker and directly answered questions off the stage. I love it and I loved her --- -to best see the full presentation look for it on C-Span 2 

BRC: If you had family or friends with you at the Fair, did they attend events other than those you attended? If so, what did they say?-

MKK: My friend Alissa Pardo Stein always attends with me and she enjoyed it just as much as I did.